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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Brattleboro and Books, Greenblatt and Fadiman, Beowulf and Bookstores

If you have to drive for five hours in a row, there are worse routes to be stuck on than the #89 from Montreal to Brattleboro, Vermont

especially in the Fall (okay, this isn’t the actual highway, it’s an image from Vermont Tourism, but you get the idea).

I was heading down to the Brattleboro Literary Festival. We’d attended last year. Caught readings by Richard Russo and Claire Messud, among others. Very pleasant little town. Plenty of granola and veggie burgers on offer, plus a very good used bookstore.

I was pumped about who I’d lined up to interview for The Biblio File.

***

Ions ago, when in my late-twenties, I came across Clifton Fadiman’s A Lifetime Reading Plan.

I’d always wanted to read the great works – had studied politics in college, not literature. Clifton’s guide changed my life. Not only did I read all of its concise, well-crafted summaries – a hundred in total – over the years I’ve actually read many of the books on the list, taking great pleasure ticking off titles as I finish reading them. Clifton’s daughter Anne has written a memoir about her relationship with her father, The Wine Lover’s Daughter. I couldn’t wait to tell her what an impact he’d had on my life, and to learn more about the grand old man himself. Just listen to her. Energy level is off the charts, just as I imagine Clifton’s was:

***

Among other things Will in the World suggests that Shakespeare may have been a Catholic. It also details the bone-breaking cruelty that religion brings out in human beings. Heads chopped off, stuck on spikes, displayed on London’s bridges. Fascinating book, and yet considering how little can be proved about The Bard’s life, rife with conjecture. It took a lot of chutzpah to write this book, ergo, I wanted to meet its author. Stephen Greenblatt was appearing at the Festival promoting his latest book, Tyrant, about MacBeth, Richard lll, and Edmund of King Lear fame. A wicked Shakespearean cabal. None bare any resemblance to Trump of course.

Listen here as we debate this

I took this photograph of Stephen by lining myself up beside Beowulf (yes, his real name) Sheehan – using the same angle he used.

Stephen Greenblatt

Why? Because Beowulf is one of the most talented author photographers in the world. He hit it big with a shot of Donna Tartt. It graces the back cover of The Goldfinch, and the front cover of Beowulf’s beautiful new book of photographs, Author,

The writer Donna Tartt (USA), April 11, 2013, New York, New York. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan www.beowulfsheehan.com

Listen to Beowulf discuss photographing some of the world’s top literary stars, here

***

One thing I couldn’t understand as I stood in front of its closed, locked doors: why wasn’t this great used bookstore open?

Brattleboro Books

It wasn’t, the whole time I was here. You’d think, what with the Festival on and all, that this would be the time for them to make maximum hay. Perhaps they were busy helping the organizers? Perhaps they were the organizers. Perhaps making money wasn’t the most important thing.

Here’s some tourist information for Brattleboro and environs.

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Mollat, Montesquieu, Mauriac and an Arrogant Little Rooster

Literary Tourist in Bordeaux, France

After strolling around Montaigne’s chateau

Montaigne wife tower, chateau, bordeaux
His wife apparently lived in the tower at the end, a long way from Montaigne’s study.

and eating royally on the run in St. Emilion,

we headed for Bordeaux. Since we were staying on the outskirts, I took the bus downtown. The first thing I spotted was this giant column, supported by a spectacular chariot

guarded by this arrogant rooster.


If his name isn’t Napoleon it should be.

I started walking in the direction of the Mollat Bookstore that publisher Heloise D’Ormesson had recommended I visit (at 15 rue Vital-Carles). It’s the oldest independent bookstore in France, and one of the biggest. It’s been in business, in the same family, since the 1890s and it’s located on the site of the last house that philosopher Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu lived in. I found it easily enough. When I arrived I figured I’d try to meet the owner, Denis Mollat. Turned out he was due to show up in 45 minutes, so I asked where all the charming little dying-to-be photographed ‘libraries’ were at,  and was told to visit a nearby side street. Here’s what I found:


This is no longer a bookshop, but the old sign’s still here so it counts. I love the lettering, and the colour of the paint.


