It’s about three years or so now since I first heard about Christopher Morley’s book The Haunted Bookshop. It’s a pleasant enough little thriller for 1919, but its main charm is the character Roger Mifflin, who owns the bookstore and is an evangelist for good, thoughtful books.
I heard about the book from a blog post that noted its strong anti-war message. Speaking shortly after the end of the War to End All Wars, Mifflin was convinced that well-written honest books could make a difference in ensuring that The Great War really was the last war. At one point Mifflin writes about the brave writers who unveiled the horror of that war in their books.
“Have you read (Siegfried) Sassoon? Or Latzko’s Men in War, which was so damned true that the government suppressed it? Humph! Putting Truth on rations!”
Reading The Haunted Bookshop for the first time was such a delight that I resolved to publish a series of books based on Roger Mifflin’s suggestions, featuring the original text and a few odds and ends of bonus material, like early reviews. The first in the series had to be the source material, of course, and my first choice for a second volume was that powerful book by Andreas Latzko.
Where do we go from there? Well, during our first steps inside Mifflin’s store, we come across a note pinned to a bulletin board.
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 hour-glass, to let the particles run the other way.
One who loves the English tongue can have a lot of fun with a Latin dictionary.
You may draw your own conclusions, from the photo accompanying this post, where I took the Roger Mifflin Collection after those first two books. You may also be confident in predicting that the next volume in the collection will be Samuel Butler’s Note-Books, sometime this summer. (For now, I think I’m going to pass on the Latin dictionary.)
If you have any interest in what passed for great contemporary literature 100 years ago, The Haunted Bookshop is a good place to start. Through his irascible friend Roger, Morley delivers dozens of recommendations, and as I work my way slowly through the list, I haven’t found one yet that hasn’t turned my mind upside down in some way or another. And it’s been fun combing through online newspaper archives for the bonus material. (I surprised myself by finding more than 40 pages of extra reading to go into the newest book, by Richard Jefferies.)
These books are in the public domain, so there are many ways you can find them online to read them for free. When you are tickled enough to want a good print copy of one, you know where to find them.