One of the first things I did when I got my new job was to prepare for rush-hour commutes again. For me, rush-hour commutes (which in the evening are neither a rush nor an hour) mean the return of bus books. Luckily for me, I knew exactly the first two books I wanted for my first two weeks: “Parnassus on Wheels” and its sequel, “The Haunted Bookshop,” both by Christopher Morley.
I polished off “Parnassus” during my first work week, which was three days long. I made myself wait for my first Monday at work to start “The Haunted Bookshop,” even though I’d been thinking of asking my father to borrow it for ages. When my sister and I split up his books, the two Morleys were among the ones I would have fought over. I had read them before and loved them.
One of the better things I can say about “Parnassus on Wheels,” which introduces main characters Helen and Roger and sends them on a journey together, is that Dad wasn’t upset when I spent my own money to get a copy of it for myself. He loved the story so much that it was good news to him that I’d found another copy. I loved re-reading it, falling in love again with Morley’s quirky characters and their travels in what we’d call these days a “bookmobile” — a traveling van full of books. I read “The Haunted Bookshop” years ago, and I’d been meaning to ask Dad to borrow it again someday.
I read “Parnassus” during my first “week” (actually three days) of commuting. The first full week was a very rainy one, so that after enjoying Helen and Roger’s adventure running a shop, I soon got worried on two fronts: I didn’t want the book to get pruny in the rain, since it’s about 60 years old, and I was running out of book! I kept it at home until I could finish it this morning, Saturday. It’s safe, and the “haunted” feeling is now fresh on my shelves.
Morley’s contention, in Roger’s voice, is that the shop is haunted by the books — by the great ideas in them. In the months after the armistice ended the Great War, he worries that people aren’t getting the great ideas because they don’t know they’re there — thus his idea of taking Parnassus out into the country, bringing great books to people who might own only the Bible and sets of Great Funeral Orations sold them by more typical traveling salesmen.
“The Haunted Bookshop” is a comfortable and comforting book to fall into, even when it varies quickly from an adventure story — Why is a particular book disappearing and reappearing, re-bound? — to a romance — the new assistant’s blue eyes send a current to a visitor that was “ohm sweet ohm” to him. Morley loves his characters and his story, and I like to think that he’d approve of A.A. Milne’s term, Sustaining Books. As they did for Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, books sustain people — and people sustain books.
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Filed under: Sustaining Books