About 12 years ago I started my 20th Century Challenge – to read 100 authors, one book for each year of the 20th century. The idea was to complete it by the time I turned 50. Then I started this blog and got distracted. The new deadline is to finish the project in the next 18 months (or by the time I hit 60). If all my choices are as delightful as the 1917 entry, the prequel to Morley’s more famous The Haunted Bookshop, then this won’t be any hardship.
Parnassus on Wheels is a delicious bibliophilic delight with none of the cloying sweetness I’ve tasted in other book of this nature.
Miss Helen Mcgill lives on the farm with her brother Andrew. When he become an author, he neglects his farmer’s duties, and Helen finds herself running the farm as well as the household. Naturally she resents this, so when she is given an unexpected opportunity to escape she takes it.
One day, out of the blue, Mr Roger Mifflin shows up with his horse-drawn travelling bookshop, the eponymous Parnassus on Wheels. He has decided that life on the road is too lonely and is hoping to sell his business to Andrew. But Andrew is not at home. Helen is, and she is in the mood for an adventure.
An avid reader herself, she believes that
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.
When she buys herself the Parnassus, she buys herself a whole new life. She sets off with Mr Roger Mifflin, who will first train her in the art of preaching the gospel of good books before he catches his train back to New York. Now he could sell coal to a coalman whereas Helen has no natural patter and a knowledge of the book trade that is less than encyclopaedic. Still she shows promise. A series of misadventures, however, results in an extension of her apprenticeship, during which Roger and Helen become unwittingly fond of each other. Though they don’t recognise it until the machinations of her brother, incandescent at losing his unpaid skivy, threaten to deprive Roger of his freedom. It is now Helen’s turn to ride to the rescue.
This a charming romantic comedy between an unlikely couple: Helen, a matter-of-fact spinster approaching middle-age and Roger, a funny looking-man with a red beard, who, for all his salesmanship, might possibly read more books than he sells. Set in a world in which the First World War had yet to encroach although there is a light-touch political undertone regarding the revolt of womenhood as Miss Helen McGill strikes out for the right to make her own decisions. Three cheers for her and for the man who enables and defends her right to do so, Mr Roger Mifflin! While we’re cheering another three for all the books they discuss along the way!