26 December 2021

The Very Best Reads of the Second Plague Year

This annus horribilis draws to a close – thank God – meaning the time has come to recap the last twelve months of reading old books. I tackled a bunch, twenty-one of which were reviewed here and in the pages of Canadian Notes & Queries. I'm counting Arthur Stringer's 1936 novel The Wife Traders and its British reworking, Tooloona, as two.

Fight me.

They're two different books... and having slogged my way through both, I've earned it.

Stringer proved to be this year's most read author, though I'm at a loss to explain why. I read four books by this son of Chatham, which is more than the previous seven years combined. The majority were pretty awful, but one made it onto my annual list of the three out-of-print reads most deserving a return to print:

Ted Allan
Toronto: McClelland &
   Stewart, 1977

Forget The Scalpel, the Sword,  this is the Ted Allan book you want to read. And yes, I'll again point out the wonderful Quentin Blake illustrations.

Get it while you can, then share it with the children in your life.

The Shadow
Arthur Stringer
New York: Century, 1913

Better known under the later (superior) title Never-Fail Blake, this story of one man's relentless drive to bring another to justice was one of Stringer's most reprinted thrillers. Today, it is all but forgotten. It doesn't deserve that fate.

Poldrate Street
Garnett Weston
New York: Messner, 1944

This was the second Weston novel read this past summer. Where the first, The Legacy of Fear, disappointed, Poldrate Street entertained as the year's most unpleasant, stomach-turning read. Voyeurism, adultery, greed, murder, and something approaching necrophilia figure. No disappointment here!

Three of the books I reviewed this year are currently in print:

Dear Departed stands out as a relatively new book. The first true collection of Brian Moore short stories, it features writing that originally appeared between 1956 and 1961. Dear Departed was published just last year by Belfast's Turnpike Books, but went almost unnoticed in the author's adopted land. The only review I've seen or heard is Randy Boyagoda's on The Next Chapter

Having been elevated in 2012, Grant Allen's An African Millionaire (1897) holds certain distinction as a Penguin Classic. Much as I like the novel, I wonder why. The Woman Who Did is a much better, more interesting, more enduring, and more culturally significant work.

Never mind.

Give An African Millionaire a read, but if you want Allen at his best I recommend The Woman Who DidThe Devil's DieFor Mamie's Sake, Michael's Crag, Under Sealed Orders, Hilda Wade, What's Bred in the Bone or The British Barbarians.

Brash Books is in the process of returning every Tom Ardies novel to print. The author's second, This Suitcase is Going to Explode (1972) has the defeated hero of the first, Charlie Sparrow, pick himself up to save us all. The third and final Sparrow novel is titled Pandemic (1973), in which he saves us from same.

 At least, I think he does.

Praise this year goes again to Stark House (first recognized in 2012) for its continued dedication to the work of Douglas Sanderson (aka Martin Brett, aka Malcolm Douglas). This year, the publisher put one foot outside its usual crime territory in publishing Dark Passions Subdue, which I reviewed here ten years ago. Sanderson's debut novel, it concerns a male McGill student's attraction to another man.

Dark Passions Subdue was first published in 1952 by Dodd, Mead. The next year, Avon brought it out as a mass market paperback. The McGill University Library does not have a copy of either edition. Now's its chance.

I was involved in the reissue of only one novel this year. Due to production matters, it's been pushed into next. Here's something to look forward to in the New Year:

Resolutions? I have a few:
  • I will focus more on francophone writers;
  • I will review more non-fiction;
  • I will keep kicking against the pricks.
Here's to a better New Year!

Bonne année!

