29 October 2011

The Brilliance of Frank Newfeld

Purchased for five dollars – five dollars! – during my most recent visit to Montreal, Ralph Gustafson's Rivers Among Rocks (McClelland and Stewart, 1960) provides an excuse to revisit the wonderful work Frank Newfeld. The cover may be a bit weathered, but it more than hints at the brilliance within.
Pardon my thumbs.

After all this beauty comes a lengthy "NOTE ON PUBLICATION":
This book is the result of a unique association dedication to improve of the standards of design and manufacturing in the making of Canadian books. It is the first of a group of selected works of poetry and belle lettres chosen both to inspire and to complement fine craftsmanship in the designing and manufacturing arts.

It has been published in a limited edition and will not be republished in this format. Its publication is experimental in the sense that the strict economic limitations that might normally prevail were waived to permit adequate attention in the various stages of production.

It was planned and illustrated by Frank Newfeld, a brilliant young Canadian designer, typographer and art director, whose work has earned him an imposing series of awards in various fields of design.

It was produced under the joint auspices of the Polland Paper Company Limited who supplied the stock, Laurentic Japan and Rolland Extra Stong; H & S Reliance Limited who supplied engravings for the illustrations, the jacket, and the case; T. H. Best Printing Company Limited, in whose plant the type was set and the books printed and bound; and McClelland and Stewart Limited.
Of that "group of selected works of poetry and belle lettres", I think it ranks second only to Newfeld's work on Leonard Cohen's The Spice-Box of Earth.

Related posts:

24 October 2011

Recognizing Nelly Arcan

Whore [Putain]
Nelly Arcan [trans. Bruce Benderson]
New York: Black Cat, 2004

Nelly Arcan was in the news again last month with a new book, Burqua de chair. Between its covers she writes of humiliation, her words inspired by a 2007 appearance on Tout le monde en parle. Don't know it? François Lauzon devoted a piece to this autowreck in The Gazette.

Arcan hanged herself just over two years ago. There were obituaries. "Acclaimed Quebec Writer Who Penned 'Whore' Found Dead in Montreal" read the headline fed by the Canadian Press. The Moose Jaw Times Herald published all 220 words. It is the only time that her name has appeared in its pages. The best obituary published outside the province – and there is no coincidence in this – came from a fellow Quebecer, Linda Leith. Of this novel, Leith writes:
Bright and talented and aware, Arcan was also beautiful and – we already knew this long before her death – very fragile. Putain is a work of autofiction (or fictionalized autobiography), so she might have been prepared for journalists’ questions about the similarities between the prostitute Cynthia in the novel and Arcan’s own experience as a sex worker. She was not. She was panicked and stammering.
Writing has always been a solitary occupation, but we now expect our authors to take the stage on radio, on television, at book fairs and at literary festivals. Arcan's beauty, a publisher's dream, did distract. "She was thin and surprisingly busty," writes Leith, "and yes I know we’re not supposed to say such things, but Nelly Arcan’s physical presence was too eye-catching to ignore."

And yet, Arcan was ignored. Take away the obits and you'll find that she received next to no attention from the English language media outside Quebec. One wonders why. Where were the publishers? Were they really so ignorant of her talent? Or is it that pervasive puritanism and provincialism had them looking the other way? This English translation of Putain, Arcan's accomplished debut – a nominee for both the Prix Médicis and the Prix Fémina – wound up being published by Black Cat, an imprint of New York's Grove/Atlantic. I've never once seen it in a bookstore.

Arcan's final novel, Paradis, Clef en main, completed in the days before her death, has just been published in translation by Vancouver's Anvil Press. Titled Exit, it has been nominated for a Governor General's Award. I've never once seen it in a bookstore.

This is not a review, but a recommendation. If you haven't already, read Whore and then Exit. If your French is good – or even shaky – track down Folle. All are extraordinary works by a woman who is at once amongst this country's most recognized and most overlooked writers.

Object and Access: An attractive trade-size paperback – that's the author on the front cover. Unread copies, all first printings – there was no second – can be bought online for one dollar. Whore is found in eight Canadian libraries: the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the Toronto Public Library, the Vancouver Public Library and the libraries of Dalhousie, McGill, York, the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia. Shame on all the others.

