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The Haunted Bookshop

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(1919)


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"The Haunted Bookshop" by Christopher Morley

Around 1960 when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I read my first "adult" book, "The Haunted Bookshop" by Christopher Morley. I felt very proud of myself for this accomplishment. If I can remember from over 40 years ago, the novel is set in Brooklyn in a used bookstore. The story is frequently discussing the pleasures and virtues of pipe smoking. The owner of the bookstore even has a club for men to come and smoke pipes and discuss books. This novel praises literature and reading. The author suggests somewhere in it that if everyone would only read certain books, then there would be no more war in the world. The emphasis on smoking pipes encouraged me to hide in the woods and smoke. I was also encouraged in this activity by the frequent mentions which Mark Twain makes regarding tobacco use in Huckleberry Finn. Below are some links on Christopher Morley. I went on to read the sequel to that novel, "Parnassus on Wheels" which is about a travelling book store which is in a large wagon. I chose these books because they were in our bookshelves at home, and had appealing covers and illustrations. I was always fascinated by ghosts and halloween and the supernatural, so I assumed from the title "Haunted Bookstore" that there would be a ghost, which was misleading. I imagine my parents acquired these books because they had joined The Book of the Month Club. My mother allowed me to join in the early 1960s and I chose "Travels with Charlie" by Steinbeck and "The Old Man and the Sea" by Hemingway. As I did my google.com search just now, I was delighted to discover that the text of "The Haunted Bookshop" is available for free download. http://www.online-literature.com/morley/ Christopher Morley's 1919 novel The Haunted Bookshop is an early example of a genre of story found constantly in later books and films: ordinary people who become amateur investigators of strange events that just happen to surround them. There were amateur investigators galore in novels by Green, Arnold Bennett, and Rinehart, and Christie was soon to create Tommy and Tuppence (1922), not to mention The Man in the Brown Suit (1924). Still, Morley's book anticipates future examples of the genre with uncanny accuracy. His settings are far more bourgeois, cheery, and commonplace, and his characters are far more like completely ordinary American types, not being rich members of Society. Such "everyday" characters will be more typical of future amateur detectives. Morley's novel contains that archetypal scene of the pulps to come, the attempt to penetrate a house full of crooks. First sleuthing alerts the protagonists that something is going on in a mysterious house. Then there is sneaking up to the windows, and spying. Finally, someone goes into the house... In what is usually cited as the first hard-boiled private eye story, Carroll John Daly's "Three Gun Terry" (1923), there is a raid on a house full of crooks. It is more violent than Morley's story, but its is the same kind of tale. Morley cites not other writers as sources for his characters and plot, but rather the movies. His hero is always being compared with the protagonists of films, and so are the plot developments. In 1918, when his story was set, feature films were only 6 years old, having emerged in 1912. Today, these early feature films are even more obscure than the mystery novels of the era, being either tragically lost, or buried in archives. It is very hard to compare the period's films with Morley's book. Also, while the novel cites many books and authors by name, film is generally just cited collectively as "the movies". ("This situation is just like the movies", his characters are always saying.) So if Morley had specific mystery films in mind, it is going to be hard to trace them now, because there are few explicit references. He does like and mention Dorothy Gish, and Charlie Chaplin, however. Still, whether Morley pioneered this genre, or simply adapted it from other writers and filmmakers, the novel crystallizes the genre at an early date, and gives a reference point for comparisons with later books and films in a similar style. Morley's literary style is very impressive. His abilities to describe thought processes is especially wonderful. These passages should be quoted in books on cognitive psychology. And in literary textbooks. The descriptions of personal encounters, nature and Brooklyn are also good. Morley's sincere pacifism, and his desire that the realities of W.W.I not be glossed over in literature, are also impressive. His judgments of art are less entirely reliable. I didn't like the badmouthing of Fatty Arbuckle's films. Nor does the unfortunately racist Conrad seem so entirely admirable today as he perhaps did in 1919, when Morley treated him as one of his heroes. Morley clearly loved domesticity. Here there are scenes of eating meals and doing the dishes. Morley once set a whole one act play, "Thursday Evening" (1922), in a kitchen. The set of the play is supposed to be a realistic kitchen, complete with sink, etc.

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