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Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley

January 20, 2011
1st edition cover

Image via Wikipedia

Books, Love, Adventure and … well … a Parnassus.  What more could you ask for in a novel?  Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley was published in 1917 and follows the experiences of a middle-aged New England housewife as she takes on the adventure of a life time by purchasing a mobile book selling operation.The book is simply written, but immensely clever and the narrator’s, Helen’s, relationships with her bookseller protege, The Professor, and her brother, a popular author, are hilarious.  What is a Parnassus you might ask?

“…a queer wagon, shaped like a van… Underneath the wagon, in slings, hung what looked like a tent, together with a lantern, a bucket, and other small things. The van had a raised skylight on the roof, something like an old-fashioned trolley car; and from one corner went up a stove pipe. At the back was a door with little windows on each side and a flight of steps leading up to it.”

Helen is a no nonsense housewife who has spent years enslaved in the kitchen baking bread for her brother and taking care of the house, while her brother goes off on adventures.  When she finally feels entitled to her own adventure she buys it for $400 and gets a great deal for it: the Parnassus, a dog, a horse, and the Professor.  Here she scolds her brother:

“A woman of forty (you exaggerate, by the way) who has compiled an anthology of 6,000 loaves of bread and dedicated it to you deserves some courtesy. When you want to run off on some vagabond tour or other you don’t hesitate to do it.”

This is a book that strikes to the heart of any book lover as the Professor is continually espousing his love of literature and he infects everyone around him with this same passion.  He wants to start a reading revolution and get books to the people who can’t get access to the library.

“The mandarins of culture—what do they do to teach the common folk to read? It’s no good writing down lists of books for farmers and compiling five-foot shelves; you’ve got to go out and visit the people yourself—take the books to them, talk to the teachers and bully the editors of country newspapers and farm magazines and tell the children stories—and then little by little you begin to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation. It’s a great work, mind you! It’s like carrying the Holy Grail to some of these way-back farmhouses. And I wish there were a thousand Parnassuses instead of this one.”

This was a fun and short novel and worth the read.  The entire time I read it there was a smile on my face.  The narration from no-nonsense Helen was perfect.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2011 2:36 pm

    This sounds very entertaining and fun. Thanks for the review and for hopping by.

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