Set in the early 20th century, this short novel tells the story of Helen McGill, a 39-year-old spinster who has spent the last several years living on her brother’s farm and keeping house for him. One day a traveling book salesman named Roger Mifflin shows up at Helen’s door and persuades her to take over the business. She purchases his van, called “the traveling Parnassus,” and sets off with Mifflin to have an adventure. Along the way, she meets several interesting people, discovers the joy of literature, and even finds true love.
I think this novel is a must-read for any book lover. Roger Mifflin’s love of literature is contagious, and he is very eloquent in praise of the written word:
“Lord!” he said, “when you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night — there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.”
The book isn’t particularly complex or thought-provoking, but it’s sweet and cheerful and a real pleasure to read. I definitely recommend it, and I hope to read the sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, soon.