Related posts:

The Very Best Reads of a Plague Year (2020)
The Very Best Reads of a Very Strange Year (2019)
Best Books of 2018 (none of which are from 2018)
The Year's Best Books in Review - A.D. 2017
The Year's Best Books in Review - A.D. 2016
The Year's Best Books in Review - A.D. 2015
The Christmas Offering of Books - 1914 and 2014
A Last Minute Gift Slogan, "Give Books" (2013)
Grumbles About Gumble & Praise for Stark House (2012)
The Highest Compliments of the Season (2011)
A 75-Year-Old Virgin and Others I Acquired (2010)
Books are Best (2009)

Arthur Stringer Unshackled (then bowdlerized)
Little Willie, Willie Won't Go Home
A Shadow Moves Through a Showy Underworld
The Dead of a Dead End Street
Fumbling Towards Legacy
Shorter Moore
Starting on on Grant Allen: A Top Ten
Getting to Know The Woman Who Did
A Nineteenth Century What's Bred in the Bone
Grant Allen Tells Us Like It Is
Criminal Notes & Queries
Have Bomb – Will Travel
The Jacket, the Dressing Gown and the Closet

23 December 2021

Just in Time for Christmas!

The new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries arrives at a busy time of year, which suits me just fine. I usually race through each issue, reading it from cover to cover, but am now forced to slow the pace and savour.

And so, all I've read thus far is Seth's regular column 'The Landscape.' The beginning raised a smile of self-recognition:

There are still a few places in Ontario where one can find shelves (or piles) of old second hand books for sale that have not been curated. Randomly acquired, roughly heaped into sections, and priced not by author and title but by paperback or hardcover status alone. These places are dwindling fast but I still know a few prime spots. Don't expect me to name them or tell you where they're located though. s if. I don't want you going there. These are my secret places. My old books! Keep out.

Seth's focus this time is The Canada Permanent Story, 1855-1955. "These corporate books weren't really meant to be perused," he writes, yet Seth has done just that, sharing this endpaper illustration:

My own contribution concerns Garnett Weston, whose books and film work consumed much of my summer. They also consumed a fair amount of my income. I've yet to find a Weston in any of my secret places.

Garnett Weston
1890 - 1980

It's not entirely true that I've only read Seth's column. Among the other contributions is 'Telling the Story,' in which Susan Mayse remembers her father Arthur Mayse's writing career. I commissioned the  piece as the forward to the forthcoming Ricochet Books reissue of Arthur Mayse's 1949 novel Perilous Passage.

There's so much more to look forward to, including writing by:
Stephanie Bolster
Alex Boyd
Kornella Drianovaki
Megan Durnford
Stacey Easton
André Forget
Stephen Fowler
Alex Good
Ronald L Grimes
Brett Joseph Grubisic
Luke Hathaway
David Huebert
Mark Anthony Jarman
Kate Kennedy
Aris Keshav
M Travis Lane
Rohen Maitzen
Dancy Mason
David Mason
Jeff Miller
J R Patterson
Shazia Hafiz Ramji
Patricia Robertson
Naben Ruthnum
Cal Sepulia
Drew Tapley
Rob Taylor
Carl Watts
Bruce Whitman
Given that it's the season... Anyone looking for a last minute Christmas gift can't do much better than a subscription to Canadian Notes & Queries. I bought a couple. You can, too!

20 December 2021

Sometimes a Fantasy

The Tenants were Corrie and Tennie
Kent Thompson
Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1973
200 pages

Describing The Tenants were Corrie and Tennie as a good debut novel seems faint praise, but I'd have said the same had it been a second or third novel. The narrator is William A Boyd, a disgruntled American schoolteacher who, lured by the charms of New Brunswick, purchases a rundown Fredericton duplex. His idea is to retire, occupy one half, and live off the rent of the other.

It all seems a bit crazy. Boyd is well south of forty and has little in the way of savings (though he'd claim otherwise). Taking ownership means taking on a substantial mortgage. And then there's the furnace, which heats both sides of the duplex. Boyd, who takes pride in his new role as a landlord, was ignorant of this fact. And he's never experienced a Fredericton winter.

