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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Titania Learns the Business

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Roger chuckled. "I hope you don't think I'm a mere highbrow," he said. "As a customer said to me once, without meaning to be funny, `I like both the Iliad and the Argosy.' The only thing I can't stand is literature that is unfairly and intentionally flavoured with vanilla. Confectionery soon disgusts the palate, whether you find it in Marcus Aurelius or Doctor Crane. There's an odd aspect of the matter that sometimes strikes me: Doc Crane's remarks are just as true as Lord Bacon's, so how is it that the Doctor puts me to sleep in a paragraph, while my Lord's essays keep me awake all night?"

Titania, being unacquainted with these philosophers, pursued the characteristic feminine course of clinging to the subject on which she was informed. The undiscerning have called this habit of mind irrelevant, but wrongly. The feminine intellect leaps like a grasshopper; the masculine plods as the ant.

"I see there's a new Mable book coming," she said. "It's called That's Me All Over Mable, and the newsstand clerk at the Octagon says he expects to sell a thousand copies."

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"Well, there's a meaning in that," said Roger. "People have a craving to be amused, and I'm sure I don't blame 'em. I'm afraid I haven't read Dere Mable. If it's really amusing, I'm glad they read it. I suspect it isn't a very great book, because a Philadelphia schoolgirl has written a reply to it called Dere Bill, which is said to be as good as the original. Now you can hardly imagine a Philadelphia flapper writing an effective companion to Bacon's Essays. But never mind, if the stuff's amusing, it has its place. The human yearning for innocent pastime is a pathetic thing, come to think about it. It shows what a desperately grim thing life has become. One of the most significant things I know is that breathless, expectant, adoring hush that falls over a theatre at a Saturday matinee, when the house goes dark and the footlights set the bottom of the curtain in a glow, and the latecomers tank over your feet climbing into their seats----"

"Isn't it an adorable moment!" cried Titania.

"Yes, it is," said Roger; "but it makes me sad to see what tosh is handed out to that eager, expectant audience, most of the time. There they all are, ready to be thrilled, eager to be worked upon, deliberately putting themselves into that glorious, rare, receptive mood when they are clay in the artist's hand--and Lord! what miserable substitutes for joy and sorrow are put over on them! Day after day I see people streaming into theatres and movies, and I know that more than half the time they are on a blind quest, thinking they are satisfied when in truth they are fed on paltry husks. And the sad part about it is that if you let yourself think you are satisfied with husks, you'll have no appetite left for the real grain."

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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