01 February 2010

Ex Libris

It was interesting to see Whit Burnett's name appear so frequently in news stories dealing with the death of J.D. Salinger. Burnett is an overlooked figure in American letters – he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry, for goodness sake – yet in his day he held considereable sway and respect. Charles McGrath wrote in the New York Times that Salinger "bragged in college about his literary talent and ambitions, and wrote swaggering letters to Whit Burnett, the editor of Story magazine." According to McGrath, "Mr. Salinger’s most sustained exposure to higher education was an evening class he took at Columbia in 1939, taught by Whit Burnett, and under Mr. Burnett’s tutelage he managed to sell a story, 'The Young Folks,' to Story magazine."

What does all this have to do with Canadian literature? Not a whole lot, I suppose – though Salinger's influence outside the ever-tightening borders of the United States cannot be denied. And it should be recognized that Story published a small number of Canadian writers, including those old standbys Stephen Leacock and Morley Callaghan.

I'm not sure what to make of the inscription in this copy of Sackcloth for Banner (Macmillan of Canada, 1938), purchased seven years ago from a Philadelphia bookseller. Jean-Charles Harvey was not amongst the Canadians featured in Story, and I can find no evidence of a friendship between the two men. Perhaps it's nothing more than a warm greeting from a writer to an admired editor... a "friend in letters", so to speak.

With another deadline approaching, another change of pace. The next week or so will feature images of books from others' libraries that have somehow ended up in my own... along with a word or two of explanation. Wouldn't want anyone to think I lifted these things.

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