Parnassus on Wheels
by Christopher Morley
Melville House; Aug. 31, 2010 (original pub 1917)
Source: Book Riot Quarterly Box
Helen lives a quietly contented life on a farm in Upstate New York, which she runs with her dreamer of a brother, Andrew. When Andrew writes a popular book, his success spoils him a bit, and he goes traipsing off around the state collecting material for his next book, neglecting his farming duties.
One day, a man named Roger arrives at the farm with the most curious contraption Helen’s ever seen: a horse-drawn van covered with books, with a living space in the center. Roger introduces his bookmobile as the Parnassus and tells her about his travels selling books all through the country. When he tells her that he came hoping to sell his bookmobile to Andrew, who had gone out for a few hours, Helen knows her brother would jump at the chance to own it — but for the good of the farm, she can’t let him have it. He would never get any work done again! Instead, she buys the Parnassus herself, and she embarks on a grand adventure with Roger, his horse Pegasus, and his trusty dog Bock.
“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. Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night — there’s all heaven and earth in a book.”
I received this book in my Book Riot Quarterly Box, and although I’d never heard of it before, I immediately knew I would love it. And I did! At 142 pages, it can pretty easily be read in a sitting, and I was so utterly charmed by every sentence that I couldn’t help doing just that! I mean, it’s a book about a bored, unmarried, middle-aged women who buys a horse-drawn bookmobile and sets off to claim her freedom with a man who deeply loves books. She’s thrilled to get a taste of the adventure that her brother has taken for granted, and she’s delighted to play a little trick on him; how shocked he’ll be when he comes home and finds her note!
I probably had a huge grin plastered on my face the entire time I read this. It’s light, and fun, and sparkling with wit and mischief. Plus, it’s about people selling books, so there are some perfect little passages about the magic of books and of literary discussion. Parnassus on Wheels is oozing with charm, and it’s a joy to read. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves books!
“When you see the marvelous insight into human nature which a truly great book shows, it is bound to make you feel small — like looking at the Dipper on a clear night, or seeing the winter sunrise when you go out to collect the morning eggs. And anything that makes you feel small is mighty good for you.”