27 December 2016

The Ten Best Book Buys of a Very Bad Year

An annus horribulus, the death of David Bowie ten days in cast a pall that just wouldn't lift. These have been days of loss and unwelcome surprises, and November 8 killed all hopes for a better New Year.

The evening before the American election, the great Leonard Cohen died. I'd found his Flowers for Hitler a week earlier, squeezed between neglected books in a sidewalk dollar cart. Storm clouds were just about to burst. It's a first edition, but the condition is not the best; booksellers would describe it as a "reading copy." I'm all for reading copies. Books are meant to be read, as this one clearly has. My favourite purchase of 2016, this is how I choose to remember the year... rescuing a book from the rain.

This was the year my collection of Canadian literature took over the ninth of our nine bookcases.

You always knew there was more than one dusty bookcase, right?

Foreign authors have been relegated to the attic, though some sit in the basement of the St Marys Public Library awaiting the semi-annual Book Sale. Anyone looking for a century-old set of Conrad will find themselves in luck this spring.


Yes, this proved a particularly good year for buying books, despite an increasingly tightening budget. Case in point: the first American edition of Hilda Wade: A Woman of Tenacity of Purpose pictured above. Typically priced comfortably in the three digits, I paid US$6.00 after winning it in an online auction. With ninety-eight illustrations by Gordon Browne, I don't exaggerate in describing it as one of the most beautiful in my collection.

What follows are the eight other favourite acquisitions. You'll note that some weren't book buys but gifts. Given my name, you'll understand that I'm drawn to alliteration.

Linnet: A Romance
Grant Allen
New York: New Amsterdam, 1900

"Allen's last substantial novel," writes biographer Peter Morton. I first learned of this work while researching my first book, Character Parts, and have been hoping to score a copy ever since. Another online auction victory, I won this first American edition for US$16.00.

Black Feather
Benge Atlee
New York: Scribners, 1939

Atlee served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Great War. In civilian life, he served as Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Dalhousie. His only novel, this was a gift from James Calhoun, my collaborator on the reissue of Peregrine Acland's All Else Is Folly.
Josie of Montreal
Florian Delorme
Montreal: Bodero, 1967

Despite the (implied) success of Aprés-Ski, I had no idea this fine example of "ADULT READING" existed until it was given me by author Fraser Sutherland.

Note: A volume in the Aphrodite Collection.

The Midnight Queen
Mrs May Agnes Fleming
New York: Hurst, [n.d.]

One of the three books I'm urging publishers consider returning to print, The Midnight Queen is the one of the most entertaining novels I've read since beginning this exploration. It's no small wonder that Mrs Fleming (1840-1880) was our first bestselling author. You can read my review here.
Edith Percival; Or, Her Heart or Her Hand?
May Agnes Fleming
New York: Street and Smith, [n.d.]

A later edition – perhaps the last – of Mrs Fleming's 1893 bestseller... But wait, didn't she die in 1880? Is it really hers?  This is one of five Street & Smith Flemings won for US$1.99 each on eBay. Mine were the only bids.

Legends of My People the Great Ojibway
Norval Morrisseau
Toronto: Ryerson, 1965

Bought for a dollar earlier this month at the Stratford Salvation Army Thrift Store. Signed by the artist.

A book I'll be handing down to my daughter.

Dust and Ashes
A.C. Stewart
n.p.: Published by the Author, 1910

A curious collection of verse. Regular readers will remember Stewart's "On the Drowning of a French-Canadian Laborer", which I shared this past Labour Day.

A gift from booksellers Vanessa Brown and Jason Dickson of Brown & Dickson in London, Ontario.

The Silver Poppy
Arthur Stringer
New York: Appleton, 1903

I thought I was pretty much done with collecting Stringer, but then spotted this first edition of his debut at London's Attic Books. Price: $10.

The scan doesn't do it justice.

Those poppies really shine.

Let us all work to make 2017 a better year.

I myself resolve to kick harder against the pricks.

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  1. Be glad the Canadian pricks are small potatoes. Great collection.

    1. Agreed, Patti, though ours are sharper.

      Pun intended.

      Best wishes for the New Year to you and Phil!

    2. Harper and his crew sharper than Trump? But how, since ours is such a Smart Guy? A bunch of poisoned needles, indeed.

    3. Agreed, Todd... every one a poisoned needle.

  2. I see your spell-checker certainly believes in alteration, rather than letting you believe in alliteration above. Perhaps it will settle for alternation.

    So, good hunting on eBay mostly?

    1. Thanks, Todd. I hadn't noticed. I've altered alteration to read alliteration.

      Odd that eBay yielded so many of the greatest finds this past year; I'd long given upon it, and rarely pay it much attention. Frankly, I'm tired of people posting books with opening bids that exceed the average price on Abebooks. What makes it worse for we Canadians is that often so the cost of postage prompts buyer's remorse.