Putain, a bestseller, is readily available in bookstores and libraries in the province of Quebec... and in France, Belgium and Switzerland.

23 October 2011

That's 'EN', Not 'AN'

Adding insult to insult and injury, Gardner Auctions Inc open what might just be the final chapter in the sorry story of Arthur Meighen Public School. Named for the sometime prime minister and part-time Shakespeare scholar, who studied within its walls, the thinking around town is that no one will bid.

Can't afford to myself.

Related posts:
School's Out, Forever
Meighen as Monster
Politician Picks Playwright!

21 October 2011

Alien with a Familiar Face

A follow-up to Monday's post.

Watching what I could of The 27th Day, I was struck by the self-described "alien from outer space". He seemed so very familiar, yet I couldn't quite place him. I now know that "The Alien" was Arnold Moss, perhaps the most English man to have been born and bred in Brooklyn. An actor and cruciverbalist, I would have seen Mr Moss in many of the television shows I watched during my first decade: Star Trek...

The Monkees...


I won't pretend to have completed one of his crosswords.

Though Moss doesn't get much screen time in The 27th Day, he steals the show – as reflected in this 1957 issue of Urania.

The Italian science fiction magazine published Mantley's novel twice – in translation and unabridged – thus giving it considerably more attention than it ever received in this country.

While the Germans were equally enthusiastic, it appears that it was the British who were the most keen. Over a four year period, they published two hardcover and two paperback editions, including this 1958 issue from Beacon (not to be confused with the American publishers of the unjustly neglected Orrie Hitt):

Collectors may be more interested in the 1961 Four Square edition, which features cover art by Josh Kirby of Discworld fame:

For my money, the most interesting is El 27° Dia, the 1957 Spanish language edition from Muchnik of Buenos Aires:

John Mantley, the only Canadian author I know to have been published in Argentina. I could've learnt something from him.

17 October 2011

Aliens Murder Millions (and that's a good thing)

The 27th Day
John Mantley
New York: Crest, 1958

In the middle of The 27th Day, Eve Wingate and Jonathan Clark share a first, passionless kiss. Next thing you know, they decide to marry.

Different times.

Our young lovebirds are two of five people who have been abducted by aliens from a dying world. These "space people", coveting our planet, seek to speed up what they see as our natural inclination toward self-destruction by giving each of the five earthlings capsules containing "the power to wipe out every human being on earth!" After just twenty-seven days, the weapons will be rendered harmless. Please understand, the aliens aren't evil, just desperate. "We, too, find the proposition that any race would knowingly destroy itself untenable," says their spokesperson, "but our computers, fed on the records of your racial history, insist that there is a better than 50 per cent possibility of this weapon being used within twenty-seven days."

There are some fine passages in this book, but I'm going to be very unfair by skipping right to the end of the story, because it's here that a bland, if competent book becomes suddenly, surprisingly bad.

We're meant to believe that the five – Eve, Jonathan, Soviet soldier Ivan Godofsky, Chinese peasant girl Su Tan and absent-minded Professor Klaus Bochner – were chosen at random, but it just happens that the professor, perhaps the world's most famous scientist, becomes humankind's greatest hero. In true thriller style, he cracks a code with mere minutes to spare, thus unleashing a force that not only kills the villain, the Soviet Union's "Great Leader", but forever ensures the survival of his species.

Listen – or read – if you will, to the radio announcer who, "delirious with joy", relates news that "tyrants and evildoers in high places" have been struck dead by "invisible rays from outer space":
I know it's unbelievable, fantastic, but it is true that the rays killed every leader known to have been a confirmed enemy of human freedom. But they also stunned others without seeming regard for importance, position, or age of the individual. The most unlikely people have fallen victim to the epidemic – gossip columnists, thieves, preachers, psychiatrists, senators, plumbers, merchants; there have been attacks in every profession. And yet, it now appears that those who did not meet death in the first moments are destined to recover.
While it's true that those affected recover their health, their personalities are forever transformed. Jonathan himself experiences "a pain he had never known", but becomes a better person in the process.

