07 December 2015

The Season's Best Books in Review — A.D. 1915; Featuring the Best Canadian Book Ever Published

The influence of the war upon the literary taste of the public is strikingly illustrated by the increasing demand for more serious books.
The Globe, 4 December 1915

Can the same be said for our time of war? I'm not so sure, though "The Globe 100: The Best Books of 2015", published last Saturday, assures me that this year's list is "smarter than ever."

Ah, the hubris of the living.

The Great War was heading towards its second Christmas when the Globe published its review of the 143 best books of 1915. Most are pretty much forgotten – The Heart of Philura, anyone? – though some, like W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, live on. Canadians don't fair too poorly, taking thirty-two spots. Sadly, our survival rate isn't any better.

Consider The Life of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, Beckles Willson's authorized biography of the man who co-founded the Canadian Pacific Railway and once held controlling shares in the Hudson's Bay Company. The Globe informs: "Based upon a mass of material, this record introduces documents which throw new light upon noted transactions in the Northwest."

New light upon noted transactions in the Northwest!

Hold me back.

The advertisement from publisher Cassel,featured on the bottom right of the page announces the title as "THE BOOK OF THE YEAR". Lest you question that claim, consider this: The Globe included the book even though it had not yet been published.

Competition comes in the form of In Pastures Green by farmer, poet and – it needs be noted – Globe contributor Peter McArthur. "Mr. McArthur is among those who have promoted the Dominion to full literary responsibility", sayeth the Globe. "We wisely rejoice in the products of our farms, but there is no more sustaining or enduring product of the farm at Ekfrid than 'In Pastures Green.'"

J.M. Dent and Sons' advert for In Pastures Green more than trumps the one for The Life of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal:

Sustaining and enduring In Pastures Green has been out of print for nearly seven decades. Of the thirty-two Canadian titles, only two are in print today: Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery, described here as the third volume in the "Anne Trilogy", and Winnifred Eaton's Me: A Book of Remembrance. "A much-talked of account of the life of a working girl who is 'up against it' nearly all the time. A sensational revelation of real life", says the Globe.

I've still not made time for Me. In fact, after all these years of the Dusty Bookcase –  here and at Canadian Notes & Queries –  I've yet to review a single book from 1915. Curious… I've covered several from each of the surrounding years. Perhaps it has something to do with this, as noted by the Globe in its introduction to the list:

The hell that is war.

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