29 February 2012

Freedom to Read Week: Generals Die in Bed (II)

The Ottawa Citizen, 2 June 1930
LONDON, June 2 – Slurs on British generals and attacks on the behavior of Canadian troops as set forth in the book by Charles Yale Harrison, "General's Die in Bed," are repudiated in the press today by Lieut.-Colonel Colin Harding of the Fifteenth Royal Warwickshire Regiment, who served in the First Canadian Division in France and was closely allied with the Canadians throughout the war.
He wants to know why the author should wait twelve years to smudge the memory of fifty-six thousand Canadians who lost their lives fighting for the British Empire and discredit the services of those who survived. As for the alleged looting of Arras, Col. Harding demands the author's authority for the incident, and also for the alleged shooting down of defenceless German prisoners in revenge for torpedoing of the hospital ship Llandovery Castle. The colonel thinks that such books show the necessity for censorship before they are offered to the public as they are calculated to provoke ill-feeling between nations and act as a deterrent to peace.

28 February 2012

Freedom to Read Week: Generals Die in Bed (I)

The Ottawa Citizen, 30 May 1930
NEW YORK. May 30. Charles Yale Harrison, youthful author of the book "Generals Die in Bed," is surprised at the storm which followed publication of the book in London. Mr. Harrison, who served with the 14th Battalion Royal Montreal regiment in France and Belgium in 1917 and 1917 [sic], thinks the critics who have held his book slandered Canadian troops are unjustified. The author is on the staff of the New York newspaper, Bronx Home News, in the capacity as he himself puts it of a "newspaperman, not a journalist."
He told the Canadian Press today he was surprised at reports that his book might be banned in Canada. It will be published here in June and arrangements had been made for publication in the Dominion.
"For me to sneer at the fighting qualities of the Canadian soldier would be to sneer at myself," he said. "I want it distinctly understood that the Canadian Expeditionary Force was the best fighting unit in the field. Vimy Ridge, Ypres, the Somme, Cambrai and Mons speak for themselves."

War in Real Light.
Referring to criticism that the book showed Canadian soldiers in an untrue light morally. Harrison held he tried to picture war "as it really happened not as some spinster ladies thought it should happen. War is dirty, disgusting and the sooner the world realizes that modern warfare is a demoralizing business the better it will be for the world."
Harrison has been criticized for stating Canadian troops looted Arras. He maintained he is correct in this but stated that "realizing the circumstances under which the town was looted. I did not consider that this in any way reflected upon the heroism and courage of the Canadian troops."
His attention was called to an editorial in which the London Daily Mail terms the book "slanderous."
"It is," Harrison said, "but it does not slander the troops of the C.E.F. It slanders war – and it is about time that a little of false glory with which war is enmeshed is torn away."
Harrison, who managed a Montreal motion picture theater following his return from France, says he works on a small paper because he finds it gives him leisure for writing.

27 February 2012

Freedom to Read Week: Episode

"A remarkable first novel about madness – its feelings, treatment and powers."
— Books of the Month 
"Filth and muck."
— Raoul Mercier, K.C.
On 17 February 1956, a bitterly cold day in Ottawa, the American News Company was found guilty of having in its possession for the purpose of distribution "obscene written matter, to wit: 117 copies of a book entitled 'Episode', written by Peter W. Denzer."

The distributor was fined $5000 ($42,500 today), roughly $43 ($356) for each and every copy of the 25¢ paperback. This absurd amount would be described in The Canadian Bar Review as "by far and away the heaviest penalty imposed for an offence of this nature in Ontario, and probably Canada." Meanwhile, Crown prosecutor Raoul Mercier, the future Attorney General of Ontario, was clicking his heels.

The Vancouver Sun, 18 February 1956 

Peter Denzer died earlier the month at the age of ninety; his friend Peter Anastas paid tribute with a very fine obituary. It's important to note, I think, that the author of Episode, a novel about a man's struggle with mental illness, had himself suffered. What's more, Peter Denzer had been an early defender and sympathetic champion of those struggling with mental health disorders.

