Being the Second part of my Southern Ontario Book Safari

Literary Tourist in Southern Ontario, Canada

I arrived at Rod and Joanne’s place in Welland, Ontario just in time for supper (there’s a name for people who do this: smellfeasts); and a delicious one it was at that.

Rod (Morris) and I worked together very successfully throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s in the feature news distribution and magazine contract publishing business(es). As Sir Stanley Unwin put it in his book, The Truth About Publishing, “Publishing is an unusually difficult occupation. It is at once an art, a craft, and a business, for which a curious and unusual combination of qualifications is desirable.” This holds as true for magazines as it does for books.

Early on I knew that Rod possessed the right qualifications. He is a great magazine publisher, and I’m lucky to call him a friend.

I love Rod as much as anything, for his fluffy french-toast – a substantial helping of which I consumed the next morning. Then it was out the door, into downtown Welland, and over to the home of one of Canada’s most knowledgeable, respected antiquarian book dealers.

I carted in a box of books I’d reserved especially for Steven’s eagle-eye, along with my newly acquired Powell novels, purchased here

Now here’s the thing – because they appear later on in the Dance to the Music of Time series – after it had become popular – my volumes aren’t as scarce as the ones preceding them. Not that they aren’t worth anything; they are: $50 – $75 each. Problem is, Steven and most other dealers, will only give me 20-25% of this amount (in Steve’s case, paid out in cash). In other words, about $15 each – which is roughly what I paid for them in the first place. While there might be a little profit here, it’s hardly worth all the effort.

I resolved to hold on to them – to play custodian for a while – and try my luck elsewhere, perhaps in the States where I’ll benefit from the exchange rate and the fact that they don’t see British editions down there all that often.

With this business out of the way, Steven and I got to rapping about his passion for finding and identifying lost Canadian literature – books that few others know about. It’s a fascinating project. You can learn more about it by listening to our conversation here:

From Steven and Welland I hit the road again back to Dundas, a little town just outside of Hamilton, Ontario. I had an interview lined up here with one of Canada’s great fine press proprietors, Will Rueter. He’s been operating his Aliquando Press since the early 1960s. We talked about Thomas James ( T.J.) Cobden- Sanderson this time round, and Will’s reverence for the man. Cobden-Sanderson was a lawyer turned bookbinder associated with William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement – a term that he, T.J., in fact coined. He set up the Doves Bindery in 1893, and later the Doves Press in partnership with Emery Walker. As a result of a dispute over the rights to the Doves Type, Cobden-Sanderson famously threw them, along with their punches and matrices, into the Thames. Listen to my conversation with Will here

In fact, Will has produced several books about Cobden-Sanderson, including Majesty, Order and Beauty, the hundredth volume off The Aliquando Press. It was designed, printed and bound by Will, “handset in Palatino and Sistina types with Primula ornaments and was printed on white mouldmade Hahnemuhle Bugra paper.”

I learned recently that Will was intricately involved in production of the early editions of a journal called The Devil’s Artisan (DA). Established in 1980, the DA is today billed as Canada’s ‘Journal of the Printing Arts’. First appearing under the editorship of Paul Forage, Will Rueter and Glenn Goluska, it was purchased by Tim Inkster’s Porcupine’s Quill in the spring of 1995 and has published two issues a year since then under the editorship of Don McLeod.

Several weeks ago I came into possession of about twenty of them thanks to a very satisfying biblio-transaction with Pradeep Sebastian, a fellow bibliomaniac who has written extensively on our shared affliction.

From Will’s studio, I drove several blocks over to Dundas’s main drag and James McDonald’s newish little bookshop The Printed Word. James has acquired part of Nelson Ball’s old stock, including, primarily, his extensive collection of Canadian literary periodicals. As a result his shelves are packed

with interesting editions of important Canadian poetry books, including this hard to find number by John Thompson

– a poet who died young, possibly by his own hand, and who is revered by many of today’s better practitioners, including Michael Lista (okay Michael has left the trade to become an investigative journalist, but his first book of poetry, Bloom, is one of the best ever written by a Canadian – IMHO).

I asked James if, at this late hour, he’d consider (you guessed it) looking at some books I had to trade-in. He kindly responded in the affirmative, and took most of what remained in the car. As a result I came away with several coveted items, including

Anthropomorphiks by Robert Fones (published by Coach House Press), which was featured on the cover of a recent issue of The Devil’s Artisan: yet another pleasing coincidence, the kind of which you’ll find frequently, in the wonderful world of books and travel.

Here ends my very successful book-trading and interviewing safari to Southern Ontario, undertaken in the late Fall of 2018.

What’s so exciting about London, Stratford, and Hamilton, Ontario?