To truly get a sense of this new world, let us turn again to our rambling radio announcer:
From every corner of the country, statistics are arriving which indicate that a great spiritual revolution has overtaken the nation. In Las Vegas, more than two thirds of the divorce applicants have expressed a desire to discontinue their cases...
How to explain this kind new world? Prof Bochner believes that "secretions" at fault for bad behaviour have been destroyed by "Alien power". Sadly, those with secretions high above the norm, like the Great Leader, had to die.

First published in 1956, set in 1963, narrated by a voice from the far off 1973, The 27th Day is very much a Cold War novel. A few have run with this, describing the work as anti-Communist, but things aren't nearly so clear-cut. The Soviet Union: bad. World federation: good. Competition: bad. Co-operation: good. You see what I mean.

In 1957, the novel was made into a black and white film that is... well, no more black and white. Mantley, who wrote the adaptation, published only one more novel, Snow Birch (1958), which he later turned into the Susan Hayward vehicle Woman Obsessed (1959). A Torontonian – Mary Pickford was a cousin – Mantley spent more than three decades writing for movies and television, but is best remembered as the longest serving producer of Gunsmoke.

Things were much more black and white on Gunsmoke. That Miss Kitty, she had a heart of gold.

Object and Access: Attractive enough, I suppose, my Crest copy is the first and only American paperback edition. Its cover image is generic no space station features in the novel, and we never get so much as a glimpse of any planet other than Earth. Though the last edition was published in 1964, used copies are plentiful. Good copies of the US first edition – Dutton (right) – begin at $15.00. The more attractive UK first – Michael Joseph (below) –is a touch more dear. Those who want nothing more than to read the darn thing will find used copies listed online for as little as one dollar. Canadian library patrons are limited to McMaster University and the ever reliable Toronto Public Library.

The novel is also out there in German (Der Siebenundzwanzigste Tag), Danish (Den syvogtyvende dag), Spanish (El 27° Dia) and Italian (Il 27° Giorno) translations.

Update: The ever eagle-eyed JRSM notes this in John Mantley's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction entry: "The novel was filmed – from the US version, which has a revised ending – as The 27TH DAY (1957)." If accurate, this may go some way in explaining the rather absurd conclusion in the edition I read. As if to add to the confusion, I note that the ending discussed by folks at IMDb doesn't quite match. While in the Crest paperback the aliens come to share the Earth, the film has it that the "dying planet" stuff was a ruse. You see, it was all just a test to see whether we were civilized enough to join 30,000-member "Galactic Council". Don't worry, we passed.

14 October 2011

POD Cover of the Month: Montreal for Tourists..

Montreal for Tourists..[sic] by the man known affectionately as "From Old Catalogue" Phelps – a proud publication of Charleston, South Carolina's Nabu Press.

First edition:

Buffalo: Delaware & Hudson, 1904

Runner up:

Update: A friend confirms my suspicion that the mammoth structure depicted is not found in Montreal – or our 'backwoods'. It is, apparently, Spiš Castle, built in the 12th century in what is today eastern Slovakia. The tourist visiting Montreal will find it 6669 kilometres to the east. The longest daytrip.

10 October 2011

Alpha, Beta, Dada

Where to begin? Why not with Tutis Classics? In the two years since I was first introduced to this print on demand publisher, it has held fast as the producer of the most inept and entertaining cover art.

That said, I do fear for Tutis. It's been some time since new titles have appeared on what should be an endless list. I mean, if Miss Laut's The Canadian Commonwealth is a "Great Classic", what isn't?

A recent post by the ever informative Bookride has my rolling eyes turning to Alphascript Publishing, its bastard brother Betascript and the numerous other imprints being spewed forth by VDM Publishing of Saarbrücken, Germany. While other POD publishers prey on works that have become public domain, Alpha and Beta target Wikipedia articles. They're not alone. Books LLC, for example, offers things like Canadian Alliance Mps [sic]: Preston Manning, Vic Toews, Maurice Vellacott, Stockwell Day, Dick Harris, Jason Kenney, Diane Ablonczy, Rahim Jaffer, an ugly 56 pages of material written by such authorities as Snickerdo, Headbomb and Duffy 2032.