Episode is, I suppose, somewhat autobiographical. Hugh MacLennan was an admirer of the novel. His biographer, Elspeth Cameron, describes it as a precursor to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I've yet to come across a negative review. Everything I've read about Episode indicates that it is both fascinating and important. And yet, Canadians who want to read Episode are out of luck. You see, while Episode, can be found in libraries throughout the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, not a single Canadian library – public or academic – has a copy.

Those looking to place blame need only look to this little, little man:

 Raoul Mercier

26 February 2012

Freedom to Read Week: Noir Canada

Noir Canada : Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique
Alain Deneault, Delphine Abade and William Sacher
Montreal: Éditions Écosociété, 2008

Freedom to Read Week begins and the Lord's Day is darkening. We live now in a Canada governed by a party that equates 'opposition' with 'enemy'. When presenting legislation, our Minister of Public Safety accuses those who find fault of being in league with child pornographers.

A few days pass and the minister trips up, revealing that he has not read the bill. He is surprised by its contents.

A few more days pass and we learn that the government called upon the Department of National Defence to help wage war on those who sit across the aisle in the House of Commons. An hour passes and an even bigger scandal breaks.

The message is clear: Do not question the government.

While scientists are muzzled, for the most part we writers have had it pretty easy. True, the theatre critics in the Prime Minister's Office described an unread yet to be performed play as "glorifying terrorism", but that's as bad as it's got... so far. As Michael Healey might tell you, the chill is in.

Noir Canada is not our prime minister's hockey book, but it's entirely appropriate that he struts his stuff on the cover. For nearly four years, Barrick Gold pursued publisher les Éditions Écosociété, Alain Deneault, Delphine Abadie, and William Sacher, seeking to add six million Canadian dollars to its US$10.9 billion (2010) in annual revenues.

Here, I'll mention – and just mention – something known as a SLAPP, a strategic lawsuit against public participation. The reason I'm saying no more on the subject will become clear through reading Candice Valentine's 'Code of Silence', published in the November 2011 edition of The Walrus.

Late last year, Noir Canada was withdrawn from sale. The small Montreal press paid an undisclosed sum to the world's largest gold mining producer and the media looked the other way; Justin Bieber had signed a Hyundai for charity.

I imagine Barrick Gold's Board of Directors were satisfied.

Better to bury a book than to burn it. Flames attract attention.

25 February 2012

Harper Hockey Book Watch: Year Eight, Day 253

News today that may or may not contradict the hot tip our Prime Minister gave intrepid Jane Taber at his most recent Christmas party.

It would seem that the Stephen Harper hockey book is still without a home. Toronto Star entertainment reporter Greg Quill reports that "major Canadian publishers" are in a bidding war over the untitled work. According to the journalist, neither Douglas & McIntyre nor House of Anansi are involved. So, who does that leave? I dare say there is not one Canadian publisher that could afford the middle six-figure advance that "one non-bidding publishing insider" anticipates.

According to Westwood Creative Agency, which represents our prime minister, a meeting has been set for  the first of March. Might we expect the name of the lucky bride next month? Who knows. As I've written elsewhere, our prime minister does like to tease.

The publication date, we're told, will depend upon the publisher selected. As one who has penned a hockey book himself – under nom de plume – I recommend autumn publication. It's a no-brainer, really.

And I offer this to journalists, including Mr Quill, who make much of the fact that Stephen Harper is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research: Annual memberships can be bought by any old yob for thirty bucks.

Related posts:

20 February 2012

On Lovingly Hand-Selected Recommendations

That they pretend to know me irritates. I write here of Alibris, the self-described "premier online marketplace for independent sellers of new and used books". For four years now they've pestered, prodded, poked and pushed, peppering my inbox with books they know I'll want. "We've lovingly hand-selected the following recommendations just for you", I'm told (emphasis theirs).

Here's one of their most recent picks:

Here's another that was chosen with me in mind:

Alibris add insult, describing this classic as a book I thought I'd never find:

And finally, there's this "book", which is actually a DVD:
Now, to be fair, the folks at Alibris have very little to go on. Our only contact took place back in 2008 when I purchased The Authentic Confessions of Harriet Marwood, an English Governess through their site. Faux-Victorian erotica penned by Montreal poet John Glassco, it says a great deal about Alibris that not a single Canadian title has figured in their four years of lovingly hand-selected recommendations. No poetry or porn, either.

