31 December 2009

On the Year's Last Eve

From The Poems of Archibald Lampman, published by Musson in 1900, the year after the poet's death.

30 December 2009

The Girls Who Got Away

Published in 1969 by California's Brandon House, easily the finest American publisher of erotica, for some time I've had an eye out for this title. Last month a Toronto bookseller teased, then disappointed. Here's hoping for success in 2010.

I'm too young to remember the American pavilion, depicted on the cover. That said, I see no evidence that any of its displays featured a bed... or lesbian sex, for that matter.


28 December 2009

Fact-Checking Gordon Sinclair

Bright Path [sic] to Adventure
Gordon Sinclair
Toronto: Harlequin, 1954

Was Gordon Sinclair ever so dashing a figure? I remember him from Front Page Challenge. Not nearly as sharp as Pierre Berton, lacking Betty Kennedy's class and poise, to my young eyes he was just a boorish little man in a loud sports jacket.

What I didn't know, sitting there on the floor in front of my family's Viking colour television, was that Sinclair had written a number of commercially successful books. Royalties from the first, Foot-loose in India (1932), paid for his faux-Georgian manor in Islington. Bright Path to Adventure was, perhaps, less successful. Still, in 1945 the Globe and Mail reported that it had sold 10,000 copies in just two months.

The Globe and Mail, 1 December 1945

At this distance, it's difficult to explain the popularity. Bright Path to Adventure is such a slapdash effort; a book that seems to rely on the author's memory alone. Sinclair offers up a collection of tales, which like the cover, are worthy of Men's Adventure, Man's Action and other muscle-flexing magazines of the post-war era. What jars is that such a prominent, respected journalist cares so little for truth or accuracy. Reading Sinclair's words is much like to listening to a half-drunken stranger at a dinner party going on about some article he once read in school. Everything is sketchy. Sinclair devotes several pages to the case against Jack Fiddler without once mentioning his name... or the name of his co-accused... or the name of his supposed victim; nor does he report the year or location of the alleged crime. He describes all, laughably, as a case of "cannibalism and voodoo".

We move from dinner party to campfire with a ghost story. It seems that one dark September night a car containing two unidentified female teachers from an unnamed girls' college broke down, unaccountably, on an unspecified Kansas highway. The journalist tells us that the pair took shelter in an abandoned farmhouse (location undisclosed) where they encountered the ghost of a fisherman. Then they learned from an innominate local that the farm had once belonged to a nameless man whose heart had been broken by a son who had gone off to sea. Sinclair writes that the apparition left behind some mysterious vegetation, "a type of seaweed only found on dead bodies." This, according to an anonymous professor of botany, who was "frankly dubious but curious. He showed the foliage to others who agreed that this type of seaweed could never have been found anywhere near the Kansas prairie."


Reportage from "Canada's most widely travelled journalist".

Object: Though it drops the Stanley Turner illustrations found in the McClelland and Stewart first edition, Bright Path to Adventure is fairly thick for a Harlequin. Curiously, this edition also drops the letter S from the title; Sinclair's bright paths becoming a single trail. Full page adverts for Raymond Marshall's Lady... Here's Your Wreath and Come Blonde, Came Murder by Peter George only contribute to buyer's remorse.

Access: The Toronto Public Library has a copy, as do a bunch of Canadian universities. A quarter century after Sinclair's death, signed copies of the Harlequin edition can be bought for as little as US$5. Good signed copies of the McClelland and Stewart edition can be had for under US$20. Unsigned copies are cheaper still.

21 December 2009

Bought for Its Beauty

The March of the White Guard
Gilbert Parker
New York: Ferro, 1902

Does it not seem appropriate that Gilbert Parker's true first name was Horatio? His was, after all, an Algeresque life. Here we have a man, the son of rural Ontario storekeeper, who rose to become one of England's most powerful MPs. Parker was knighted by Edward VII, received a baronetcy from George V and became a member of the Privy Council; all while penning novels and short stories that made him one of the popular writers of his day.

