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.

Please follow and like us:

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:

Please follow and like us:

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…

Please follow and like us:

Beach, Hemingway and smuggling Joyce’s Ulysses into the U.S.

I met with Krista Halverson, director of the newly founded Shakespeare and Company publishing house, at the famed bookstore in Paris. Listen here to our conversation

We talk, among other things, about the history of Shakespeare and Company, how Sylvia Beach started off, how James Joyce got Ulysses published,  how the United States banned it,  and how Ernest Hemingway figured out a way around this.  Here’s the back-story:

The SS Lansdowne was a railroad car ferry built in 1884 by the Wyandotte Shipyard of the Detroit Dry Dock Company. It crossed the Detroit River from 1884 to 1956, between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario

The first copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses to enter the U.S. came via Windsor, Ontario. The books were printed in Paris and mailed by Hemingway to a friend of his in Windsor who worked for the Curtis Publishing Company in Detroit.

The friend, a reporter named Barney Braverman whom Hemingway had met during his days either in Toronto or Chicago (found references citing both), commuted from Detroit to Windsor each day on the ferry. Braverman reportedly lived on Chatham Street in a house kitty-corner to the back of what is today The Windsor Star newspaper building. Once the smuggling plan was hatched, 40 copies of the novel, published by Sylvia Beach owner of the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, were sent over from Paris.

Every morning Braverman set off with a package under his arm (or somewhere less obvious) containing copies of Joyce’s novel (I’m guessing no more than one or two at a time), strolled downtown  and somehow got past the border guards and onto the ferry. This was the only way to cross the river back then. At the time, construction of the Ambassador Bridge had only just begun.

These were in fact interesting times. Prohibition was in full swing. All sorts of people used to smuggle bottles of fine Canadian whisky across the border tucking them away in their trouser pants and underwear. Booze wasn’t the only thing banned. The authorities were also pretty uptight about ‘immoral’ ‘pornographic’ literature, though this really wasn’t what the guards were on the lookout for.

Each day, for what must have been several weeks on end, this innocent looking publishing salesman crossed the river, went to the Detroit Post Office and fired off first editions of what is now considered by many to be the greatest novel of the 20th Century. Beach’s friends and subscribers throughout the U.S. were on the receiving end, among them Alfred Knopf and Sherwood Anderson (if you’re intrigued by this escapade, check out Michael Januska’s novel Riverside Drive, it includes the smuggling of Ulysses into the States in its storyline).

Image from here.

Today a copy in fine condition fetches $75,000 (twice that if it’s inscribed).  Unfortunately the curious literary tourist can’t take a ferry across the river (only commercial trucks can do this), but he/she can visit John K. King Books on the Detroit side at 901 W. Lafayette Street. It’s humungus. How humungus? Here’s a video I took the last time I was there

Back in Windsor there’s a great shop you can stop off at too, at 1520 Wyandotte Ave. E.  Biblioasis isn’t quite as big, but  it’s filled with a good selection of new (many published by Biblioasis itself) and used books. Here’s one that’s sure to  please the literary tourist.

Please follow and like us:

Audio: Literary Tourist meets Terry Fallis on Parliament Hill



Terry Fallis
would often sit and write speeches in the Library of Parliament for the member of Parliament he worked for during the 1980s. He held the place in reverence, and believes that all Canadians, at one time or another, should visit the place.

We got together outside the Library one sunny summer afternoon to discuss his award-winning political satire The Best Laid Plans, along with his thoughts on democracy. Among other things we touch on the beauty of the Library building itself, how inspiring a visit to The Hill can be, Canada’s current ‘apathy of affluence’ and the fact that while 85% of the populace used to vote in the 60s, that number is now less than 60%. We also talk about the pressing need for Canadians be better informed and to get engaged in their politics, the overly partisan nature of today’s political debate and the laudable goals of avoiding negative portrayals of opponents, working co-operatively on legislation and of focusing on positive visions and programs that put the ‘national’ interest first.

Thinking you might like to check out the Parliamentary Library in Ottawa? For information on tours of Parliament Hill, click here.

Please follow and like us: