16 January 2018

Resuming Richard Rohmer: A Plea for Help

Four years ago this month, I set out to read every book ever written by Richard Rohmer.

It wasn't my idea.

My old pal Chris Kelly came up with the challenge, mutual old pal Stanley Whyte joined in, and we were off. Not only were we going to read Rohmer's entire bibliography, we were going to do it within the year!

We're still at it.

Our mistake was that we remembered Rohmer's years as a bestselling author, but ignored the decades in which he was not. We'd assumed his books would be plentiful, accessible, and cheap. Why, mere days before we began, I picked up his 1989 thriller Red Arctic for a buck in a Perth, Ontario bookstore.

What I failed to recognize is that it was the first copy I'd ever seen. I haven't come across another since. I didn't know that Red Arctic had come and gone in only one printing, and had never made it to paperback. As a kid, Rohmer mass markets were everywhere. I bought mine at the second closest drug store to my home, but I could've just as easily bought them at the closest. It has been over three decades since Rohmer was last published in mass market.

Rohmer's Ultimatum was the bestselling Canadian novel of 1973, but my local library doesn't have a copy; in fact, the St Marys Public Library doesn't have anything by Richard Rohmer. Its helpful staff did all they could in providing inter-library loans.

Stanley had access to slim holdings offered by McGill and Concordia, but these only went so far. He resorted to ordering one book directly from the publisher. It took several months to arrive.

Chris, who lives in California, had the hardest time of it.

Despite the challenges, we tackled sixteen titles in our first year, and wrote about each in a blog: Reading Richard Rohmer. Visitors will see that we slowed to eight in the second year. In year three, we tackled two: Raleigh on the Rocks and Ultimatum 2. Last year, our reading was Rohmerless.

I began 2018 determined to finish reading Richard Rohmer. We're four books shy:
  • Practice and Procedure Before the Highway Transport Board (1965)
  • The Royal Commission on Book Publishing (1972)
  • The Building of the CN Tower (2011)
  • The Building of the Sky Dome/Rogers Centre [sic] (2012)
The first two are held at the University of Western Ontario's D.B. Weldon Library. As reference material, they're not to be checked out, but I'm willing to suffer as many hours as it takes in that butt-ugly, brutalist building.

Such is my willpower and dedication that I plan to read all four, despite reservations concerning Rohmer's authorship of Practice and Procedure Before the Highway Transport Board and The Royal Commission on Book Publishing. Sure, they appear in his bibliographies, but like Rohmer's claims about taking Rommel out of the Second World War, I have doubts that he played so great a role.

I look forward to being proven wrong.

Remarkably, the most recent titles are more difficult to find than half-century-old government reports. After many, many months, I've finally managed to get my hands on The Building of the CN Tower, but The Building of the Sky Dome/Rogers Centre is proving even more elusive. And so, I ask anyone with a copy to contact me.


Four years is an awfully long time.

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  1. ULTIMATUM remains the only volume of his I've held. My father read a lot of near-future political thrillers and the like in the 1970s. Not sure which box it's in, but am pretty sure it's in one.

    1. A rarity, Todd. I believe Ultimatum was the first of only two Rohmer thrillers to be published in the United States (the second being the gloriously titled Balls!). I've always found it amusing that the publisher, Pocket, signed Ultimatum (which ends with an American invasion of Canada), but not its sequel, Exxoneration (in which the invaders are defeated).