Those familiar with Wikipedia will recognize Canadian Alliance Mps as a "category". Alpha and Beta's books don't follow this money-making model, rather they centre on the articles themselves, adding linked articles to the mix. "Some of the connections found in these books are almost Dadaist", notes Bookride. The example provided is the Betascript tome bearing the name of Swiss skier Vreni Schneider, subtitled: Annemarie Moser-Pröll, FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, Winter Olympic Games, Slalom Skiing, Giant Slalom Skiing, Half Man Half Biscuit.

While I've yet to find a Canadian title quite so groundbreaking, I see several Alpha and Beta covers that might have appealed to Tristan Tzara.

Is it any wonder that we won that war?

Canadian units [sic] of the War of 1812, 120 pages, sells for $48.62.

As for Tutis, whose employees do visit this blog on occasion, I extend a helping hand and point to the great number of L.M. Montgomery titles in the public domain.

Related post:

07 October 2011

F.R. Scott Memorial Plaque

This coming Thursday, 13 October, will see the dedication of a plaque in memory of F.R. Scott at the chapel of Montreal's St James the Apostle Anglican Church. Scott's will be the third in a cortege of writers' plaques that began two years ago when a small group gathered to remember John Glassco. A plaque to A.J.M. Smith followed, installed on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of his passing.

This year's service, which will see formal recognition of 'The Writers' Chapel', will include two speakers from McGill university, the institution forever tied to Scott: Desmond Morton (Hiram Mills Emeritus Professor) and Roderick A. Macdonald (F.R. Scott Professor of Constitutional and Public Law).

All are welcome.

Thursday, 13 October 2011
Evensong, 6 p.m.
Church of St James the Apostle
1439 St Catherine Street West, Montreal

A reception with wine and cheese will follow.

Crossposted at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

06 October 2011

A Record That Speaks for Itself

Election day in Ontario. If the pollsters are correct, the Liberals may just hold onto power – a near impossibility mere months ago.

I don't write much about politics here, but things do creep in from time to time: the fabulations of Preston Manning, the oeuvres of senators Wallin and Frum and our prime minister's non-existent, yet much-hyped hockey book. There's been more, of course, but those who know me will agree that I've demonstrated considerable restraint.

Returning from the polls today with politics on my mind, thoughts turned to Wilfrid Laurier. I remembered that 1911 was the year in which the great statesman finally stepped down as prime minister. Had I missed the centenary?

As it turns out, the sad event took place 100 years ago this very day.

The Globe, 6 October 1911

A result of this:

The Globe, 22 September 1911

Not exactly a dark day in Canadian history, but most certainly one on which things dimmed.

04 October 2011

A Ninteenth-Century What's Bred in the Bone

What's Bred in the Bone
Grant Allen
London: Tit-Bits, 1891

Two Canadian writers, both with strong ties to Kingston, Grant Allen and Robertson Davies each wrote novels entitled What's Bred in the Bone. I remarked on this in Character Parts, but don't see that anyone else has thought it worth the ink. Not even Judith Skelton Grant's massive biography, the 787-page Robertson Davies: Man of Myth, mentions the curious connection.

Perhaps I make too much of this. Davies was attracted by the neglected past, and had an appreciation of the peculiar, but he never exactly dwelled on Allen in his own writing. In fact, the Kingstonian's name appears only once in Davies' published work. The mention – fleeting – is found in "Canadian Literature: 1964", an essay that was written when Fifth Business was no more than a gleam in author's eye: "...if a Canadian novel is not a novel written in Canada by a resident of the country, what is it? There were a few, like Sara Jeannette Duncan, who wrote of the land they knew, and achieved reputation; others, like Grant Allen and Gilbert Parker, were Canadians by birth but Englishmen by choice."

Allen's What's Bred in the Bone is very much an English novel. At its core are Cyril and Guy Waring, identical twins of uncertain parentage and independent, if modest means. Cyril, a landscape painter, is our hero; he shows his stuff very early in the novel by saving the life of beautiful Elma Clifford after a railway tunnel collapse. Guy, much the weaker figure, is under the influence of Montague Nevitt, a London bank clerk. Nevitt uses his position to bet on sure things in the stock market, pressuring his friend to likewise. When one investment goes sour, the clerk exercises a near hypnotic influence over Guy, getting him to commit forgery in "borrowing" £6000 from his brother's account.

