‘Parnassus’ a loving tale about books – and romance

‘Parnassus’ a loving tale about books – and romance

‘Parnassus’ a loving tale about books – and romance(Mar. 28, 2024) — When I first worked at Bonanza Books in Clayton, two young coworkers gifted me a used copy of “Parnassus on Wheels,” telling me that even though it was published in 1917, it is a book every bookseller should read.

I’d never heard of the author, Christopher Morley, but they were right. It is still in print, and, 107 years later, bookseller or reader, it is still a great read.

Briefly, it tells the story of a strange little character (Roger Mifflin) who sells books from his horse-drawn caravan in rural New England communities lacking libraries or bookstores. His establishment on wheels is called the Traveling Parnassus.

Book of his dreams

On a bright October morning in 1915, Roger drives his caravan onto the small farm where Andrew McGill and his sister Helen live. Andrew has recently become a well-known author, and Roger hopes that Andrew will buy his traveling bookstore. Roger is looking for the chance to stop selling books and start writing the book of his dreams.

Helen has been stuck on the farm for years, cleaning and cooking for her brother, whose fame takes him away from the farm more and more often. She may be an overweight 39-year-old single woman, but she’s no fool. Roger’s offer is possibly the last chance she will ever have for an adventure all her own.

Before her brother returns from town, she is packed and on the road with Roger and his Traveling Parnassus. They have only to reach the town where Roger can cash Helen’s check and get a train ticket to Brooklyn, where he intends to write his book.

What happens in the next 48 hours is drama, treachery, history, betrayal, humor and even romance, as told from the voice of bright, gutsy Helen.

Remember, this is 1915. Not only is feminism light years away, but a woman’s right to vote is not ratified until 1920. A woman’s right to think for herself is seldom expected or tolerated.

When first read, I learned about America’s book world in the early 20th century. Roger is not only a book lover, but he and his enthusiasm for progressive ways of selling books and choosing the books to sell is remarkably modern. Helen is a quick study.


What I liked most about re-reading is discovering that the book is first and foremost a romance. And not your fancy schmancy romance. Helen, who calls herself fat and past the likely age of marriage, not only has the courage to take on a business venture with little more than a love of books, but also the heart to fall in love with wiry, charming and balding Roger.

And, wonder of wonders, Roger has the good sense to recognize this wonderful woman with whom he not only wants to write a book, but to marry as well.

If possible, I recommend the edition of “Parnassus on Wheels” with the Certain Essential Preliminary Footnotage by John T. Winterich.

Visit Sunny Solomon’s website at bookinwithsunny.com for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’

Sunny Solomon
Sunny Solomon
Freelance writer at Clayton Book Club | Website

Sunny Solomon holds an MA in English/Creative Writing, San Francisco State University. She is a book reviewer for “The Clayton Pioneer” and her poetry and other writing has been published in literary journals, one chapbook, In the Company of Hope and the collection, Six Poets Sixty-six Poems. She was the happy manager of Bonanza Books, Clayton, CA and Clayton Books, Clayton, CA. She continues to moderate a thriving book club that survived the closure of the store from which it began. Sunny currently lives next to the Truckee in Reno, NV.