30 July 2010

Abebooks as Wikipedia or a Lame Joke?

Nine decades ago, Frank L. Packard was giving Stephen Leacock good chase for position as Montreal's bestselling author. Today, his novels are all but forgotten, but I'm not so sure they're forgettable. Populated by con men, gangsters, faith healers and dope fiends, they look to be gritty, entertaining summer reading. I'm betting that each is more fun than his rival's Hellements of Hickonomics.

I've been meaning to give Packard a read for some time now – say, two decades – but where to begin? No one I know has read the man. W.H. New's Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature is of no help; it's entry consists of just two sentences, including: "Packard practiced as an engineer."

All is to explain how it is that I came across this very peculiar Abebooks listing:

So, we're meant to believe that the man who wrote both
Pawned and this book...

also acted in this...

and is the same Frank Packard who directed this...

which was originally released as this...

a few months after his hundredth birthday.


"Obviously a joke", said my wife.

"But the seller is a member of the ABAA. They do have standards... and a Code of Ethics."

"No, it must be a joke. It's so over the top."

"But—" And it's here that I realized it doesn't matter nearly so much as our need for a new eavestrough.

Not that the recognition prevented this post.

26 July 2010

Avert Your Eyes, Children!

Legends of Quebec: From the Land of the Golden Dog
Hazel Boswell
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1966

Hazel Boswell seems to have led such a charmed life. A direct descendant of the first Marquis de Lotbinière, she spent much of her childhood at the Seigneury de Lotbinière on the south shore of the St Lawrence between Quebec City and Trois Rivières. When her grandfather, Sir Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière, was appointed Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, she moved into Victoria's Government House, where she spent six years living off the public purse. I can find no evidence that Miss Boswell worked so much as a day in her life, though she did study art under Horatio Walker and Percyval Tudor-Hart.

Miss Boswell was a mere fifty-six years old when Viking published her first book, French Canada: Pictures and Stories (1938). A very slim volume, it features glimpses of Quebec life and folklore, accompanied by the author's very pleasant colour illustrations.

The Christian Science Monitor thought it a "lovely picture book", while Montreal's Gazette found it "charmingly illustrated... in gay colour, reminiscent of the French Canadian's own hooked rug pattern [sic]."

Miss Boswell dedicated French Canada to "the children of the Province of Quebec". Most had children of their own by the time Legends of Quebec, her second book, was published. On the surface, it's more of the same: a collection of folk tales with paintings by the author. However, Miss Boswell seems to have undergone some changes in the twenty-eight years between books. For one, the octogenarian had been robbed of much of her ability as a visual artist. Quebec, too, had changed, a fact recognized by the author in her Foreword: "These folklore stories have come from the years long past when French Canada slept its enchanted sleep amongst its apple orchards and maple groves, and time was measured by the chime of the church bells."

It's an odd statement, evoking a gentle, idyllic time that is better reflected in French Canada than Legends of Quebec.

The first of the book's ten tales, "The Feast of St. John the Baptist", moves the saint's story to an ancient kingdom that is said to have once existed somewhere north of the St Lawrence. There are reveillons and tortières, but all is otherwise familiar... until Salome straps on her skates. A vain and careless creature, she ignores warnings of thinning ice and tumbles into the drink:
As she fell, she struck a great block of ice floating down the lead that was widening. The jagged edge of the block was as sharp as a razor blade, and as it struck the Princess, it sliced off her head just above her collar. In a moment her body sank out of sight, but her head on the great block of ice went drifting down the lead before the horrified eyes of her friends.
In Legends of Quebec, bad things happen to bad people, but also to the not so bad. Here a man is crushed by a tree after dismissing stories of the White Owl as a bird of ill omen.

In "Felix the Obstinate", a farmer who tends to his farm rather than attend Good Friday mass finds that the sap coming from his maple trees has turned to blood.

And then there's Cléophas Ouellet, the wealthiest farmer in Ste Rose des Pins, who loses his temper over some inclement weather and takes a shot at a wayside cross.

In an instant, Cléophas is paralyzed. Able only to move his eyes, it seems he is doomed to spend eternity standing in his potato field, unable to say an Act of Contrition... or get off a second shot.

Enchanted sleep? Bloody nightmare is more like it. Thank God French Canada woke up.

Object and Access: A squarish hardcover in heavy dust jacket, Legends of Quebec has all but disappeared from our public libraries. Fortunately, decent copies aren't hard to find and begin at about C$9. The most expensive on offer, at C$45, is signed by Miss Boswell.

21 July 2010

Back from Dear Old Blighty

Returning to my desk after a very enjoyable and eventful weekend at the Knowlton Wordfest. These photos, taken in nearby Foster, feature what is left of the home of Bill Arnold, one of John Glassco's neighbours. A veteran of the Great War, Arnold called his house "Blighty". The man and building inspired Glassco's 20-line of the same name, which was first published in the November 1952 issue of The Canadian Forum.