The owner here wouldn’t let me take his photograph, but he did give me his latest catalogue.

After reaching the end of the rue I found myself à côté de Continue reading “Mollat, Montesquieu, Mauriac and an Arrogant Little Rooster”

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Apricot Pie, Michel de Montaigne’s spiritual daughter, St. Emilion and gourmet to go

Literary Tourist near Bordeaux, France

Did you know that Transat flies Bordeaux – Montreal direct? We did, and so decided to avoid the Paris crush by driving from Le Mans, where we were staying, through Chateauroux where my wife’s uncle and aunt live, along to Angoulême, host, every January, to the world’s third largest comic book convention; from here we scooted over to Michel de Montaigne’s Chateau, and finally, into Bordeaux where I visited the oldest, and arguably biggest, independent bookshop in France.

***

It was some hot. How hot? Let’s just say we didn’t see any escargot sunning themselves on the sidewalks. It would have been lethal. Luckily Robert had rigged up a garden hose shower in the back yard


Caroline et Robert

and in the shade of some nearby trees it was possible to enjoy, in relative comfort, his chilled red wine, a selection of his choice barbequed meats, and his wife Martine’s delicious apricot pie-like, clafoutis-type desert.

It cooled off a bit over night (the outside temperature that is) so the drive to Angoulême wasn’t as stifling as the one to Chatalroux had been the day before (the a/c in our Enterprise rental car was on the fritz). We arrived in time for a late lunch. Just in time, in fact, for the hostess at the first restaurant on the square where we’d parked, to tell us there was no more food, we’d have to try next door. Yes, they could accommodate us, but we were lucky. The last ones fed.

Most French restaurants outside of Paris stop serving lunch at around 2pm. Despite the inconvenience I kind of like this practice; says something about the quality of the food. Good that it’s not available around the clock like it is in North America. Judging from the glee with which ours delivered her dispiriting news, it’s clear that at least some waiters over here do get a perverse pleasure in telling people, especially Americans, to get lost. But I’m being too harsh. Generally speaking the demeanor of French hospitality toward English speaking tourists has improved markedly over the past ten years.

I wanted to see Angoulême’s comic strip museum, ground-zero for the International Comics Festival that has taken place here every year since 1974. More than 200,000 attend annually; venues are spread out around the city. The Festival is known for the important prizes that it hands out. Unfortunately the place was closed (on Mondays). I did however get a photo

and along the way found evidence of Angoulême’s commitment to comics. Its street-names are displayed in cartoon speech bubbles

There’s also a 4,5 meter high obelisk that’s been erected in front of the train station in honour of Astérix scriptwriter René Goscinny. On it you’ll find memorable lines from the comic strip including “Strange guys, those Romans!”

From Angoulême we went Bergerac, which, I figured, had to have something to do with Cyrano. Turns out it didn’t. Seems like neither the real guy, nor the fictional guy ever stepped foot in Bergerac. The only connection is this opportunistic statue

Cyrano, statue

Still, it offered the opportunity to think about Edmond Rostand and his play, published in 1897. It describes Cyrano’s love for the beautiful Roxanne, whom he woos on behalf of his handsomer, less articulate friend Christian. Cyrano was first performed at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris in 1897, and in English in the United States in 1898. Its translation that year introduced the word “panache” into the English language. Anthony Burgess, among others, also translated the play. There have been numerous adaptations of Cyrano, among the best-known are the 1950 American film starring José Ferrer and the 1990 French-Hungarian film starring Gérard Depardieu.

From Bergerac, with its half timbered houses, we went to our hotel which looked, for a heart-stopping hour, like it might not be able to offer internet service. Luckily it kicked in after we got back from a run to the supermarché. The following morning we headed out to famed essayist Michel de Montaigne’s Château. It’s beautifully situated.


Surrounded by Continue reading “Apricot Pie, Michel de Montaigne’s spiritual daughter, St. Emilion and gourmet to go”

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