I don't know that I've ever met anyone who has read anything by Sir Gilbert. Perhaps my great-grandparents did... who knows where their libraries ended up. This copy of The March of the White Guard was purchased seven years ago in a Vancouver bookstore. The price – one dollar – tempted, but what sealed the deal were W.E.B. Starkweather's illustrations. Artwork extends beyond endpapers and plates to elements that decorate each page, making an otherwise bland read an enjoyable experience.

What an anonymous 1902 New York Times review describes as "a stirring tale of life and adventure in the Hudson Bay district" begins hundreds of miles to the west with the receipt of a letter addressed to the Chief Factor of Fort Providence. Rose Lepage writes in desperation that her husband, Varre, has gone missing while exploring the Barren Grounds. Enter contemplative sub-factor Jaspar Hume, who shows considerable character and bravery in agreeing to lead what seems a futile rescue party. The reader's estimation of Hume grows considerably after a lengthy monologue (below), which Hume addresses – uncharacteristically, we're told – to his faithful dog, Jacques.

The next morning Hume sets off with a crew of four misfits: slow Scotsman "Late" Carscallen, Métis Gaspé Toujours, the perpetually grunting Cloud-in-the-Sky and Jeff Hyde, the bully of Fort Providence. Together they are the White Guard; so named for their decision to dress in "white blanket costumes from head to foot".

The modern reader will wonder that this was ever considered appropriate attire for a northern rescue party. Sure enough, the panorama of snow, ice, sun and white blanket costumes overwhelms, bringing on snowblindness, and very nearly felling Hume.

Most of The March of the White Guard takes place north of the 61st parallel during deepest winter, a landscape and time rendered with considerable skill by the appropriately named Mr Starkweather. Strange then, that the cover features five dandelions. Are these in some way meant to represent the five members of the White Guard? Dying weeds shedding seeds? I just don't get it.

Access: Common and cheap, Very Good copies of the 1901 first edition – as above, but with tawny boards – can be had for under US$10.

It's been some time since I criticized the less than reputable online booksellers, and even longer since my last real swipe at print on demand folk. Against the spirit of the season, I offer the following observations.

The cover of the Dodo Press edition features a summertime scene in which two buckskin-wearing men stand in a deciduous forest, while that of Read How You Want reproduces a painting of an unidentified cardinal. Both are just as mysterious as Starkweather's (though I will acknowledge that Parker twice refers to Gaspé Toujours as a "Papist").

Sadly – and inexplicably – the always interesting firm of Tutis Digital Publishing does not include The March of the White Guard amongst its sixteen Parker titles. That said, their cover treatments of Sir Gilbert's other works do not fail to entertain. My favourite is Tutis Classics' Michel and Angele, a historical romance of two Huguenot lovers during the reign of Elizabeth I. (Over at Caustic Cover Critic, JRSM points to the company's use of the same image on a couple of Jack London books.)

Kessinger Publishing always plays it safe by slapping on covers reminiscent of a no name corn flakes box. The company couples The March of the White Guard with The Trespasser, presenting what is, in effect, the eighth volume of the 23-volume Works of Gilbert Parker. For US$65.17, an American bookseller will happily sell you a "Brand New", "Never Used" copy identical to that which Amazon lists for US$21.24.

Merry Christmas, ExtremelyReliable of Richmond, Texas.

Update: Martin W kindly points out that the "unidentified cardinal" on the cover of the Read How You Want edition is actually Pope Innocent X, as painted by Diego Velázquez.

18 December 2009

Hanna-Barbera's Canadian Classic

This afternoon children across this country celebrate that moment of sweet liberation that is the beginning of Christmas Break. What better time to introduce them to the riches of our country's literature... and who better to do it than the minds behind The Jetsons, The Flintstones and, of course, The Herculoids.

The Last of the Curlews, adapted from Fred Bodsworth's 1955 novel, aired in October 1972 as the very first ABC After School Special. Beta, VHS and Laserdisc have all come and gone, and still we're waiting for the Hanna-Barbera folks to recognize and release this little gem. Thankfully, the whole thing has been uploaded to YouTube by someone who has confused Fred Bodsworth with John Dodsworth (Baron de la Ma de la Toulon in Singin' in the Rain).

