Posted in Book Stuff

*Parnassus on Wheels

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)



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

8 thoughts on “*Parnassus on Wheels

  1. Isn’t Project Gutenberg just wonderful! So many interesting books just ready for download. I haven’t got an e-reader yet butI do plan on getting one. I can read this stuff on my laptop, but the e-reader screen is so much easier on the eye for long bits of text.

    I started reading Parnassus on Wheels. What a delight. Thanks for posting about it. It’s amazing how many fun things I get to know about this way. I find it almost hard to imagine the old card-catalog days now.

  2. Mary, it really is. What ereader are you thinking of? I’m planning to get a Kobo. The internet really is marvellous at its best. I wrote The River Midnight pre-internet, and recently I looked up a book that I discovered in my research, a book of Yiddish plays, and was able to get more information on the internet about the production and reception of the play from the time it was written to the 1990’s. That was fascinating, and I was able to include the information on my Q&A blog.

  3. I loved this book, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s really great for book-lovers. I agree with you about ereaders. I have no plans to get one right now, but as soon as I feel the need for one, I have no qualms about getting it.

    1. I don’t like kindle because it’s so proprietary. you can get software so that you can use it with the library but it’s a hassle and doesn’t always work. plus amazon basically rents you the books (it’s in the fine print) and can withdraw them from your kindle like Big Brother. so then it was between kobo and sony. I had a look at the sony reader, and I was surprised that I actually preferred the feel and operation of kobo, which has the bonus of being cheaper. Regular prices for Kobo books are higher than Amazon, but Kobo regularly offers coupons on its website from 25% to 50% which matches or exceeds Amazon’s prices.

  4. I have heard nothing but good about this author, but he is so hard to get hold of in the UK. And I am still very unwilling to get an ereader…. Ah well, eventually he will be republished, I hope!

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