Roberston Davies offers some very good advice along with all the laughs in The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks. Marchbanks was Davies’ alter-ego for a series in the Peterborough Examiner. As narrator of the essays collected in this sort of mocu-memoir, he serves up wit in heaping dollops. 

Somewhere in there he advises people to sleep on their guest bed every once in a while, so as to spare guests the agony of a night spent considering whether they should try the floor instead. And how would somebody with a spare bed know that it had been rendered unsleeponable by years of hospitality unless they tried it out? 

Of course, the easy way to do this is to fight with the person who shares your bed. But if you live alone or enjoy a strangely uninterrupted couple-y bliss, you’ll never know if your guest bed is a torturous sack of lumps. 

I tried mine out recently and find that isn’t. It is, in fact, miles more comfortable than the bed in my actual bedroom. This saddens me, because: 

a) The guest bed, being a narrow twin, actually fits in the guest room and my current bed would not. I live in an old house and the stairs to the guest room are too small and twisty to admit anything much larger than an average-sized human being. 

b) I have been sleeping on what has gradually become a cement-like platform and somehow not noticed. This may be because the way my schedule is currently arranged, I become unconscious about .05 seconds after my head hits the pillow. No reading in bed for me – that’s for people who get enough sleep. 

Ironically, The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks is ideal bedside reading. The sections are the right size to allow the reader to put it down at reasonable intervals, and the book is diverting enough to make insomnia pleasant. I used to read it all the time (the fact that this book stands up to re-reading is another selling-point).  

Papers, much to my dismay, is not in print in the U.S. Its contents are drawn from three earlier collections: The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks & Samuel Marchbanks’ Almanac, all of which also went out of print here years ago (I mention this in case you are reading in Canada, or are planning a trip there — a wonderful opportunity to pick up, say, copies of everything Davies ever wrote). 

I did see a copy of Papers in good condition on a recent visit to The Bookseller, Inc., in Akron, Ohio, a lovely little used-and-rare bookstore.   

A cozy nook to settle in and examine your finds

I should give them a proper plug and say that they also carry ephemera & specialize in books on aviation and lighter-than-air transport and can boast of a very strong Ohio history collection. The Bookseller also has a sweet, elderly pug on staff who is gentle and friendly but will happily leave you alone if you are not a dog person. Do plan a visit. They are right across the street from the Westpoint Market (nifty specialty grocer with a tea room), so you can pick up some delicious goodies or stop for a snack after you’re done shopping for books.

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