Never mind. Just sit back, enjoy... and préparez vos mouchoirs.

17 December 2009

Selling The Strange One

The Strange One
Fred Bodsworth
London: Sphere, 1979

Stumbled upon a couple of days ago, this very misleading UK cover treatment for Fred Bodsworth's second novel. There's very little passion in this book, and most certainly no "wild love", but what is more curious is the absence of the protagonist. You see, the "Strange One" isn't Kanina Beaverskin, the regrettably named young lady depicted, rather it's a Barnacle Goose. Readers of Bodsworth's 1955 debut, The Last of the Curlews, will not be surprised.

Much more honest is the dust jacket to the first UK edition, published in 1962 by Longmans Green. Here we see our hero in full flight. Kanina's small stature reflects her rather negligible presence in the novel.

An admission: Bodsworth's title always brings lesbians to mind. Those familiar with vintage paperbacks will understand.

Related post: Selling The Nymph and the Lamp

15 December 2009

John Glassco: 100 Years

"I believe, actually, that birthdays should be dated from the moment of conception or fertilization, because that was undoubtedly a pleasanter occasion for everyone concerned."
John Glassco, letter to A.J.M. Smith, 27 Oct 1964

John Glassco was born at his parents' Montreal home one hundred years ago today. There are toasts to be made, of course, but I'm reminded that this was rarely a happy time of year for the poet. The birthday, followed so closely by Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day only served to remind him of the dreaded passage of time. In Glassco's final years, his wife, Marion McCormick, moved the day of celebration to 15 June.

Twenty-eight years after the man's death, reference works have come to record 19 December as Glassco's date of birth – an error that can be traced back to his entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia. I expect Glassco, that great practitioner of deceit, would have enjoyed the confusion.

12 December 2009

Mystery at Beechwood Cemetery

Back in March, Jim Prentice introduced legislation recognizing Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery as the national cemetery of Canada. Amongst other things, the preamble tells us that "Parliament considers a national cemetery to be a worthy final resting place for Governors General, Prime Ministers and recipients of the Canadian Victoria Cross." The bill passed easily, with little enthusiasm and no debate. It seems no one questioned how we'd managed for so long without a national cemetery, or why one was needed at all... and the matter of Canadian unity, given as a
raison d'être for the legislation, was never raised.

I don't think I'm alone in thinking the concept a touch foreign (read: American). That Beechwood is a "worthy final resting place" cannot be disputed, but then the same can be said for a great many cemeteries in this country. I'll add that, given its location, it is a bit odd that 142 years after Confederation just one Prime Minister (Robert Borden) and one Governor General (Ray Hnatyshan) have been buried at Beechwood. Of our 94 Victoria Cross recipients, not one chose the cemetery as their final resting place. What effect the nudging of the 40th Parliament will have going forth remains to be seen.

Even in a country that tends to ignore its literature, I think more associate the cemetery with Archibald Lampman than Messrs Borden and Hnatyshan. Lines from the poet's "In Beechwood Cemetery" grace the entrance, and he is buried on its grounds.

In fact, with Wilfred Campbell and D.C. Scott, Lampman is one of three prominent poets at rest in Beechwood (their number greater than the PMs, GGs and VC recipients combined). I've never visited Scott's grave, but I have the other two. Both have distinctive memorials. Lampman's, a rock with his name cut in the side, is otherwise natural, while Campbell's is in the form of a bench. I've never sat on this memorial, for much the same reason I try my best to avoid walking on graves; I don't like the thought of my feet resting above someone's head. That said, I find it admirable... and wonder that it has fallen into such disrepair. Various lead letters have disappeared, likely due to weather, but the great shame is that its focal point, a medallion, is also missing. This is no recent disappearance. A friend, tells me that the piece was absent when he first visited the cemetery some five decades ago.

And so, a new project: to determine the design of the missing medallion and, with permission, have a replacement cast.

Any inkling appreciated... all tips pursued.

