“When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.”- from Parnassus on Wheels
It’s about time that I tell you about a little book that is one of my favorites – Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley, pub. 1917. It is related to the name of my blog. It’s not a heavy, deep book. Rather, it’s a lovely, sometimes humorous read with lots of book titles involved. What’s not to like? I’ve read it a few times and it brings me a little bit of joy each time. Any book about a mobile bookseller from the early 20th century will have my interest. (Jan and Gary Bloom, anyone?)
To read the dust jacket, one might conclude that Roger Mifflin is the main character. He is a well-read bachelor who roams the country in his book wagon, Parnassus, seeking to enlighten all he can convince with his selection of great literature. But right away we meet the self-deprecating Helen McGill, spinster and caretaker of her famous country author-brother, Andrew. She leaves the farm and sets out on a series of adventures, sometimes with and sometimes without Roger. My edition is the Book Club edition. It has an introductory section titled “Certain Essential Preliminary Footnotage” by John T. Winterich” – don’t miss it.
Did you know that the first full-fledged bookmobile was started in Hibbing, MN in 1915? I didn’t, until my friend Sandy sent me The Horn Book Magazine with an article about mobile booksellers (and how Parnassus on Wheels was an inspiration). You can read the article, “Treasure Island by the Roadside”, here!
Now, just when you thought I wasn’t going to tie any of this (besides books in general) to Charlotte Mason…a connection has been uncovered! My friend Kerri, a mobile bookseller herself of sorts, found this gem in the archives from a 1921 Parents’ Review book review:
Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley. Here we have a most racy tale of “the most godly diversion known to man,-selling books.” A man who loves books and knows a book when he sees it sets up ‘Parnassus’ which is a van containing many books and many comforts for the natural man and very naturally drawn by ‘Pegasus.’ He meets ‘Helen McGill’ the sister of a popular author who tries to keep farm and home togehter while her brother makes books. He sells his van to her and goes a trial run with her that she may learn the trade. Of course they marry. “What I say is, who has ever gone into highroads and hedges to bring literature to the plain man, to bring it home to his business and bosom? The farther into the country you go the fewer and worse books you find…It’s a great work, mind you, it is like carrying the Holy Grail to some of these wayback farm houses.” Here Mr. Mifflin gives us the motif of Parnassus on Wheels.
I may or may not have shouted with glee when she sent this to me. Some of you will understand.
Hopefully, I have mentioned a new book for your enjoyment!
Parnassus on Wheels has a sequel – The Haunted Bookshop which is great fun, too!