06 December 2019

The Twenty Best Book Buys of 2019

Never has there been a year like this. I visited few used bookstores, ignored library book sales, spent no more than a couple of hours perusing online offerings, and yet somehow came up with the greatest haul of my fifty-something years.

The riches were so many and so great that the pristine copy of Wilson MacDonald's Out of the Wilderness pictured above was overshadowed. Fellow collectors will envy me for owning a scarce, unsigned copy – though it does bear the signature of previous owner Healey Willan. I'm assuming it came from the composer's library. It is now part of mine.

Because this has been such an extraordinary year, my annual ten best buys list has been expanded to twenty. As has been so often the case, I begin with Grant Allen:

An Army Doctor's
Grant Allen
London: Raphall Tuck &
   Sons, [1893]

With A Terrible Inheritance, this ranks as one of the very worst Grant Allen books I've ever read. But, oh, isn't it attractive! After winning this copy in an online auction, I came upon a second. I'm offering it to the first person who expresses interest.

The Incidental Bishop
Grant Allen
New York: Appleton, 1898

If the opinion of Allen biographer Peter Morton is anything to go by – and it is – this novel of a young Canadian caught up in the slave trade will disappoint. The Incidental Bishop is longer than An Army Doctor's Romance, and is considerably less attractive, but I won't let that dissuade me from giving it a try.

Heart Songs
Jean Blewett
Toronto: Morag, 1898

The first of the poet's four volumes of verse, this second edition is inscribed. Blewett's verse has featured on this blog many times ( 'Queen Victoria', 'Easter Dawn', 'Thanksgiving Song', 'Thanksgiving Prayer'). This collection promises further riches.

A Strange Manuscript
   Found in a Copper
James de Mille
New York: Harper &
   Bros, 1888

A "lost civilization" novel read thirty-six years ago in my very first Canadian literature course. Does the fact that I've read nothing more by its author mean anything?

The Wooing of
Onoto Watanna
   [Winnifred Eaton]
New York: Harper &
   Bros, 1902

Eaton's third novel, penned in the early days of her ill-fated first marriage to Bertand Babcock. Academics suggest that he helped in its composition. They're probably right, which is not to say she was better off without him.

The Heart of Hyacinth
Onoto Watanna
   [Winnifred Eaton]
New York: Harper &
   Bros, 1904

My obsession with the Eatons continues. They were the most remarkable and unusual family in Victorian Montreal. I fear my soul will not rest until someone writes a proper account of their trials and accomplishments.
Waste No Tears
Javis Warwick
   [Hugh Garner]
Toronto: News Stand
   Library, 1949

The Governor General's Award-winning writer's "novel about the Abortion Racket." Five years ago I helped return Waste No Tears to print as part of the Ricochet series, but had ever so much as seen a copy of the scarce News Stand Library edition.

Les songes en équilibre
Anne Hébert
Westmount, QC: Éditions
   de l'arbre, 1942

Anne Hebert's first book, this copy is inscribed by her loving father, poet and literary critic Maurice Hébert:

À mes chers amis Monsieur et Madam Bandwell, ce livre d'une petite canadienne que j'aime beaucoup.

Le temps des hommes
André Langevin
Montreal: Le Cercle du
   livre du France, 1956

Poussière sur la ville and Une Chaîne dans le parc are two of the best novels I've ever read. They're also the only two Langevin novels that are available in translation. I'm looking forward to tackling this one. Signed by the author.

Marge Macbeth
New York: Henry
   Waterson, 1927

The fourth novel by the Ottawa writer whose scandalous roman à clef The Land of Afternoon (1927) so entertained five years ago. The main character in this one is a writer!

The Poems and Essays
   of John J. MacDonald
John J. MacDonald
Ottawa: Ru-Mi-Lou,

Better known as "James MacRae," youngest of the Four Jameses, my interest in this poet began when we moved to St Marys, Ontario, in which he twice lived. I spent more than a decade hunting for a book – any book – by the man. This year, I found one.

Beast in View
Margaret Millar
London: Gollancz, 1955

The first UK edition of the novel for which Millar won the 1956 Edgar Award. James Bridges' 1964 television adaptation is recommended; Robert Glass's 1986 perversion is not.