How handsome Cyril came to have such a large sum, though believable, is very complicated. The same might be said for much of What's Bred in the Bone; hidden marriages, mistaken identities and multiple misunderstandings carry the plot. It says much about Allen's talent that no matter how tangled the web, the reader is never confused. This particular reader was caught up in it all, curious as to how everything would unfold, racing toward what was ultimately an overly melodramatic conclusion.

What's Bred in the Bone was written was an eye on a prize; that being £1000 offered by the English weekly Tit-Bits for the best serial story. If the magazine's hype is to be believed, the novel won out over 20,000 entries. However, the strive for the commercial was not nearly enough to hold Allen's quirkiness in check. No surprise here – we are, after all, considering the work of a man who would one day write a novel about an elderly civil servant who believes himself to be the archangel Michael. I focussed at first on the twin brothers; they were so much alike, had both experienced a toothache "in the self-same tooth on the self-same night" and each had dealt with the problem in the very same way. But Guy put an end to this early on: "There's nothing of the Corsican Brothers sort of hocus-pocus about us in any way. The whole thing is a simple caste of natural causation."

The freaky comes out of left field when prim, proper and virginal Elma retires to her bedroom after her escape from the tunnel. Her bosom heaves, her heart beats violently and she feels "a new sense aroused within her." She begins dancing wildly, rhythmically, and yet this release does not satisfy. "She hadn't everything she required for this solitary orgy", Grant tells us. "Her hands were empty. She must have something to fill them. Something alive, lithe, curling, sensuous... Cyril Waring! Cyril Waring! It was all Cyril Waring. And what on earth would Cyril Waring think of her?"

The cause of Elma's behaviour is not so obvious; the reader soon learns that a "Roumanian ancestress" has passed on an attraction to snakes, and Cyril has a pet snake, and... well, maybe it is obvious.

Trivia: In 1916, the novel was adapted for the silent screen as What's Bred in the Bone Comes Out in the Flesh.

More Trivia: What's Bred in the Bone was published in England, the United States and Denmark (Hvad i Kodet er baaret, 1893), but only once in Canada, when in 1911 Winnipeg publisher Heimskringlu issued Ættareinkennið, an Icelandic translation. A century later, it remains the only Canadian edition.

Object: An odd-looking, yet attractive hardcover, the slightly fragile first edition disappoints only in that it, like all subsequent editions, features no illustrations.

Access: Print-on-demand monstrosities all but overwhelm online listings. Seek and ye shall find a few copies of the first edition going for about $100. The Toronto Public Library and just four of our universities have copies – of any edition – in their collections. Three copies of Ættareinkennið, all offered by the same Winnipeg bookseller, are currently listed online at an even US$300 each. No Canadian libraries hold copies.

01 October 2011

Six Exits to Shrewsdale

John Buell's The Shrewsdale Exit was translated into the French by Jean-Patrick Manchette, the very same man who adapted the novel to film. It appeared first in 1973 as Sombres vacances, number 1596 in Gallimard's Série Noire. Anyone familiar with the series will understand why I'm not bothering with the image. L'agression, the movie tie-in published two years later, is much more attractive – that is, after all, Catherine Deneauve on the cover.

The novel did quite well in France, but nothing like Germany, where it went through no less than six different editions. Titled Highway, the not-so-great image below captures the very first, published in 1973 by Bücherbund. A Skull and Crossbones, an Iron Cross, a Star of David and what might be something from Star Trek – these bikers might be bad, but they don't discriminate.

While most German covers focus on the bikers, this 1975 edition seems to have been inspired by the novel's final peaceful pages.

Published in 1974, Salida de autopista (Highway Exit), the first Spanish language edition, sticks with the tried and true, while reimagining the evil bikers as daredevils and Vikings.

In 2007, long after the book had again gone out of print in English, a Polish language edition appeared out of nowhere. Titled Czarne wakacje (Black Holiday), its cover depicts a scene that is foreign to the novel.

Interesting to note, I think, that it's the Americans who have stayed truest to the novel. The Farrar, Straus & Giroux first edition was followed by this mass market paperback from Pocket Books.

The bikers are just as Buell describes them. An anonymous cover artist picks up on their number – three – in the 1984 Carroll & Graf reissue.

It would seem that the novel has never published in Canada, the author's home and native land.