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.

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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.

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Toronto Trolley Buses, Torosian, Motherhood and Lista

Literary Tourist in Toronto

Next morning I road the rails to Michael Torosian’s Lumiere Press in the West end of Toronto. He has a workshop in his backyard where he produces the most impeccable fine press photography books. (Here’s a look at his latest:

and his immaculate shop reflects it

After our Biblio File podcast conversation (listen here

I jumped in a taxi – the driver was a big Dire Straits fan (he liked it very loud) – and travelled back downtown to spruce up for the Grad ceremony.

All went smoothly. Eleanor copped her diploma, and Marie Campbell (author of Halfbreed) got her honorary doctorate

and delivered a harmless enough convocation address – mostly birds, bees, flowers, motherhood about mother-earth. I’d have preferred something a bit more substantive and inspiring, but it was what it was – an important message that shouldn’t – lest we fry – continue to be ignored.

After champagne, cake and photos, I boarded the trolley bus West again, this time for Michael Lista‘s place, where steaks and wine awaited. I first met Michael a decade ago in his Montreal apartment, right before his first book of poetry, Bloom, was published; one which I think will, over time, come to be recognized as truly important. More people should read it. Given its nuclear content, it will blow your mind, guaranteed.

After perusing his skillfully stacked, wrap-around bookshelves – they carry all the books I first saw in Montreal, and many more I’m sure –

we set about talking. You can listen to what was said here:

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Ryerson, Book Publishing, Libido and Plucked Chickens

Literary Tourist in Toronto

Let’s just say $120 a night doesn’t get you much in the way of a hotel room in downtown Toronto these days. Crack-houses – that’s what the customer comments make them sound like. So I dialed up Airbnb to find a place – near Ryerson University – and got a lovely one-bedroom apartment for the same money. Clean, quiet, central, just what I needed. Turns out it was less than a block away from the old Maple Leaf Gardens

where my eldest daughter was scheduled to cross the stage the next day, a graduate of this program. This is why I was here; but naturally I’d lined up a few Biblio File interviews to wile away the spare time.

The first was at the home of award-winning investigative journalist Elaine Dewar. We talked about her book The Handover (Biblioasis, 2017).

It concerns the increasing concentration in and foreign ownership of Canadian book publishing and how this has choked off writers’ options and advances, and readers’ choices. More precisely it explores in detail the convoluted and disingenuous sale by Avi Bennett of McClelland & Stewart to Penguin Random House via the University of Toronto, and how millions in government grants and tax credits were purloined along the way. Reads like a detective story and reveals much about how the Canadian establishment works.

Listen here to our conversation:

After the interview, and a quick perusal of Elaine’s artwork, I jumped in a taxi and headed for Le Paradis

where author David Gilmour and I were to dine that evening. It’s weird. I was in the taxi, and although I didn’t know exactly where I was, at one point the street suddenly seemed familiar. Contact Editions bookshop is located along here somewhere I said to myself. And damned if we didn’t pass it about 10 seconds later (on Davenport). Here, some years past, I’d bought a first edition of the first book ever published by Coach House Press, Man in a Window by Wayne Clifford.

***

David is famous among Biblio File listeners for being the only guest ever to have told the podcast’s august host to Fuck Off on-air. His blast was delivered after bridling at my nervy criticism of several of his well-turned similes. It happened during one of the early episodes of the program. You can listen to the fireworks here if you like:

We ate outdoors. The evening was warm and pleasant. Save for water, we didn’t drink anything. The pepper-steaks arrived as the subject of concentrated ownership surfaced again. More and more award-winning authors, I remarked, are resorting, out of necessity it seems, to working with smaller independent publishers, pretty well all of whom have shallow pockets. Despite caring deeply about giving voice to Canadian-told stories, the advances they can muster are pretty pathetic. This isn’t to say however that Canadian authors can’t make money with them. It’s just that it’s not as easy and upfront as it once was with the big boys.

