Critic’s Corner: This column is haunted


“Let’s tell stories!” my brothers and I would cry before my mother put us to bed. As children, we loved when she would make up bedtime stories, usually with characters who had our names and that learned a lesson she wanted to drive home that night.

Even today, when I need to distract my youngest brother from something unpleasant, I ask him to tell me a story. His face lights up and he starts out, “Once upon a time…”

We have stories to help us explain the world around us. We have stories to teach us how to live. We have stories to connect us no matter where we come from. Humanity knows where it has come from and where it is going because of the stories we tell each other, the stories we pass down from generation to generation, the literature that preserves who we are at different stages in time. All this thinking about stories reminds me how powerful they are and how important it is to tell good ones.

When was the last time you were haunted – by a good book, that is? Have you ever been haunted by a book or story?

A novel I read recently called “The Haunted Bookshop,” by Christopher Morley, got me thinking about the power of story. The novel features an eccentric and loveable bookseller who fills the pages with his philosophy on literature and great books.

I would recommend reading the novel not so much for the plot (which involves a bomb, a misplaced volume of Carlyle essays and a budding romance between two young people who fall for each other the way I fall for a good Austen novel), but read it for the reflections the author gives on the power of books to change the world. Published in 1919, the novel’s protagonist expounds on the chaos that the Great War produced and how he believes literature should play a role in recreating the world in its search for peace.

The bookseller calls his bookshop “haunted by the ghosts of all great literature.” What a fascinating concept (one to which I hope this column can aspire). Perhaps you know the feeling of walking through rows and rows of books, realizing that the thoughts, emotions and stories of millions of people surround you in ink and paper.

One of his key ideas is as follows: “Printer’s ink has been running a race against gunpowder these many, many years. Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gunpowder in half a second, while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while the book can keep exploding for centuries.”

Anyone who has ever read a truly fascinating book knows what it’s like to feel the story exploding inside you. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” feels that way to me. Maybe for you, it’s anyone from C.S. Lewis to Sylvia Plath, from Toni Morrison to Dostoevsky. Find the books that explode you and ask yourself why they have such an impact on you. Find the stories that move you and ask yourself what they are pushing you towards.

On that note, I would like to do a column of story suggestions – with your help. I would absolutely love if you would be so kind as to write in and tell me: What is your favorite book? What books or stories have absolutely changed your life, challenged the way you think? If you could suggest one book or work of literature (movie, play, poem, song, etc.) to anyone, what would it be and why? Please send any and all answers to [email protected], and stay tuned to see if you make it to print!