See by the tracks, where a sodden shingled roof
Droops on a worn façade, a wilting visor
Over dead window-panes and the lettered board
Where exultation, curled into one word,
Still celebrates a half forgotten war —

That "lettered board", featuring the name of Arnold's house, remained nailed above the front door for nearly nine decades. It was stolen earlier this year.

Related post: Glassco in Knowlton

12 July 2010

Richlers in Gestation

A couple of cover mockups from my years as a book buyer, both uncovered last week while going trough old boxes. Keeping Track was the working title of Richler's 1990 collection of essays and reviews for Viking Canada. It was ultimately published with a much better title and cover as Broadsides. I don't believe Richler ever intended to put out anything called Selected Essays & Reports; if memory serves he was still hunting around for a title when Knopf Canada presented this cover. The collection was published in 1998 as Belling the Cat.

Note the barking Borzoi. A nice touch, I think.

Five years later, Knopf used the same photo of Richler, by Julian Edelsten, on the front and back covers of my own book, Character Parts.

10 July 2010

Glassco in Knowlton

A week tomorrow I'll be speaking on my forthcoming biography of John Glassco, A Gentleman of Pleasure, at the Knowlton Wordfest. For almost a decade, Glassco lived on the outskirts of this beautiful Quebec town in a grand house he immortalized in his poem "The White Mansion".

The image above, taken in 1914, isn't quite of his time, but it does capture Knowlton very much as Glassco knew it when he called the town home. The building closest served as the post office during the four years he delivered the rural mail. It was the only job he ever had.

On Writing a Life of John Glassco, “A Great Practitioner of Deceit”

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Galerie Bistro CarpeDiem
61 Lakeside Road (Knowlton)
Ville de Lac-Brome

04 July 2010

Americans to the Rescue!

In recognition of this day of celebration in the republic to the south, six American novels I haven't found time to read. Doubt I ever will. If I were to crack open just one it would be Lionel Derrick's The Quebec Connection (New York: Pinnacle, 1976). Why? The cover copy doesn't motivate. Sure, Mark Hardin, the Penetrator, is exciting, modern and deadly, but no more so than his rivals the Executioner, the Destroyer and the Butcher. No, the real attraction here isn't the man, but a plot that has Hardin fighting Quebec separatist hippies who are being used as pawns in a plot to populate the world with dwarfs.

Is that enough?

Elaboration may be in order.

The armed separatists fund their activities by pushing a drug called Ziff, which has been created by a cabal of bitter little people who seek to remake the world in their image. One sniff of Ziff, it seems, alters one's DNA and induces dwarfism in future offspring. According to trash enthusiast Marty McKee of the wonderfully named Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, all leads to "an amazing climax in which three midgets dressed as Athos, Porthos and D'Artagnan are armed with rapiers and fighting the Penetrator atop the Eiffel Tower."

You can't make this stuff up... but Lionel Derrick can.

Well, not Derrick, but the men behind the pseudonym – in this case Mark Roberts.

The Quebec Connection followed Hardin's first Canadian adventure, Mankill Sport, in which the Penetrator chases a drug dealing American psychopath through our backwoods. I can't explain the sudden interest, though I expect the October Crisis had something to do with it. By my count, in the six years that followed those dark days we were visited by three other American action heroes, all of whom who did battle in Quebec, usually with some sort of militant separatist group:

The Canadian Bomber Contract
Phillip Atlee [pseud. James Atlee Phillips]
Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1971

Hardass CIA contract killer Joe "The Nullifier" Gall comes to Quebec to stop an FLQ splinter group intent on blowing up the American side of Niagara Falls. What the Partridge Family's bus has to do with all this I don't know.

The White Wolverine Contract
Phillip Atlee [pseud. James Atlee Phillips]
Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1971

Joe Gall, again. This follow-up to The Canadian Bomber Contract sees the Nullifier on Vancouver Island, where he fights Chinese villain Victor Li and his private army of hippy and Métis separatists. Gall calls them "psycho rebels".

Canadian Kill
Joseph Nazel
Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1974

Billionaire Henry Highland "Iceman" West's hopes of a relaxing holiday in northern Quebec are shattered when his plane is shot out of the sky by the fanatical Next Generation of Man. Cover artist Corey Wolfe does our hero a disservice; he's not really using that woman as a shield.

Canadian Crisis
Don Pendleton
New York: Pinnacle, 1976

The mafia is determined to turn Quebec into the crime capital of the world, but are thwarted by the Executioner, Vietnam vet Mack Bolan.

Am I alone in reading Marc Bolan whenever Mack Bolan's name appears? Electric Warrior kicks more ass than the Executioner every time. Here's the proof.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering. Hardin... the Penetrator... Yeah, I got it.