Christopher Morley’s 1918 The Haunted Bookshop.
As always, my thoughts are cross-posted here and on LibraryThing.
This was an enjoyable book. It’s very “classic”, in that American Movie Classics Channel Jimmy Stewart kind of way. Everyone is soooo polite and proper. Everyone blushes and women drop their handkerchiefs.
The whole WWII-era spy plot is a bit flat. True, I was always wondering what was going on, but I almost didn’t care, that’s not what kept me turning the pages. The few spots of book talk made it worthwhile for me. There’s a part where the owner of the Haunted Bookshop (which has no ghosts what-so-ever) meets with all the other crusty educated book-ish types around a roaring fire with their pipes and some toddies.
They call themselves the Corn Cob Club and the topics of bookselling and reading were great. The copy I have was printed in 1919, but some of the same language and “concerns of the bookseller” are exactly what you read in any current essay by Epstein or Fadiman. I guess some things never change.
There was one part where a gentleman was describing the beauty of a young lady:
“Titania’s face, shining with young vitality, seemed to him more ‘attention compelling’ than any ten-point Caslon type-arrangement he had ever seen. He admired the layout of her face…”
“Just enough ‘whitespace,'” he thought, “to set off her eyes as the ‘centre of interest.’ Her features aren’t this modern bold-face stuff, set solid,” he said to himself, thinking typographically. “They’re rather French old-stle italic, slightly leaded. Set on 22-point body, I guess.”
How cool is that?
I think I’d like to hang-out with more people that “think typographically”.
So this was a fun book for those who devour anything bookish. But if you’re looking for a true WWII spy thriller this isn’t it.