Photo by Mary Elam

All this brings me to the Word Bookstore in Montreal, which launched its own website just last week. I've been a patron for nearly thirty years, first darkening the doorway as a fresh-faced university student.

These are just four of the many books owner Adrian King-Edwards has put in my hands over the years:

Memoirs of Montparnasse
John Glassco
Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970

Inscribed and annotated by the author. Ex-libris Frank and Marian Scott.

Œuvres Illustrées de Balzac, volume 3
Honoré de Balzac
Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1867

Ex-libris John Glassco

The Beautiful and Damned
F. Scott Fitzgerald
London: Grey Walls, 1950

The Watching Cat
Pamela Fry
London: Davies, 1960

Inscribed by the author.

Every one purchased. The only times I've ever passed on a recommendation – a rare event – was when I already owned a copy of the book in question.

The good souls at the Word know me; they don't insult, they don't waste my time... and they're very generous with bookmarks.

17 February 2012

Remembering the Woman Who Couldn't Die

Arthur Stringer's The Woman Who Couldn't Die might not be one for the ages, but it does linger. The novel has stayed with me these past couple of years, due largely to the mystery surrounding heroine Thera. A Viking Princess and true ice queen, it's never quite clear that she isn't dead. I don't see that anyone has really tried to tackle this question; but then The Woman Who Couldn't Die isn't exactly a well-known work. The 1929 Bobbs-Merrill first edition was printed only once. How the novel came to be resurrected in this October 1950 edition Famous Fantastic Mysteries I do not know.

I probably make too much of the fact that Stringer died in September 1950, but I'm hoping that he might have seen the magazine before the end came. Rafael de Soto's cover image may be garish, silly and nonsensical, but the interior illustrations by the great Virgil Finlay are worthy of applause.

(Cliquez pour agrandir.)

Related post:

15 February 2012

Arthur Stringer's Recipe for Commercial Success

"I write my fiction as you do advertising copy – to make a living at it. But I have tried to save enough of myself out of the hurly-burly to do the stuff that counts in the end."
Arthur Stringer loved letters and somehow figured out a way to make them pay. A journalist, poet, novelist, and short story writer, he produced sixty books in his seventy-six years. "Stringer was no mere formula writer of commercial fiction," Clarence Karr notes. "Refusing to be typecast, he varied his genres and the settings, and at times, pushed the frontiers of literature beyond the point of easy acceptance for publishers and editors." Stringer was also one of Hollywood's earliest screenwriters, demonstrating such ease and adaptability that friend and fellow Ontarian Mary Pickford called him "Chameleon".

We've forgotten the man, his talent, and the fact that he was an extremely generous gent. Here he shares a priceless formula with 1904 readers of The Bookman:

Do take note – after all, the revival of the society novel is decades overdue.

Should be any day now.

I'm all set.

12 February 2012

The Wonderful World of Mortimer Tombs

Basil Hayden, Publisher

Following Thursday's post on I Hate You to Death...

I envy Mortimer Tombs. His is a world in which writers make very good money. Just look at his betrothed, blonde and beautiful Audrey Allen – she lives off Central Park in a spacious apartment that is made small by her crazy collection of Victorian antiques. Audrey is able to afford such luxury, along with housekeeper and cook, by dashing off the occasional love story for Basil Hayden's Passionate Love magazine. Fellow Hayden wordsmiths Monica and Gordon MacGregor – she writes romances, he adventure tales – live in a grand house close to the park. Then there's Augustus Hamilton, who is lured from his position as a tenured university professor by the lucre of literature.

Keith's Edgar's writers write, but don't think that they devote their days to the craft. Audrey, dressed in diaphanous negligee, moves about her apartment between pump organ and boudoir, playing the girly girl. Gordon spends his days reclining, awaiting inspiration dressed in silk dressing gown. Monica takes her cues from Audrey, breezing into rooms in "flame-colored negligee." Meanwhile, humorist Isaac Grimm lies reading wrapped in a blanket (he has the sniffles).