Related post:

10 December 2009

Hard Lessons in Publishing

Why keep flogging? Well, for one thing, I'm not so sure this horse is dead; the scandal surrounding Harlequin's Vintage Collection continues to spread. Scandal... not too strong a word, is it? After all, here we have a publisher that took six novels, tinkered with grammar and spelling, substituted phrases, removed any and all scenes it thought offensive, and then sold the results as being identical to the originals.

So, yes... scandal. And like any scandal, information trickles forth like the drool collected by Miles Copperthwaite. Today, an interview with associate editor Adrienne Macintosh: "The Inside Scoop on the Harlequin Vintage Collection".

There are no tricky questions here – the interviewer is a fellow employee – but taken with executive editor Marsha Zinberg's Harlequin blog post, it does provide a revealing glimpse into Harlequin's culture. We learn, for example, that only eight books were considered for the series, each chosen on the basis of cover alone. Something called Nine to Five by some guy named Harvey Smith was dropped because it was too long and boring, while Anneke de Lange's Anna... I'll let Ms Macintosh explain:
From the cover you might think the story was about... er, well, rolling in the hay. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Let's just say that the plot involves jealousy, hatred, physical abuse, rape, suicide, murder, racism, adultery, a couple of unwanted pregnancies and a mother so unlikeable that you are actually glad when she’s stabbed by her son. In any case, that one was nixed.
Ms Macintosh and Ms Zinberg each express ignorance of their company's origins, surprise at the grittiness of pulp fiction, make a big deal over having had texts retyped, and see considerable changes in our language:
Ms Zinberg: "Also, grammar and spelling standards have changed quite a bit in sixty years."

Ms Macintosh: "Grammar and spelling has [sic] also changed quite a bit in the past sixty years..."
We're informed, for example, that "loogan" is no longer in use.


Here's Philip Marlowe with a definition:
"What's a loogan?"
"A guy with a gun."
"Are you a loogan?"
"Sure," I laughed. "But strictly speaking a loogan is a guy on the wrong side of the fence."
These words come from The Big Sleep. I found them in Stories and Early Novels, the first in the Library of America's two-volume Raymond Chandler collection. Now, as a nonprofit publisher "dedicated to preserving the works of America's greatest writers in handsome, enduring volumes, featuring authoritative editions", Library of America is pretty well everything Harlequin is not. Recognition of this fact raises the question: Are we being too hard on this multi-national?

I don't think so. After all, each title in the Harlequin collection bears a message from its president and CEO stating: "it is such fun to be able to present these works with their original text and cover art".

It appears the Vintage Collection, which both editors thought would be such a simple project, became a burden because they encountered challenges only too familiar to those who work at other houses; little things like trying to track down copyright (at which they failed). In short, these editors were out of their depths; and still know not of what they speak. How else to explain Ms Macintosh's absurd assumption: "These are fifty-, sixty-year-old books. The authors have passed away".

RIP Mavis Gallant. RIP Farley Mowat.

Related posts:

08 December 2009

Gratien Gélinas: 100 ans

Actor and playwright Gratien Gélinas was born 100 years ago today in the small town of St-Tite-de-Champlain, some fifty kilometres north of Trois-Rivières. I suppose to Canadians of a certain generation – by which I mean mine – he's remembered mainly as Mitsou's grandfather. Seems so unfair considering his numerous roles at Stratford, dedicated work as chairman of the Canadian Film Development Corporation, and the popularity, both inside and outside Quebec, of plays like
Tit-Coq, Bousille et les justes and La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux. But then, Gélinas was first and foremost a man of the theatre, meaning, of course, that ten years after his death there's now a significant percent of the population that never had the opportunity to see him on stage.

It's interesting to note that in a career lasting well over half a century, he acted in only six films, including the screen adaptation of Tit-Coq, which he also produced and directed. At the 1953 Canadian Film Awards, it was recognized as Film of the Year... but, this being Canada, it has pretty much disappeared. Of his film roles, only that of Father Martineau in Norman Jewison's Agnes of God is in any way accessible. And I do mean accessible – someone's posted the entire film on YouTube, beginning right here. Longer than a Mitsou video... more rewarding, too.

