Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Haunted Bookshop

Before we do the big November Bookslut BreakdownTM, let's spend a few moments with a chance encounter. I love to browse used bookstores, of course, and I usually end up buying 60 million things I hadn't exactly planned on buying... but there are many books floating about in my mind as things I intend someday to read, so if I find a used copy for some silly price, of course I'm gonna get it... I own many many books that I have not yet read, but that means that whenever I finish a book, I wander out into my living room/office/library and get to shop my own shelves for what to read next.

Anyway, I recently discovered the fabulous Iliad Bookstore and wandered in there and indeed bought 60 million books that I was delighted to find. Most of them were books I'd heard of, and things, like I said, that I already intended someday to read. But I did pick up one book that I'd never heard of, and which I took sort of on a whim. It was The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley.

Now, I'd heard of Christopher Morley only by having seen a quotation of his in some other book I read long ago; I'd never actually read a book of his. But I liked the quotation an awful lot, and it was very near to Halloween when this chance encounter took place, in a newly discovered dusty and wonderful bookshop, and by god the name of the book is The Haunted Bookshop! I had no choice.

"For paradise in the world to come is uncertain, but there is indeed a heaven on this earth, a heaven which we inhabit when we read a good book." he says on page 26. Clearly, I was in love.

Now, may I quote at you until you cry?
Let me tell you that the book business is different from other trades. People don't know they want books. I can just see by looking at you that your mind is ill for lack of books but you are blissfully unaware of it! People don't go to a bookseller until some serious mental accident or disease makes them aware of their danger. Then they come here. ... People need books, but they don't know they need them. Generally they are not aware that the books they need are in existence... I am not a dealer in merchandise but a specialist in adjusting the book to the human need. Between ourselves, there is no such thing, abstractly, as a 'good' book. A book is 'good' only when it meets some human hunger or refutes some human error. A book that is good for me would very likely be punk for you. My pleasure is to prescribe books for such patients as drop in here and are willing to tell me their symptoms. Some people have let their reading faculties decay so that all I can do is hold a post mortem on them. But most are still open to treatment. 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. ... The world has been printing books for 450 years, and yet gunpowder still has a wider circulation. Never mind! Printer's ink is still the greater explosive; it will win.
"Her cheeks were cool and ruddy from the keen air, her face lit with the tranquil satisfaction of those who have sojourned in the comfortable city of Boston." --p38

Printer's ink has been running a race against gunpowder these many, many years. Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gunpowder in half a second, while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for centuries... When you read that book you can feel it blowing up your mind. It leaves you gasping, ill, nauseated--oh, it's not pleasant to feel some really pure intellect filtered into one's brain! It hurts! --p115
Check this one out and note that this book was published 90 years ago. 90!
"We had to beat [Country], yes, but the absurdity lies in the fact that we had to beat ourselves in doing it. The first thing you'll find, when the [X] gets to work, will be that we shall have to help [Country] onto her feet again so that she can be punished in an orderly way. We shall have to feed her and admit her to commerce so that she can pay her indemnities--we shall have to police her cities to prevent revolution from burning her up--and the upshot of it all will be that men will have fought the most terrible war in history, and endured nameless horrors, for the privilege of nursing their enemy back to health. If that isn't an absurdity, what is?" --p114
"All right," said the bookseller amiably. "Miss Chapman, you take the book up with you and read it in bed if you want to. Are you a librocubicularist?"
Titania looked a little scandalized.
"It's all right, my dear," said Helen. "He only means are you fond of reading in bed. I've been waiting to hear him work that word into the conversation. He made it up, and he's immensely proud of it."
"Reading in bed?" said Titania. "What a quaint idea! Does any one do it? It never occurred to me. I'm sure when I go to bed I'm far too sleepy to think of such a thing." --pg170
"But we are what we are, and Roger was even more so." --p172

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