Literary Tourist tours Ontario, Canada

The adventure began in my book-filled storage cave in Ottawa. This picture was taken after twelve boxes full were removed and crammed into my car. A local bookseller, Bill Cameron, had told me about Attic Books several years ago.

I’d already carted a van-load of books down Highway 401 to London, Ontario, where Attic is located, and gotten what I thought was a reasonable deal for them ( I always go with trade). Owner Marvin Post likes to move books – buys and sells lots of them – turnover is good for business he says. What I love is that he doesn’t just cock his nose, sniff at your offerings and deign only to take a handful. No. Marvin – depending upon what you bring him of course – will take a whole whack: ten boxes worth this time round. Now granted, my books were pretty good, but most booksellers just wont do what Marvin does.

I arrived late. It’d taken two hours just to get from one frikin end of Toronto to the other on the clogged highway. Luckily I’d downloaded a bunch of book-centric podcasts – including some episodes of Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers & Co, (she’s one top-drawer interviewer). Of the many I listened to that afternoon, perhaps the best was with Diana Athill. Absolutely delightful. Listen here. She talks of Andre Deutsch, and of her experience publishing books over many decades. So glad I bought a signed copy of her Life Class a few years ago (from Dan Mozersky) (she died recently at the age of 101)

And the episode on Simone de Beauvior? Riveting

When we’d finally unloaded the car and the books had been priced,

it was closing time, so Marvin and I postponed out conversation until the next morning. He and I met at a table near the Books on Books section
on the 2nd floor of his building. This is one of my favourite spaces in all of Canadian bookstoredom. Where else will you find a run of Big-Little books

next to a display of International Tauchnitz editions?

One of the best parts of our conversation, to my mind, is when the book elevator kicks-in, accompanied by chiming hot water pipes.

Once we’d finished jawing, I hit the road for Stratford, famed for its Shakespeare Theatre Festival established in 1952 by Tyrone Guthrie. It was off-season so nothing was on. I’ve seen Christopher Plummer play Lear here; and William Hutt, but I’m sorry, I’m a snob. While Stratford may be good by North American standards, the best Shakespeare is in London, England, although I must say, one of the funniest versions of MacBeth I’ve ever seen was in Montreal, outdoors, where the witches were played by dudes in drag.

Macbeth Repercussion

I met up with my friend David Monkhouse who, being the renaissance man that he is, in mid-life was completing his second year of study at the Stratford Chefs School. We headed off to the only two used bookstores in town. One had a half price/going out of business sale on ( picked up this Leslie Smart-designed number)

the other was headed in the same direction. Owner, Manfred
Meurer – who looked remarkably young for his 80 years – told me he planned to close shop in the Spring of 2019. Seems to me there’s a potential biblio-monopoly business opportunity here.

That evening Dave and I went out to eat at the School. The menu was fashioned after one developed by chef Grant Achatz whose Chicago restaurant Alinea had earlier in the year been voted the best in the world! I’m afraid, to my shame, the effort was lost on me. The food was just a tad too effete for this peasant’s palate, although the candied tuna stick was, I must admit, pretty good.

From Stratford I headed, the next morning, to Kitchener-Waterloo where I first hit old goat books

and found a copy of Elaine Dewar’s The Handover. Like a detective story it meticulously unravels the tortuous, untoward journey that “Canada’s Publisher” McClelland and Stewart takes on its way to becoming foreign owned.

From the Goat I drove over to Kitchener and stopped in at KW Bookstore where I found a signed copy of Mavis Gallant’s Selected Stories for a towering $10, plus a paperback anniversary edition of George Grant’s Lament for a Nation, with its clever (as usual) David Drummond cover design.

$10! Hell, I thought this was a good find – until I discovered a copy online for a mere $30. Canadians sure are pathetic when it comes to valuing their dead authors. Gallant is outstanding. A signed edition of hers should be worth way more than this. Not sure what I was more disgusted by: what I’d found not being such a find after all, or my fellow countrymen not revering their iconic compatriot writers enough…

Finally, across the street and up a few blocks I came to A Second Look Books & Movies where I traded in a load of the books that Marvin hadn’t taken, in exchange for, among other things, a first edition of A.M. Klein’s The Rocking Chair, and a couple of Frank Newfeld-designed Pierre Berton – no mistaking this –

titles (one signed)( I think they produced this in three editions – note to self: must get third colour). All I can say is that there are a lot of very decent used book dealers plying their trade in Canada today, including John Poag here

and there are still many interesting books up for grabs on their shelves (despite my sometime grumbling about other dealers picking them clean). Make a point of getting to know some of your local bibliopoles. You wont regret it.

So I was in a pretty happy mood as I drove off to Hamilton where I had an interview lined up with Jim King, Jack McClelland’s biographer. We engaged in a good discussion about Jack, A Life with Authors

the consensus being that McClelland is Canada’s greatest publisher and cultural nationalist, and that this country should name its forthcoming new National Library building after him.