Their complaints against publisher Basil Hayden have only to do with rejection. The doomed man refused one – and only one – work by each of the seven writers suspected of his murder. All evidence indicates that when it came to his writers Hayden was very generous indeed. Mort received a $5000 advance for one of his crummy potboilers* – $67,000 today.

Such is the luxury contained in Mort's Manhattan flat that even dim bulb Detective Haggerty can't help but notice:
   "Do yourself pretty well, I see. Didn't know they paid out heavy dough for drivel."
   "Oh, come, now," I protested. "Genius must be recognized. We artists don't live in garrets in this day and age."
Another day, another age... an alternate universe.

* Edgar gives a glimpse of Mort's prose with the beginning of Blood on the Ceiling: "The wind was howling down the brick canyons, howling past the deserted corners, driving swirling snow against lamp posts into sinister doorways..."

Related post:

09 February 2012

'Publisher Dies in Orgy of Hate'

I Hate You to Death
Keith Edgar
Toronto: F.E. Howard, 1944

Seven writers lure hated publisher Basil Hayden to a private dining room on the fourteenth storey of a swanky New York hotel. The plan is to hold him captive and read aloud their rejected works until he pays up. In the darkened room, under hooded reading light, mystery writer Mortimer Tombs (né Smith), is first in line. Before beginning, he advises:
"Remember, Mister Basil Hayden, that while I am reading this you will be feeling the concentrated HATE of seven people. Seven people in this room are hating you. Feel their hate!"
Our narrator, Mort is fifteen or so minutes into his "thrilling mystery" Blood on the Ceiling when it is discovered that Hayden is dead. "Heart attack," pronounces one of Mort's fellow frustrated writers. The group of seven are about to call for the hotel doctor when one of their number, humorist Isaac Grimm, suggests the police. And so, a new plan is born in which the frustrated writers will cry "Murder!" – then mine the  scandal.

Grimm's gamble works. Headlines like the one borrowed for the title of this post pepper newspapers, Hollywood comes calling and the agents move in. Blood on the Ceiling is sold to a publisher sight unseen, while others try to sign up the mystery writer for further work.

Then comes the news that Hayden really was murdered. Brian Haggerty, the detective assigned to the case, fingers Mort as prime suspect, and we're off... rather, they're off. For no other reason than he is a mystery writer, Haggerty has Mort tag along as he visits and revisits the six other writers.Though nothing furthers the plot, the reader is treated to several encounters with the blonde, the beautiful Audrey Allen, a contributor to the dead publisher's Passionate Love monthly. It's in the first of these that we're afforded the opportunity to rethink narrator Mort's status as hero of I Hate You to Death. Consider, if you will, the man's reaction when Audrey suggests that he wants to marry her for her money:
   I jumped to my feet, spilling chicken sandwiches on the floor and breaking the plate. I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her until her lovely teeth rattled.
   You – know – damn – well," I panted, "that – I – make – a – damn sight – more money – than you!"
   I shoved her back in the chair and snarled, "One of these days I'm going to beat the living bejesus out of you and knock some sense into your head!" I returned to my chair and sat down again.
   Haggerty hadn't moved.
Haggerty doesn't move much in this novel, though he is as a man adrift. A mystery himself, the detective's speech alternates between hayseed and a metropolitan sophisticate. Haggerty's ineffective interrogations invariably include a feeble request for the murderer's name. "If only I could pin down the underlying motive", he whines to Mort, before making a bold pronouncement:
   "Why was Basil Hayden killed? When I know that I'll know he murder. I must have the answer here somewhere, and damn me if I don't get it tonight."
   "I hope you do," I answered him. "I'm fed up with the whole thing."
I concur.

The exchange between Haggerty and Mort takes place on 114 of the novel's 127 pages. The detective does indeed "get it" that night... but not through his own work. Ultimately, the murderer reveals himself through a suicide note – printed in full on pages 124 and 125 – in which he hints at his motivation. Author Keith Edgar cheats here, by sliding all sorts of new stuff under a slowly closing door, and by having Haggerty quickly announce, "The case is closed."