Queen Kong
James Moffat
London: Everest, 1977

A novelization of a movie I've found unwatchable. This was yet another money job from a man better remembered as the celebrated skinhead novelist "Richard Allen". Featuring eight glossy pages of stills!

Flora Lyndsay; Or,
   Passages in an Eventful
Mrs. Moodie
New York: De Witt &
   Davenport, [1854]

Now seems a good time to confess that the only one of Mrs Moodie books I've ever read is Roughing It in the Bush. On the other had, I've read two or three essays on Flora Lyndsay. The novel features in my first book, Character Parts, as a result.

The Three Marys
Frederick Niven
London: Collins: 1935

Forgotten Frederick Niven's twenty-first novel (I think). For the reason laid out here, chances are I'll never read this tragic story of an acclaimed portrait painter and his three lady loves. The book makes the list because I like the way it looks and remember the thrill of uncovering it in a dank antique store in rural Ontario .

Wacousta; or, The
John Richardson
Montreal: John Lovell,

The fourth and earliest edition I own. Will 2020 be the year I finally read this novel of the War of 1812?

Probably not.

Hardscrabble; or, The
   Fall of Chicago
Major Richardson
New York: Pollard &
   Moss, 1888

A later edition of John Richardson's 1850 novel of the Siege of Fort Dearborn during the War of 1812. Though popular in its day – and for years thereafter – the work didn't save Richardson from death through malnutrition.

By a Way She Knew Not
Margaret M. Robertson
London: Hodder &
   Stoughton, 1883

The penultimate novel by the woman who gave us Christie Redfern's Troubles, the teariest work in all of Canadian literature. Robertson scholar Lorraine McMullen considers By a Way She Knew Not the author's very best novel. I'm betting she's right.

A Romance of Toronto
Mrs. Annie G. Savigny
Toronto: William Briggs,

A Victorian novel "FOUNDED ON FACT" by a woman whose previous books include An Allegory on Gossip.

How could I resist!

Hamilton and Other Poems
William A. Stephens
Toronto: Rogers &
   Thompson, 1840

Included here because it is now the oldest book of Canadian verse I own. In Anxious Allegiances: Legitimizing Identity in the Early Canadian Long Poem (McGill-Queen's, 1997), Dr C.D. Mazoff dismisses the "Hamilton" as "rather poorly written." Here's hoping he's wrong.

The Days of Their Youth
Alan Sullivan
New York: Century,

One of several Sullivans purchased that had once been part of the man's personal library. This novel is particularly interesting in that it has a pencilled notation by the author. Some unknown hand went after it with an eraser, but I bet I can discover what it says.

Related posts:

01 December 2019

'The Drunkard's Fate' by Teetotal John Imrie

In this month of December, with its festivities and excesses, let us pause to consider this verse from Sacred Songs, Sonnets and Miscellaneous Poems by John Imrie (1846-1902). A subscription salesman for the Canadian Presbyterian turned printer, the poet published the work in 1888 through his firm Imrie & Graham. 28 Colbourne Street, Toronto.
      For the drunkard there's no such place as "home,"
      Though over the face of the earth he roam,
      Till Death shall unfetter the drink-bound slave,
      And he findeth "rest" in the silent grave;
      His untimely death — "the wages of sin," —
      Satan's reward for the worship of Gin!
      He gave up his wife and his children dear
      For the drink which he thought his heart could cheer;
      But the more he drank the lower he sank,
      From the highest grade to the lowest rank.
      Till for shame, his name a bye-word became,
      And he lost for ever his once fair name: —
      For the pleasure of drink, which he loved so well,
      He barter'd his soul to the lowest hell!

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20 November 2019

Beautiful Joe: Now with 30% Less Violence!

Beautiful Joe
     (Modern Abridged Edition)
Marshall Saunders
Racine, WI: Whitman, [c. 1965]
254 pages

Whitman is the first publisher I knew by name. Its books were the stuff of childhood birthday parties, given to friends who'd really wanted a Hot Wheels Super-Charger. I was never so unfortunate as to receive a Whitman book myself; until this month, the only one I ever owned was Who's Got the Button?, a Monkees tie-in that I bought sometime in the early 'eighties.

