I first heard of Roger Mifflin and The Haunted Bookshop in a blog post that quoted extensively from Mifflin’s passionate anti-war speech as he talked with his new intern about the power of books.
World War I — then known simply as The Great War — was coming to a conclusion when Christopher Morley wrote his book in 1918, and The Haunted Bookshop echoes with the then-popular and optimistic feeling that this had been “the war to end all wars.” Morley, through his enthusiastic book lover and shop owner, spoke glowingly of the authors who spoke out against the war even as it was being waged.
“Have you read Sassoon? Or Latzko’s Men in War, which was so damned true that the government suppressed it?”
The blog made me want to read The Haunted Bookshop, which only piqued my interest further. A sequel to Morley’s first novel, Parnassus On Wheels, the book furthers the adventures of Mifflin, who sees his mission in life as connecting people to the books they need to enrich their lives. As a result there are dozens of recommendations for readers in search of the most interesting and challenging books of the era.
As the book begins, a young man enters the shop intent on selling Mifflin some advertising. One of the first things he sees is a little bulletin board, on which is posted our first list of recommendations.
If your mind needs phosphorus, try “Trivia” by Logan Pearsall Smith.
If your mind needs a whiff of strong air, blue and cleansing, from hilltops and primrose valleys, try “The Story of My Heart” by Richard Jefferies.
If your mind needs a tonic of iron and wine, and a thorough rough-and-tumbling, try Samuel Butler’s “Notebooks” or “The Man Who Was Thursday,” by Chesterton.
If you need “all manner of Irish,” and a relapse into irresponsible freakishness, try “The Demi-Gods,” by James Stephens. It is a better book than one deserves or expects.
It’s a good thing to turn your mind upside down now and then, like an hourglass, to let the particles run the other way.
One who loves the tongue can have a lot of fun with a Latin dictionary.
I inhaled The Haunted Bookshop, ran out to find the prequel and inhaled that one, too, and then I started looking for the old books that Morley/Mifflin was so keen on, and I found myself loving those as well, beginning with the harrowing Men in War, an autobiographical novel in which Andreas Latzko works through the post-traumatic stress he suffered from the horrors of his service in the Great War.
An idea began to form in my mind. All of the books Mifflin recommends are now in the public domain and more or less easy to find, if often long out of print. I envisioned a collection of books, “curated” by Roger Mifflin, beginning with Latzko and Siegfried Sassoon and the list in the front of the shop.
Later this month — on April 19, to be exact, the fifth edition in The Roger Mifflin Collection will be published, the irresponsibly freakish The Demi-Gods. It is indeed a better book than I deserved or expected, being simply the story of an Irish nomad and his daughter who are joined by three angels as they wander about the countryside finding what they find. As with the others, the book includes bonus materials, including a couple of reviews from just after its release in late 1914 and a gem from the Kent State University archives, a letter from Stephens to a friend detailing how this almost became a lost novel after he left the just-completed manuscript behind in a Paris coffee shop. Yikes!
All of these books are available online via print-on-demand process. Oddly, the Mifflin editions are hard to find on Amazon; even if you know the ISBN, the search engine sends you to any number of other versions with (if I say so myself) less exacting production values. That’s why these links send you to the more reliable Bookshop.org and Barnes and Noble online stores.
The Roger Mifflin Collection, so far, is:
I haven’t decided yet whether Sassoon or Jefferies comes next. Feedback always welcome.