From Jim’s place I drove over to a shop he’d recommended called Westside Stories. Here I offered up what remained of my books to owner Lyn Barlow

a charmed and charming book-seller/lover who took what she wanted and offered me $45 or thereabouts in trade. I loped downstairs and surfaced fifteen minutes later with five first edition titles from Anthony Powell’s famed cycle of novels A Dance to the Music of Time.

More on this later. For now, it was back in the car, off to visit my old friend, the incomparable Rod Morris, and to interview one of Canada’s foremost antiquarian booksellers, in Welland, Ontario. To be Continued.

Churchill, Fine Presses and Commissioning Editors

Literary Tourist in London, England: Day 3

A bright and sunny morning. Perfect opportunity to bury ourselves in Winston Churchill’s bunker, the underground nerve centre where Winnie and his inner circle choreographed the Second World War. My wife had reserved tickets for 10am. At first sight, the prospects didn’t look good.

I hate lining up. For anything. Thanks to the tickets, however, we were ushered into a very short line that started to move directly through the entrance the moment we joined it. The timing was exemplary.

Lots here to take in. I liked the special bedroom set aside for Winston’s wife, Clemmie. Apparently the two couldn’t abide being apart for long. The exhibit, which focuses mostly on the war years, also covers much of the glory of Churchill’s long life. One thing it skips however, is his writing career. He published a prodigious number of words, and won the Nobel prize for literature. Some years ago I interviewed Ron Cohen, Churchill’s bibliographer. You can listen here.

Despite an absence of books, Churchill’s war rooms are still worth a visit – lots of authentic material to take in – film footage, letters, even the door of Ten Downing Street – plus there’s a gift shop filled with bulldogs,

cigars and this sexy navy blue and white number that Churchill favoured. Looks a mite big for a bow-tie.

From central command I surfaced and walked a short distance over towards Westminster Abbey to admire this bronze sculpture by Ivor Roberts-Jones

past this iconic statue-still symbol,

and onwards to Portobello Road via the tube and a short walk past this colourful curb-side grocer,

and these sun-dappled townhouses.

Sophie Schneideman led me to the back of her husband’s photography shop, where she keeps her fine collection of fine press treasures. It’s a cosy little nook, packed with beautifully printed books. Perusing some of her catalogues while she popped out, I noticed that they were designed by the revered Jerry Kelly (must interview). Her shelves supported books by Cobden-Sanderson, William Morris, Charles Ricketts and Gaylord Shanelic, who I’d recently interviewed out in Minneapolis, listen here.

Sophie was on a tight schedule, so we set to it. You can listen to our conversation about some of the great fine presses (Kelmscott, Ashendene, Doves, Circle) and how to go about collecting them, here

From Sophie’s I made my way back down to the tube station. Destination: Notting Hill

I wasn’t so much interested in Hugh Grant, as I was Hannah Knowles, senior commissioning editor with Canongate (I’m thinking Churchill would’ve liked that blouse).

After scouring the neighbourhood on foot and in taxi I eventually found her offices and was led into a slightly echoey boardroom. One of the walls was a beautiful choral colour, decorated with repeating purple foxgloves. Years ago I’d interviewed Hannah’s boss Jamie Byng at BookExpo in Washington, D.C. Listen here

Now it was time to talk to someone who really knew him. Actually we talk mostly about Hannah’s role, the freedom she enjoys, and how cool and eclectic Canongate’s backlist is. If that doesn’t arouse your interest, you might want to pay special attention to the part where she talks about a guy having sex with a cross-dressing lizard. Listen here:

From Hannah’s I made my way over to the British Library. Had an appointment to see a literary publicist just across the road. After 10-15 minutes pounding on the door to no response, and several unanswered telephone calls, I strolled back across the street to check out the free Treasures of the British Library exhibit. It included original Lennon and McCartney lyric manuscripts, complete with doodles. From here I walked past St Pancras station where you’ll find a statue of John Betjeman by sculptor Martin Jennings.

I decided to take a powder on Harry Potter’s train Platform 9 ¾ located in nearby King’s Cross Station, and headed straight for one of my favourite London bookstores, Collinge and Clark ( aka Black Books).

Favourite because it specializes in books on books, and private presses. Oliver lets me go down into the basement too – a rare privilege, despite appearances. I collect publisher’s histories. Didn’t find much this time round, but I did spot this:

Pretty obvious what Oliver collects. Next time I’m in town, I hope to interview him about this, and other hot collectible items.

Meeting The Bookseller, Browsing Bookshops, Quoting Geoffrey Faber, and Rapping with James Daunt

Literary Tourist in London, England. Day 2

The cold (English cold I should say, not Canadian) fresh air slapped my face as I exited the apartment. I didn’t feel like walking, but nonetheless, nutted-up and strode for 15 minutes over to the Thames, where the Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) fairly sparkled in the morning sunlight.

