Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Haunted Bookshop

The Haunted Bookshop and its predecessor, PARNASSUS ON WHEELS, by Christopher Morley have been on my reading list for years, and I finally remembered to check whether my library had it as it sounded like a fun spooky season read.

The library came through and the book is delightful so far, though not particularly spooky. Not sure whether this will qualify for the R.I.P. reading challenge or not.

And, as those of you following me on Twitter can attest, it offers a plethora of quotable book-lover quotes. Here are my favorites from the first half of the book.

"A book is 'good' only when it meets some human hunger or refutes some human error."

"...paradise in the world to come is uncertain, but there is indeed a heaven on this earth...which we inhabit when we read a good book."

"Surely everything that arouses people's minds, that makes them alert and questioning, increases their appetite for books."

"A gathering of booksellers is a sanhedrim to attend."

"A book that fits the mind as well as a silk stocking does the ankle will be sure to sell."

"I don't mind a man stealing books if he steals good ones."

"I can never read Dickens without having something to of Dickens will fall off terribly when prohibition comes in."

" don't have to be a literary critic: all you have to do to books is to enjoy them."

"I think I'd have gone balmy if it weren't for Walt Whitman."

The premise is that a couple (Roger and Helen Mifflin) owns The Haunted Bookshop, a used bookstore in Brooklyn, shortly after WWI. Roger is the definitive bookseller--loves what he does, loves talking about what he reads, loves talking and working with other booksellers. They have agreed to let the daughter of a wealthy businessman live with them and learn the book business. I'm halfway through and the plot is very slow to emerge, let alone thicken, but it's so much fun to read that, for once, plot doesn't matter.

Another fun aspect of the book is the NYC locale--there's an early version of a Mad Man in the form of an advertising man who wanders into the bookshop and comes under the spell of both Roger Mifflin and Titania Chapman (the Mifflin's understudy), and it's fun to read about where he lives, works, eats (at the Automat), and, of course, the ad copy and jingles that he writes.

I really enjoyed reading Roger's tirade against war, which was particularly poignant because his intuition regarding how Germany would respond to being punished by the rest of Europe was absolutely right on target.

I assume the plot will develop nicely and I'll be able to report back that the second half is as good as the first.

Final notes - reminds me of Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society in that a variety of books are discussed by a variety of characters who comment on what those books mean to them. Just as Guernsey made me, momentarily anyway, want to read Lamb's essays, Haunted Bookshop is making me curious to get Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations by Thomas Carlyle: Volume 2 to see what the fuss is about.

FYI - Carlyle's Oliver Cromwell is one of Mifflin's favorite books that appears to be stolen, then is spotted under the arm of an assistant chef, then reappears on the shelves.


  1. These books have been on my TBR list for years as well, I must now try to track down a copy.

  2. Morley is almost impossible to get hold of in the UK. I am seriously jealous!

  3. I think they might have gone out of print, and then come back recently. I found some used versions on Amazon-U.S.--definitely worth tracking down if you can.

  4. You're going to think I'm crazy - the bookshop on the cover looks like an iced cookie to me (maybe I'm just craving something sweet?!)

    As far as whether or not it qualifies for RIP ... everyone's idea of "spooky" is subjective (is it spooky to you?)

  5. Your list for the R.I.P. reading challenge sounds really interesting. I don't have much time to read for pleasure at the moment (lot's of school "stuff" to be read or corrected). But reading your thorough reviews is like ... joining the challenge as well. One can learn a lot from them. Hope you can relax and have a joyful weekend!Hugs. :)

  6. Dawn - I can see how the book cover could look like one of those Xmas glossy cookies that look better than they taste. Yes, spooky is subjective, but this book is more spy thriller than supernatural.

    Maria - glad you can read for pleasure vicariously! Relax doesn't happen until the garden is put to bed for the winter, but I enjoy the work. Hugs right back :)