And I do like Mitsou.

07 December 2009

Books are Best

The Globe, 18 December 1909

William Briggs may be gone, but the publisher's words are as true today as they were a century ago. Books are best... and not only for Christmas. So, with the holiday season approaching, I point out the three books covered here this past year that are actually in print.
Al Palmer
Montreal: Véhicule, 2009
A most welcome surprise. After nearly six decades, Al Palmer's Montreal Confidential returned to print last month. Where the original seemed fairly designed to fall apart, this new edition benefits from proper printing, 22 photographs and illustrations and, most of all, a four-page "Appreciation" by William Weintraub.

John Glassco
Ottawa: Golden Dog, 2001
The English Governess is currently available from a number of publishers, but Golden Dog's is by far the superior, owing to a 10-page Introduction by Michael Gnarowski. A friend of the author, he provides a fascinating account of the curious history of our best-known work of erotica.

Jean-Charles Harvey
Montreal: Éditions Typo, 2005
Perhaps in deference to Cardinal Villeneuve, Amazon and Chapters/Indigo don't bother offering this book. Interested parties are directed to the the publisher's website or their local independent. Incredibly, the first printing of Fear's Folly (1982), John Glassco's important translation, is still available. The most modest of paperbacks, at $27.95 it seems a touch pricey, but just think of the storage costs that have run up these past 27 years.

A trio of others, The Whip Angels, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk and Glassco's completion of Aubrey Beardsley's Under the Hill, are all being exploited available through various POD publishers. But, honestly, no one wants to find something that looks like this under their tree.

01 December 2009

Covering Up the Past

Harlequin? Really? Again?

Look, I'm more surprised than anyone at the number of times the publisher has appeared in this blog. Sure, it spews forth more books per annum than any other, but nothing in the last four decades has been even remotely interesting. And yet, Harlequin features in so many posts: those dealing with Brian Moore, Arthur Stringer, Gay Canadian Rogues, drug paperbacks, News Stand Library and, of course, its own 60th anniversary celebrations. I've had few kind words – and was, perhaps, a touch harsh about their SoHo gallery show so, I felt pretty good about drawing attention to their series of vintage reissues a couple of months ago. "Whoever is overseeing this thing has done a very nice job", I wrote at the time.

Well, that person turns out to be Executive Editor Marsha Zinberg, who a few weeks later wrote about the collection on Harlequin's blog. Interesting stuff, it goes some way to explaining their strange choice of titles. "We wanted books whose cover art appealed to us," writes the editor, "and we had to be in physical possession of the book, but in some cases, once we started reading the text, we simply couldn’t see publishing the story, for a host of reasons….content, language, political correctness, etc. Several were eliminated, no matter how striking the cover!"

Then, Ms Zinberg casually drops a bomb:
Remember, our intention was to publish the stories in their original form. But once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior — such as hitting a woman — that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership. Also, grammar and spelling standards have changed quite a bit in sixty years.

So, there you have it: not reissues, but bowdlerized editions designed for we sensitive, semi-literate souls of the 21st century. How strange, then, that Ms Zinberg should end her post:
Everyone in house has taken such interest and pride in this project, and we're delighted that the collection is now out in the marketplace. We hope they will also accomplish what the cover art exhibition attempted to do: "offer a unique insight into the profound changes that have occurred in women’s lives over the past six decades — from shifts in private desires to shifts in the politics of gender"!
Yes, profound changes that appear much less so thanks to the censor's blood red pen.

The comments section of Ms Zinberg's post indicates that initial reaction was quite positive. "Marsha, what a great story!" writes Harlequin author Jean Brashear. "What a fascinating journey!" chimes in unbiased stablemate Jeannie Watt. With one exception, all were quite friendly and congratulatory until late last week when it seems the post was discovered by pulp collectors. I can add nothing to their comments.

The truth out, I take back my complimentary words about the series and its editor. The kindest observation I'm able to offer at this point is that Harlequin has not seen fit to remove the post or comments from its blog.

Not yet, away.