02 January 2018

10 Best Book Buys of 2017 (one of which was a gift)

Last year was meant to be one of great austerity. By rights, the 2017 edition of this annual list should be the weakest yet. There were few trips to used bookstores, and mere minutes – not hours – were spent panning for gold at outdoor dollar carts. And yet, comparing the year's haul to those of  2014, 2015, and 2016, I think 2017 was the best ever. The riches were such that the copy of Frank L. Packard's The Big Shot above failed to make the cut. Hell, I couldn't even settle on the list until after the the year was over. Here be the shiniest nuggets:

The Shapes that Creep
Margerie Bonner
New York: Scribners,

The debut novel by Hollywood actress and BC beach squatter Mrs Malcolm Lowry. The jacket describes it as a "combination of murder, astrology, hidden-treasure, and cryptography – with the wild and romantic coast of Vancouver as its colourful background."

The House of Temptation
Veros Carleton [pseud.
   Amy Cox]
Ottawa: Graphic, 1931

A roman à clef set amongst Ottawa's wealthy and powerful. If it is anything like Madge Macbeth's The Land of Afternoon, also published by Graphic, I'm in for a real treat.

A Social Departure
Sara Jeanette Duncan
New York: Appleton,

It says nothing good about this country that I was able to buy a Very Fine first edition of this novel for $12.50.

The Cannon's Mouth
Wilfred Heighington
Toronto: Forward, 1943

One of the few Canadian Great War novels by a veteran of the conflict.  This was a birthday gift from my friend James Calhoun, the foremost historian of Canadian military literature, I didn't know The Cannon's Mouth existed until it arrived in the post.
Maria Chapdelaine
Louis Hémon [trans.
   W.H. Blake]
New York: Macmillan,

My fifth copy of Hémon's big book, I uncovered this on one of Attic Books' dollar carts. Inscribed by American college prof Carl Y. Connor, who provided an intro and notes, it serves as a reminder of the popularity this novel once enjoyed south of the border.
Wives and Lovers
Margaret Millar
New York: Random
   House, 1954

I'd long been interested in Millar non-mysteries, but could never afford them. Syndicate Books' Complete Millar finally granted me access. Wives and Lovers ended up being the best novel I read in 2017. Researching my review, I stumbled upon this first edition offered online at US$3.98.

A Voice is Calling
Eric Cecil Morris
Montreal: B.D. Simpson,

A clerk living a mundane life in mid-20th-century Gaspé finds himself transported through time and space when playing the organ of his local church. J.S. Bach serves as tour guide to 18th-century Leipzig!

Lust Planet
Olin Ross [pseud. W.E.D.
Hollywood: International
     Publications, 1962

Canada's most prolific novelist, Ross made most of his money writing romances and Dark Shadows TV tie-ins. Lust Planet is his second and last "adults only" novel. Ribald, it's the subject of my column in the next issue of Canadian Notes & Queries.

Hot Star
Robert W. Tracy [pseud.
   Alvin Schwartz]
New York: Arco, 1952

Following Touchable, further titillation from a writer who seems destined to be remembered as the creator of Bizarro Superman. I'm guessing Hot Star wouldn't have passed the Comics Code Authority.

Phyllis Brett Young
London: W.H. Allen, 1964

I've been meaning to read Phyllis Brett Young for some time, and everything I know about this novel tells me that it is the place to start. "The jacket reminds me of Hitchcock," says my wife. I agree.

Note: Author of Psyche, not Psycho.

A year of austerity? Who am I kidding? That edition of Packard's The Big Shot was the second of two bought in 2017.

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  1. Just bought the Millar on Kindle. Yay!

    1. Huzzah! To be frank, much as I love the printed word, Wives and Lovers might best be read on Kindle. The type on the Syndicates' reissues is quite small. And, no, I'm not finding this because I'm getting older.

  2. Tell me more about Amy Cox, please! She's not on our A list.

    1. I was hoping you'd be telling me, Karyn. I haven't begun researching her yet.

  3. Have you read Bonner's book yet? She wrote a second mystery novel -- (THE LAST TWIST OF THE KNIFE (1946) -- but I couldn't stand it. Never finished it, in fact. Nothing happens for pages. The first chapters are nothing but the loathsome characters denigrating and insulting each other. They show no compunction in dishing out their vitriol. I didn't find any of it even ironically funny. I tried twice to read it and never got past page 30. I couldn't even read it as an example of an Alternative Mystery due to its overwhelmingly odious and pessimistic tone. Maybe it's a purge novel filled with sublimated anger reflecting her frustrations while she was helping Lowry shape his final draft of Under the Volcano which was published the following year. They must've been working on each book at the same time and she was clearly doing double duty as his editor and advisor according to all biographies of the duo.

    1. The Bonner book is close to the top of my TBR pile, John. I'm hoping that it will be interesting enough for my Canadian Notes & Queries column.

      Maybe not.

      I haven't read much about it - and am now avoiding the few accessible reviews and descriptions - but what I remember is general consensus that her first is better than her second.

      Here's hoping. I'll let you know.

  4. Nice. I also have the Sara Jeannette Duncan - a first edition in fine condition - and yeah, it was way cheap, too. An interesting saga (based on a real trip) but also revealing of the author's not-at-all-hidden bigotry, which took some of the shine away for me. I have a half-finished post on this one lurking in Drafts on the blog... Will be interested to hear your impressions. And of all of these others. Scope galore! Happy reading, and Happy New Year, to you and yours!

    1. I feared just what you've described, but am still willing to give it a go. On the other hand, the Phyllis Brett Young, Amy Cox, Wilfred Heighington, Eric Cecil Morris, and Margery Bonner books suddenly seem much more attractive. I'd love to read your blog post on the issue. Here's hoping it's slowly making its way toward completion. Happy reading... and a belated Happy New Year to you!

  5. Such a great haul. I have a couple of them, but so many I've never even heard of. I've been seeking out can lit for so many years. It's amazing how deep one can go. Thanks for the guide. Happy New Year!

    1. Coming from you, Beau, "a great haul" is a great compliment. May we never stop digging! A Happy New Year to you, too!