One of my wonderful blogger friends recommended this book by Christopher Morley, but as usual I can’t remember who it was. However it finally arrived from the library, and I can second the recommendation: this is a delightful book, perfect for a holiday break. The illustrations by Douglas Gorsline are perfect.
First published in 1917, the book was well reviewed by the Boston Evening Transcript:
To read Parnassus on Wheels is to be glad there are books in the world. It is graceful in style, light in substance, merry in its attitude toward life, and entertaining in every aspect of its plot and insight into character.
Yes! This short novel, weighing in at only 160 pages, is written in the robust first person voice of Miss McGill, a 39 year old New England spinster who, having baked (by her calculations) 6,000 loaves of bread while looking after her author brother, decides to take off in a horse drawn book mobile. The previous owner, Roger Mifflin, a wiry, feisty, humane purveyor of literature to the countryside, intends to write a book of his own. His philosophy and their friendship is the heart of the book.
Having read it, and smiling while I post, I am heartened now about ebooks for two reasons. First of all, I had to wait for ages to get this book from the library, but if I already had an ereader (which I intend to get soon), I could have downloaded it here. And so ereaders combat the short shelf life of books that should outlast the shelves. Secondly, in thinking about Mifflin’s (and presumably Morley’s) thoughts on literature, I can see how ereaders and ebooks may bring literature to the far reaches of the globe.
I recently saw a news story about the one laptop per child program, and how much difference it has made in the children’s and their families’ lives. The representative from the program said that in his experience the best part of the program is that it breaks the isolation that these people suffer from. But it isn’t only practical information that is available. So is literature.
To quote Roger Mifflin:
What I say is, who has ever gone out into high roads and hedges to bring literature home to the plain man? To bring it home to his business and bosom, as somebody says? The farther into the country you go, the fewer and worse books you find…[Y]ou’ve got to go out and visit the people yourself–take the books to them…and then little by little you begin to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation. (p 75)