Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
It's funny, really, how a book that has been around since 1917 and has been reprinted over and over again can entirely escape one's notice for forty years. I never heard of this book until last year (2006) when I read about it on one or two book blogs. It sounded interesting enough to put on my to-be-read list, and then I was able to mooch a free copy from Bookmooch. The book arrived during my busy days before Christmas, and I set it aside to read when I had some free time.
Free time arrived on Christmas day, and I read the entire book Christmas evening. It's only about 150 pages long, and for the most part, it is a light, engaging story. I found the "voice" of the narrator, Helen McGill, very amusing. The romantic side of the story was a surprise, but the idea is intriguing. Imagine walking out your door one day, buying a bookstore-on-wheels, and setting off without a clue about where you were going or what was going to happen.
What I found most thought-provoking about the story was the change in society between the age of this book and our own. The simple country and small-town folks served by Parnassus, the bookstore-on-wheels, were so hungry for books. They were enchanted by stories and eagerly purchased and read books. They didn't have many, and you knew that they were going to read their books over and over--mental food for hungry minds and hearts.
Our society is so saturated with stories in different forms--television, DVDs, and theaters offer a pretty wide range of choice, and it would be rare to find anyone as hungry for stories and knowledge as Parnassus' customers. I think it would be more difficult today to convince the average person that he should read books. I am not, of course, referring to those of us who are already convinced. I suppose the percentage of books that are trashy and not worthwhile is higher, too, making the whole process even more difficult. However romantic the Parnassus wagon might have been in 1917, I would not want to undertake a similar profession today. I'd be afraid of starvation!
Of course, I wouldn't mind having all the book to read.
Both Parnassus On Wheels and its sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, are available at Gutenberg.org. This is a good choice for booklovers who want a little light reading, and the many literary references to other books add to the fun.