Who's Got the Button? was written by William Johnston, author of other Whitman titles like Gilligan's Island, The Munsters and the Great Camera Caper, and Ironside: The Picture Frame Frame-Up. None were considered part of the publisher's Classics Library.

I bought Whitman's Beautiful Joe after reading the 1927 "New and Revised Edition." Writing in the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, Elizabeth Waterston informs that the violence of the 1894 original was "softened" for that latter edition." I found the violence hard and hard to take, and was certain that Whitman had softened it even further for we children of the 'sixties.

And I was right.

The greatest distinction is found early, in the novel's most violent scene. I've struck out the sentences that are absent in the Whitman edition:

Those familiar with Beautiful Joe know further violence follows when Jenkins mutilates Joe by cutting off his ears and tail with an axe. The pivotal scene, it's just as it is in the 1894 first edition.

By my calculation, the word count of Whitman's "abridged" Beautiful Joe is just over 64,000; roughly 30,000 less than the original. Of the numerous deletions, this is the longest:

Saunders' second novel, Beautiful Joe was written with an eye on a prize offered by the American Humane Education Society (hence the reference). That the novel won is surely owes something to its incorporation of the Society's positions, including "the proper way to kill animals." Saunders was also smart in taking the sad story of a Canadian dog and transplanting it to Maine. To these northern eyes, the most interesting passages are those in which Americans express concern for the future of their nation:

The comments about immigration, Spaniards, and Italians, do not appear in the Whitman edition.

Less violence. Less bigotry, too.

But I wouldn't give it as a birthday present.

Object and Access: A hardcover issued without dust jacket. The cover, endpapers, and interior illustrations are all by Robert MacLean.

I purchased my copy for $US9.38 from an Ohio bookseller.

There are plenty of copies listed online at similar prices.

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12 November 2019

Three Little Women and One Big Spoiler

Frederick Niven wrote The Flying Years. I learned this as a teenager through a list of New Canadian Library titles printed in a copy of Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé's Canadians of Old.

The Flying Years was series title #102.

Frederick Niven... The Flying Years... I never saw mention of one without the other, and I never saw either in a bookstore.

For a long time, I thought Niven had written no other books, when in fact, he'd published more than thirty; from The Lost Cabin Mine (1908) to The Transplanted (1944), they span the better part of his life.

At some point last decade, I ordered a copy of The Flying Years, sight unseen, from an online bookseller – surely, it was the place to start in on things Niven – but when it arrived, it looked deathly dull. The publisher's assurance that its logo was a "SIGN OF A GOOD POPULAR NOVEL" did not sway, and I set it aside.

I continued to keep an eye out for Niven titles, but the only offerings I found were online. The Porcelain Lady sounded interesting. Who can't help but feel excitement in a title like Hands Up! One lone copy of Niven's 1927 novel Queer Fellows (US title: Wild Honey) was listed at £68 (with a further £11.21 in shipping), but I couldn't justify the expense.

So, imagine the thrill in finding a copy of The Three Marys (London: Collins, 1930) in an ill-lit, musty antique store not thirty kilometres from our home.

I paid $7.50!

There are so many things to like about this book. Let's beginning with it being a fifth impression. Who would've thought that Niven's readership was so large!

I like advert for Kolynos Dental Cream.

And if you lose the jacket, a second ad is stamped on the book itself.

I also like that the price intrudes on the spine and cover illustration.

And what of that illustration? Does the towering artist not intrigue? How about the petite women of increasing elegance?

Forget The Flying YearsThe Three Marys was the novel for me! A little research found that H.E. Bates liked The Three Marys, placing its author at "the front rank of contemporary story tellers." Writing in Everyman, Bates praised Niven's ability to create "real characters."

This past weekend, I sat down with The Three Marys. Not two minutes later, I put it aside, having read this:

And now I try to forget.

Should I have warned you? Chances are you'll never come across a copy.

I've never read a spoiler quite like the above. Can you blame me in sharing it?

So, I pick up my copy of The Flying Years and, after all this time, notice this on its cover:

Should I have been reading The Flying Years all along?

Related post:

11 November 2019

Remembrance Day

Verse by Edna Jaques, written in the year after of the Armistice.