The last words are left to Audrey and Mort::
   "Murders are fun," mused Audrey, "if you don't happen to be a friend of the murderer."
   I guess that summed up the situation neatly.
I do not concur.

Object: A digest-size paperback numbering 127 pages in length, the cheap paper and flimsy wraps have held up well these past sixty-eight years. The keen-eyed will have noticed that only six of the seven hate-filled writers are depicted on the cover – one of the two women is missing. I'll add that not one of the five men depicted fits the description of "stout and baldish" Gus Hamilton, writer of "pseudo-scientific thrillers".

Access: A rare book, of all our libraries only those of the City of Toronto and the University of Toronto have it in their holdings. Four copies are listed for sale online – all from American booksellers, they range in price from US$22 to US$54.

Cheap, I'd say.

Related post:

07 February 2012

POD Cover of the Month: The Backwoods of Canada

BiblioBazaar takes Catharine Parr Traill's cheery account of her life in our backwoods and turns it into Stalag 17. I much prefer Tutis Classics' sunny cover:

First edition:

London: Charles Knight, 1836

Runner up:

Another proud BiblioBazaar offering.

Related posts:

05 February 2012

A Millar Mystery and the Art of Deception

Following last Wednesday's post on Margaret Millar's An Air that Kills:

One man dies in this novel; here's how the discovery of his body is described:
Two barges, sent down from Meaford with winches and dredging equipment, located the car in twenty feet of water just below the cliff where Lehman had found the tire tracks. The car was barely damaged. the windows and windshield were unbroken and Ron Galloway was still inside, fastened snugly to the driver's seat by his safety belt.
So, who's that above on the cover of the 1985 International Polygonics edition?

The 2000 British edition from Allison & Busby (again, no relation), does the reader a similar disservice by falling back on that tired cliché of the clutching hand.

Who exactly is drowning here? It can't be poor Ron Galloway, who enters the drink in a comatose state, courtesy of best friend and pill pushing pharmaceutical salesman Harry Bream.

Though Ron's staged suicide by car crash is a key event, it's never described by Millar. We learn of the tragedy many days after the fact when tire tracks leading off the edge of a cliff are discovered. The author makes much of the fact that Ron was behind the wheel of a submerged Cadillac convertible when he died, yet all German editions feature an image of a sedan that has hit a wall.

It's understandable that readers of Die Süßholzraspler might expect someone at some point to drive into a wall, just as folks with the International Polygonics edition would've been keeping an eye out for a floating body. I expect those who read the Allison & Busby edition braced themselves for Mrs Millar's description of a struggling, drowning man.

Readers of the 1976 Penguin edition may have found some satisfaction; the cross-scarred wrists depicted on the cover feature in the novel, appearing fleetingly on page 243 of the 247-page book.

They're of no importance to the plot.

Forget those covers – they're bland and boring. The best, the steamiest, the sexiest is the 1960 Bantam edition:

It too has problems. The flying Caddie is great, but that can't be fair-haired, chunky Thelma Bream. And while its true that An Air that Kills is a "novel of subtle evil", it's not until the final chapter that the hidden "savage lust for revenge" is revealed. Consider that a spoiler.

Four years later, unmourned publisher Lancer got Thelma's hair right, but little else. While acknowledging that this ugly edition was published when Twiggy was at her height, I must ask: Can the femme fatale in blue bra be considered plump?

Or am I being just too damn picky?

The least colourful cover I've yet to find comes from Tokyo publisher Sogensha. It's also the most accurate. The small lake on its cover could very well be located outside Meaford, Ontario; I see nothing to indicate otherwise, except for the fact that the area is blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. This doesn't do it justice:

The most beautiful feature on the cover belong's to A.E. Housman, who provided the novel's epigraph:
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those? 
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Published in 1995, Sogensha's is the fourth – yes, fourth – Japanese edition. We Canadians are still awaiting our first.

01 February 2012

Margaret Millar and the Air Up North

An Air that Kills
Margaret Millar
New York: Random House, 1957
249 pages

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:
A Journey Through Canada's
Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through