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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

The Corn Cob Club

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"Well, gentlemen," said Roger as his guests assembled in his little cabinet, "it's a cold evening. Pull up toward the fire. Make free with the cider. The cake's on the table. My wife came back from Boston specially to make it."

"Here's Mrs. Mifflin's health!" said Mr. Chapman, a quiet little man who had a habit of listening to what he heard. "I hope she doesn't mind keeping the shop while we celebrate?"

"Not a bit," said Roger. "She enjoys it."

"I see Tarzan of the Apes is running at the Gissing Street movie palace," said Gladfist. "Great stuff. Have you seen it?"

"Not while I can still read The Jungle Book," said Roger.

"You make me tired with that talk about literature," cried Jerry. "A book's a book, even if Harold Bell Wright wrote it." "A book's a book if you enjoy reading it," amended Meredith, from a big Fifth Avenue bookstore. "Lots of people enjoy Harold Bell Wright just as lots of people enjoy tripe. Either of them would kill me. But let's be tolerant."

"Your argument is a whole succession of non sequiturs," said Jerry, stimulated by the cider to unusual brilliance.

"That's a long putt," chuckled Benson, the dealer in rare books and first editions.

"What I mean is this," said Jerry. "We aren't literary critics. It's none of our business to say what's good and what isn't. Our job is simply to supply the public with the books it wants when it wants them. How it comes to want the books it does is no concern of ours."

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"You're the guy that calls bookselling the worst business in the world," said Roger warmly, "and you're the kind of guy that makes it so. I suppose you would say that it is no concern of the bookseller to try to increase the public appetite for books?"

"Appetite is too strong a word," said Jerry. "As far as books are concerned the public is barely able to sit up and take a little liquid nourishment. Solid foods don't interest it. If you try to cram roast beef down the gullet of an invalid you'll kill him. Let the public alone, and thank God when it comes round to amputate any of its hard-earned cash."

"Well, take it on the lowest basis," said Roger. "I haven't any facts to go upon----"

"You never have," interjected Jerry.

"But I'd like to bet that the Trade has made more money out of Bryce's American Commonwealth than it ever did out of all Parson Wright's books put together."

"What of it? Why shouldn't they make both?"

This preliminary tilt was interrupted by the arrival of two more visitors, and Roger handed round mugs of cider, pointed to the cake and the basket of pretzels, and lit his corn-cob pipe. The new arrivals were Quincy and Fruehling; the former a clerk in the book department of a vast drygoods store, the latter the owner of a bookshop in the Hebrew quarter of Grand Street-- one of the best-stocked shops in the city, though little known to uptown book-lovers.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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