             We have kept faith, ye Flanders' dead,
                  Sleep well beneath those poppies red,
                  That mark your place.
             The torch your dying hands did throw,
             We've held it high before the foe,
             And answered bitter blow for blow,
                  In Flanders' fields. 
             And where your heroes' blood was spilled,
                  The guns are now forever stilled,
                  And silent grown.
             There is no moaning of the slain,
             There is no cry of tortured pain,
             And blood will never flow again
                  In Flanders' fields. 
             Forever holy in our sight,
                  Shall be those crosses gleaming white,
                  That guard your sleep.
             Rest you in peace, the task is done,
             The fight you left us we have won.
             And "Peace on Earth" has just begun,
                  In Flanders now.

07 November 2019

A Dedication Born of Tragedy

Purchased four years ago, The Miracle and Other Poems set me back two dollars and change. That price says much about contemporary interest in Virna Sheard. I imagine her husband, Dr Charles Sheard, would be pleased. According to the poet, he held a "deeply rooted prejudice" against her literally endeavours. A person of public profile himself – Chief Medical Officer of Toronto, Chairman of Ontario's Board of Health, President of the Canadian Medical Association, and Member of Parliament, amongst other things – Dr Sheard disliked the publicity brought by his wife's writing.

Doctor Sheard reflects his time, as does his wife, as does The Miracle and Other Poems (1913). I've shared several examples of its verse – "April", "When April Comes!""November", and "When Christmas Comes" – but not one has stayed with me so much as that found in its dedication:

Before reading those four lines, I knew nothing of the link between the poet and the Niagara Ice Bridge Tragedy.

The Globe, 5 February 1912
Accounts of the tragedy are detailed and varying, owing, I think, to the number who witnessed and were traumatized by its horror.

On Sunday, 4 February 1912, approximately three dozen people ventured out on the Niagara Ice Bridge, a natural structure spanning the Canadian and American shores. Walking across, an old and popular pastime, was thought safe until that afternoon when the bridge broke apart. All reached the safety of the shore save Eldridge Stanton, his wife, and a sixteen-year-old American boy named Burrell Hecock. The last could've made land, but turned back to help the couple.

It only gets worse.

The boy became separated from the Stantons, finding himself stranded on another ice floe. As it drifted slowly toward the falls, he managed to grasp a rope dangling from one of the bridges. A crew began pulling him up, but the boy lost his grip, plunged into the river, and disappeared.

Anguished reporting in the following day's Toronto Globe concludes with the fate of the Stantons:

The Globe, 5 February 1912
These words from earlier in the reporting cannot fail to move:
Somewhere deep in the great whirlpool to-night; sleeps the man, partially identified as Mr. Stanton, who twice put side chances of rescue in order to remain with his terror-stricken wife, and who, in the shadow of death, spurned assistance for himself and attempted to bind about the woman's body a rope dangling from the lower steel arch bridge. And the lad, Burrell Heacock, is cast from the same mould. Had he not turned back on the ice to give assistance to the man he, too, might have made the shore.
This is rightly the story of the Stantons and Burrell Hecock (often incorrectly spelled "Heacock"), but the literary historian in me can't help but be interested in its connection to Virna Sheard. The poet is mentioned in newspaper accounts, but never as a poet, and always as an appendage of her husband. This paragraph from from the Globe (6 February 1912) is typical:

Because the Stanton family was in the stationary business, the deaths of Eldridge Stanton and his wife were reported in the March issue of Bookseller & Stationer:

Again, his relationship to the poet Virna Sheard escapes mention. Curiously, and for no perceptible reason, the very same issue of Bookseller & Stationer features this portrait:

I shared the Bookseller & Stationer reporting because it too is a reflection of its time. It is no different than other contemporary reports in referring to the dead woman as "Mrs Stanton" or, more often than not, "his wife." Her husband is described as the Scretary Treasurer of O. B. Stanton & Wilson, stationers and printers, the son of prominent professional photographer Eldridge Stanton, Sr, while she is... well... her husband's wife.

The Globe, 6 February 1912

Some digging finds that she was born in Toronto on 13 June 1882 to Lillian and Nelson Butcher. Her given names were Lillian Clara. She was known by the latter.

I wish I could offer more. This doesn't do her justice.

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