The Bookseller magazine‘s offices are across the river from it. A 15 minute walk West gets you to the Tate Britain. Twenty minutes on foot in the other direction, along the Thames, and you’re at the Southbank Book Market.

Given that it was late October, there weren’t too many vendors out. I suspect there’s a lot better selection in the summertime.

In case you’re interested M16’s HQ is a short trot up the road from The Bookseller’s offices. And just so you know, the surrounding district is called Lambeth – as in Liza of Lambeth,

Somerset Maugham’s first novel about the travails of a young factory worker who lives near Westminster Bridge, written while Maugham was a medical student. Lambeth is also the place where John Milton lands after cometing his way down from heaven in William Blakes’ Milton: A Poem in Two Books.

I was here to interview The Bookseller’s chief executive and owner, Nigel Roby.

The magazine goes way back, to 1858, when Joseph Whitaker founded it in order to inform London publishers and booksellers about the latest books, launch dates, and various comings and goings in the trade. It has filled this role faithfully ever since – even published during the Blitz – only today, the coverage is global. Listen below as Nigel (Beale) talks with Nigel about the magazine’s past, along with current topics of concern to the industry. Brexit, which came up in virtually every interview I conducted during this visit to London, was certainly one concern. The uncertainty created is agitating everyone in publishing.

As members of the EU, the Brits have for many years had the English-language market on the continent all to themselves. With the ‘leave’ vote, this could change dramatically. A potential battle looms with American publishers. Britain is currently the largest book exporter in the world (Canada is one of the largest importers). Sales are close to $7 Billion a year, half of which comes from the EU. The U.S. is hankering for an invasion.

The British book business employs 30,000 people. If the country pulls out of the EU, and walls go up, literary culture is likely to become more isolated, a shrinking economy would mean less money spent on books, and writers could lose their generous Euro grants. No wonder it comes up in conversation. There’s much at stake.

***

I’d agreed to meet Henry Hitchings downstairs outside the building. There he was, right on time. We hiked briskly back to Airbnb HQ talking all the while about theatre (Henry is the critic for the Evening Standard), Samuel Johnson, and, yes, Brexit. Listen here as we nerd out about the smell of books and stories that can be told around buying them (books not smell), and a book Henry edited called Browse: The World in Bookshops.

Continue reading “Meeting The Bookseller, Browsing Bookshops, Quoting Geoffrey Faber, and Rapping with James Daunt”

London’s Rich Store of Publishing Houses and Bookshops

Literary Tourist in London, England. Day 1

I love London. Love being surrounded by English accents, and striking architecture,

old


Traitors’ Gate? Prisoners were ferried along the Thames under London Bridge upon which the heads of recently executed prisoners smiled down on them. Sir Thomas More, among other notables, entered the Tower by Traitors’ Gate

and new.


(not sure what this building’s called, or the battleship for that matter, but I’m feeling it).

The combination really enriches a place.

Intrigued by the steeples of London churches and the masts of tall ships depicted by the 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto, Renzo Piano designed The Shard as a spire-like sculpture emerging from the Thames.

Then there’s The Tate. The Royal Shakespeare Company. The British Library. Jermyn Street. But most important of all, there’s the fact that London is where so many great British book publishers and booksellers first set up shop: John Murray, Faber & Faber, Michael Joseph, The Hogarth Press, Jonathan Cape, Heinemann. Maggs Bros., Bernard Quaritch, Hatchards (complete with insufferable attitude), Henry Sotheran, Waterstones, Daunt Books .

I was here to connect with this.

***

Off the tube, on day one, at Green Park Station, and this lovely fountain

en-route to Maggs Bros. bookshop,

Maggs Bros.

where I encounter Ben Maggs. Had hoped to interview his father for The Biblio File, but hadn’t heard back. Ben indicated that this wasn’t entirely unusual, so my nose slowly made its way back into joint. On the plus side, he told me he’d heard of my humble podcast. Then we settled into an interesting discussion about fine press books and communicating with the dead. I complimented him on the pleasing presentation of his books.

The doing of manager

Bonny Beaumont he told me.

***

Next it was off to interview Will Atkinson in Bloomsbury.

Will is Managing Director of Atlantic Books, U.K, publisher of Tim Waterstones’s recent memoir The Face Pressed Against a Window. Prior to Atlantic, Will was for many years with Faber & Faber, serving as Director of Sales & Marketing. During this time he spearheaded the Independent Alliance, a very successful sales organization that comprises some of the U.K.’s leading independent publishers, including Granta and Canongate.

Listen here as we talk about the secret to his sales success:

Continue reading “London’s Rich Store of Publishing Houses and Bookshops”