Not a lot of people remember Christopher Morley anymore, and that’s a shame. He was a man of letters who gained fame during the first half of the 20th Century. Novelist, essayist, editor, journalist. He was one of the founders of the original Baker Street Irregulars (a group dedicated to examining and celebrating the minutia of Sherlock Holmes). He was also the guy who made many of the selections for the Book-of-the-Month Club.
Among the novels of the native Pennsylvanian (he was born in Bryn Mawr in 1890) are two that work in tandem: Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop. Both have as a central character Mr. Roger Mifflin, a peddler of used books. In the first novel, the peddler goes from town to town in a horse-drawn wagon. In the second, he has settled down to run a used book shop in Brooklyn, NY.
But this is not just any book shop. It is a haunted book shop. Haunted not by run-of-the-mill ghosts, but by “the ghosts of all great literature.” I don’t want to give the plot away, but I will say that these ghosts do play a part in solving a mystery.
Morley was obviously a romantic when it came to used book shops. Here’s a passage from The Haunted Bookshop that proves my point:
“The bookstore is one of humanity’s great engines, and one that we use very imperfectly. It is a queer fact that most of us still have the primitive habit of visiting bookshops chiefly to ask for some definite title. Aren’t we ever going to leave anything to destiny, or to good luck, or to the happy suggestion of some wise bookseller?
“We have ready access, in the bookshop, to one of the greatest instruments of civilization; and yet none of us—neither publishers, booksellers, nor customers—have yet learned more than an inkling of what that place can accomplish.
"In every bookstore, small or large, there are books we have not read; books which may have messages of unsuspected beauty or importance. They may be new books, they may be of yesterday, or of long ago.
"The store where you found this volume exists in the hope of knowing—and learning—about books. There is no habit more valuable than that of dropping into a bookstore occasionally to look round—to look both inward and outward.
“We have what you need, though you may not know you need it.”
Personally, I couldn't agree more with the above. (I particularly like the bit about the "wise bookseller"... as if there were any other kind). I've put this passage on a poster and have it hanging in several spots around the shop.
Morley spent most of his working life in and around New York City. His home, on Long Island, has been preserved as a park and is available for touring. I fear not many people do anymore; I confess that I have not. He died in 1957.
Anyway, I bring all this up because we happened upon a couple of copies of these two novels while we were cleaning out an old inventory closet earlier this week. I’m really hoping that these won’t be hanging around long.