Talk turned to literature. I raved about the class of young students I’ve encountered at Concordia University’s Liberal Arts College while sitting in on some Great Books courses (stay tuned for Biblio File interviews with the profs). They, the students, are filled not only with enthusiasm, but also smart questions and answers. It’s clear they’ve actually done the readings. Close readings. I mentioned how lucky I felt to be able to participate (thanks to Director Mark Russell). Then I remembered that David does me one better. He gets paid to teach this stuff every week at the U of T.

After some discussion of Plato’s contention that it’s a blessing not to be cursed with a ravenous libido in older age, we turned-in early, two Autumn chickens. Plucked alouettes.

Actually, it’s Sophocles who’s credited with the libido remarks in Plato’s Republic via Cephalus, who in turn tells Socrates. When asked about love, and if he was still capable of it, Sophocles replies, ‘Hush! if you please: to my great delight I have escaped from it, and it feel as if I have escaped from a frantic and savage master.’ This has also been translated as ‘like escaping from bondage to a raging madman;’ and my favourite, ‘like being unchained from a lunatic;’ there’s also from ‘an idiot,’ ‘a demon.’

To be continued…

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Open Air Bookfairs, Gay Archives, National Libraries & Michel Tremblay

Literary Tourist in Montreal

I don’t like identity politics. And I especially don’t like it when it intrudes on literature. I don’t care what colour or gender or sexual orientation or shape or size an author is, so long as his/her/their writing is good. That said, I think everybody should have the opportunity to tell their story, and that there should be plenty of places available for these stories to be told, read, discovered. Finally, while I think that readers and publishers should look all over the place for the best writing they can find, quality – a loaded term I realize – should be at the root of all decisions about what to read or who to publish – more so than content, or who or what the author is or isn’t. If the content or story is about the gay or trans or African-American or ‘dis’abled experience, and it’s well told – namely that it impels me to keep reading and helps me to better understand that experience – I’m good.

With this in mind, I went to the LGBT Open Air Bookfair recently on St. Catherine Street in Montreal. What a happy time it was. I chatted with these folks at

at FIERTE, learned that there’s a gay archive in Montreal

which is home to hundreds of photographs and posters and community newsletters that document the history and struggles of homosexuals in the city, and I saw these books, produced by a gay publishing house

The army was here.

Everyone seemed to be in a grand mood. Some were in really good shape,

others strutted

their stuff.

These guys really got dressed up for the occasion.

But, despite being billed as a ‘book fair,’ there weren’t, to be honest, that many books on display at the event. I wanted to see more. So, after a slow stroll up and down the booth-line boulevard, I decided, since it was only a block or two away, to drop in on the Bibliothèque Nationale du Quebec.

I asked one of the librarians to name me some of Quebec’s best known authors and publishers. Michel Tremblay of course, and Dany Laferrière. I’d heard of them. Nicholas Dickner? No. But his novel Nikolski did ring a bell. It won the 2008 Governor General’s Award for French-to-English translation, and the 2010 edition of Canada Reads. I’d seen the cover before quite often.

,

There was Roland Giguere, the poet/publisher of Erta Books. The librarian also named Boreal, L’homme and Lémeac as some of the better known Quebec book publishers. So plenty of potential Biblio File interview topics and candidates here in Montreal (in fact, I’ve already interviewed Michel Tremblay, so please stay tuned).

Not that I haven’t already done some groundwork. Several years ago I interviewed Simon Dardick about his venerable Montreal-based English language Vehicule Press. You can listen here

and more recently, Ashley Obscura, co-founder of the nascent Metatron Press. She’d just moved into new office space when I met her.

Now that we’re on the topic of Montreal and libraries, I should mention the McGill Rare Books Library where I’ve been spending some pleasant hours recently, reading Robert Reid’s five volume memoir.

Robert Reid Memoir

I always feel good after spending time with Robert, so full of life he is. Still printing in his nineties out in Vancouver. And yes, I interviewed him once too. Listen here

Another draw of the McGill Library is that each week several doors down the folks working on the annual McGill Book Fair, put out several boxes of old books that they figure aren’t good enough to sell. You’d be surprised at what you can pick up here…for free.

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