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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

The Corn Cob Club

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MIFFLIN--Your doctrine is pitiless, base, and false! What would you think of a physician who saw men suffering from a curable disease and did nothing to alleviate their sufferings?

GLADFIST--Their sufferings (as you call them) are nothing to what mine would be if I stocked up with a lot of books that no one but highbrows would buy. What would you think of a base public that would go past my shop day after day and let the high-minded occupant die of starvation?

MIFFLIN--Your ailment, Jerry, is that you conceive yourself as merely a tradesman. What I'm telling you is that the bookseller is a public servant. He ought to be pensioned by the state. The honour of his profession should compel him to do all he can to spread the distribution of good stuff.

QUINCY--I think you forget how much we who deal chiefly in new books are at the mercy of the publishers. We have to stock the new stuff, a large proportion of which is always punk. Why it is punk, goodness knows, because most of the bum books don't sell.

We have hundreds more books for your enjoyment. Read them all!

MIFFLIN--Ah, that is a mystery indeed! But I can give you a fair reason. First, because there isn't enough good stuff to go round. Second, because of the ignorance of the publishers, many of whom honestly don't know a good book when they see it. It is a matter of sheer heedlessness in the selection of what they intend to publish. A big drug factory or a manufacturer of a well-known jam spends vast sums of money on chemically assaying and analyzing the ingredients that are to go into his medicines or in gathering and selecting the fruit that is to be stewed into jam. And yet they tell me that the most important department of a publishing business, which is the gathering and sampling of manuscripts, is the least considered and the least remunerated. I knew a reader for one publishing house: he was a babe recently out of college who didn't know a book from a frat pin. If a jam factory employs a trained chemist, why isn't it worth a publisher's while to employ an expert book analyzer? There are some of them. Look at the fellow who runs the Pacific Monthly's book business for example! He knows a thing or two.

CHAPMAN--I think perhaps you exaggerate the value of those trained experts. They are likely to be fourflushers. We had one once at our factory, and as far as I could make out he never thought we were doing good business except when we were losing money.

MIFFLIN--As far as I have been able to observe, making money is the easiest thing in the world. All you have to do is to turn out an honest product, something that the public needs. Then you have to let them know that you have it, and teach them that they need it. They will batter down your front door in their eagerness to get it. But if you begin to hand them gold bricks, if you begin to sell them books built like an apartment house, all marble front and all brick behind, you're cutting your own throat, or rather cutting your own pocket, which is the same thing.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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