Sunday, March 6, 2011
Vintage Mystery Sunday (New Feature)
Since one of the great loves of my reading life happens to be Vintage Mysteries, I've been thinking of a way to feature them on my blog beyond the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge which I am sponsoring and the frequent reviews of my current reads.
Here on Vintage Mystery Sunday, I plan to revisit classic mysteries that I have read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything that I read. Currently, I am reading a book called The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee which talks about his life as a bookseller, his book-lust, and sprinkles in tidbits about the history of books and bookselling. With my current book in mind, what better way to kick off this new Sunday feature than with The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley?
First published in 1919, the story finds Roger Mifflin running a second-hand bookshop in Brooklyn. We know immediately that this is no ordinary bookshop, as is stated on Mr. Mifflin's sign:
Parnassus At Home
R. & H. Mifflin
This Shop Is Haunted
It's true that the "Parnassus at Home" is inhabited by many lively spirits and not all are among the living. And yet this is not a supernatural book. Rather, it refers to the ghosts of all great literature which haunt libraries and bookstores alike. The literary past and present collide to make an ideal atmosphere for life and love--all within a bookstore. The story begins with the arrival of Aubrey Gilbert, a young advertising man, at Mifflin's store. Gilbert has hopes of convincing Mifflin to become his firm's newest client. He does not convince the bookseller to invest in advertising, but he does become intrigued by Mifflin's convictions concerning the value of books and booksellers to the world. He becomes equally intrigued when he discovers that the daughter of his firm's biggest client has taken a job as assistant to Mifflin. As Gilbert spends more time at the shop, mysterious circumstances begin to happen. A copy of Thomas Carylyle's Letters & Speeches of Oliver Cromwell disappears and reappears with alarming frequency. A local pharmacist takes to entering the shop late at night. A chef at a local hotel advertises a reward for a lost copy of the Carlyle book. And Gilbert begins to suspect a plot to kidnap Titania, the wealthy client's daughter. Before the mystery is cleared up, the book disappears again and there is an explosive grand finale.
The mystery itself is amusing and entertaining, though not terribly complex. The real charm of the book comes in the atmosphere and desciption of a Brooklyn of another time. And in the person of Roger Mifflin. Mr. Mifflin says all the things about books that I feel. He is not only a bookseller...but a true book lover. When I read this book, I did so with a notebook at my elbow to write down all the marvelous things that Mifflin says. Here is just a sample:
There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.
Malnutrition of the reading faculty is a serious things. Let us prescribe for you.
I mean my advertising is done by the books I sell. If I sell a man a book by Stevenson or Conrad, a book that delights or terrifies him, that man and that book become my living advertisements.
There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it.
Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse full of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world--the brains of men.
That's why I call this place the Haunted Bookshop. Haunted by the ghosts of books I haven't read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There's only one way to lay the ghost of a book and that's to read it.
I could go on. But I won't. If you'd like to hear more of Mifflin's wisdom--or if you're interested in a mystery that takes place in a turn-of-the-previous-century bookstore, then you should read The Haunted Bookshop for yourself. A wonderful little book that rates four and half stars.
***Oh...and for all you Vintage Mystery Challengers...there just happens to be a copy of this little gem among the possible prizes.