The first order of business is to raise the rent on the tenants he's inherited. After they move out, as he knew they would, Boyd places a classified ad in the Daily Gleaner. He considers just one response, from Harrison Tennyson ("Tennie") Cord, who has just taken a position as Associate Professor of English at the University of New Brunswick:
The letter was headed by the letterhead, which of course served as a return address: "River Idyll Motel: Cabins and Cottages – Reasonable Prices." Tennie had neatly inked in the date under the slogan. But it was a mistake to use that stationary provided by the hotel. I should never have done that myself, even if it meant buying more paper. The very address had a touch of panic to it. 
Boyd has his failings as a landlord – which become increasingly evident – but is astute when it comes to tenants, whether current or prospective. Corrie and Tennie move in, bringing with them their three young children. As a newly transplanted American, Boyd shares something with the Cord family. Early in the relationship, Corrie and Tennie invite him to their November Thanksgiving dinner. The experience of the American expat weighs heavily on our narrator:
An immigrant from the United States to Canada comes always under the shadow of history – or to be specific, the shadow of Benedict Arnold. Arnold, who was considered to be a traitor to both king and Congress (an American easily forgets the first treachery)...
These words come from The Alien's Guide to Survival. Boyd's philosophical work-in-progress, it deals also with democracy, human behaviour, economics, religion, consumerism, and aesthetics. This passage gave me pause:
By ugly, I mean that which is offensively temporary. it is perfectly illustrated by the K-Mart Shopping Plaza  (at the top of Smyth Street Hill in Fredericton, New Brunswick). It is self-evident that ugliness debases men. Unless he is made of very stern stuff indeed, a man will act under the influence of his surroundings. Put a man in prison - and he will act like a prisoner. Surround a man with the shoddy goods of contemporaneity, and he will act in proportion to their measure.
K-Mart Shopping Plaza, Frederiction, 1968

I last visited New Brunswick's capital in pre-adolescence, so can't pretend to know the city. That said, I do recommend The Tenants were Corrie and Tennie to Frederictonians. Boyd address, 696 Rodman Street, may not exist, but I'm betting it's recognizable. The landlord guides the reader through places that no longer exist. My favourite is Hurley's Music Store. It's there that Boyd – remember, he's a Yank – first hears Anne Murray:
I was eating a hot dog with relish and mustard when I heard this song which a youngster was playing – probably listening to the record on the pretence of buying it. Finishing my hot dog, and my coffee I inquired of a clerk about the song. That was a rather pleasant tune, I said. "Why," he said, as if surprised I didn't know, "that's Anne Murray."
   "Anne Murray?" I said.
   He had divined that I was something of a stranger, and explained yo me thatAnne Murray had gone to the University of New Brunswick, "up the hill" and that she had graduated in 1966.
Boyd is so struck by the sweet songbird of Springhill that he not only buys the album (What About Me), but lays out a further $66.95 (nearly $415 today) in the purchase of a stereophonic record player in order to play it.

Who can blame him? The title track is wonderful:

The Tenants were Corrie and Tennie is of a time when Canadian nationalism was at its most fervent. I was alive, but far too young to be a reliable witness. Still, remembering my own university years, when American professors were prevalent, I found this exchange between Tennie and Manners, a fellow UNB academic, interesting:
"You can't seriously mean you're going to deport all the Americans. Look you hired us to do a job. You can't turn us back when the job is finished!"
   "Why not?" repeated Manners. "That's what one does to itinerant labour."
This takes place at a party Tennie hosts when his wife and offspring are away (Corrie's mother has died). It was here that this reader began to suspect that Boyd – an unreliable narrator, at best – was becoming unhinged. He descends into madness, his focus being Corrie. I was probably a bit late in picking up on this. Looking back, I now doubt she really waved her bra at him on wash day, declaring it "whiter than white." 

I really should give it a careful second read.

It's just hard to find the time these days.

About the author: Kent Thompson taught literature and creative writing at the University of New Brunswick. Born American, Canada was his home. Kent Thompson died this past summer.

Kent Elgin Thompson
2 February 1936, Waukegan, Illinois -
13 August 2021, Annapolis Royal , Nova Scotia
Object and Access: A slim novel bound in brown boards. The jacket illustration is credited to Jock MacRae. The colour and font do disservice.

Though there was but one printing, used copies are inexpensive (if uncommon). 

14 December 2021

A Good Old Soldier

Old Soldier
Frederick Niven
London: Collins, 1936
250 pages

Stewart Reid lives in a small flat with his wife and two young sons in Edinburgh's east end. Minnie sleeps in the one bedroom; the boys share a "concealed bed" in the parlour. Stewart's days begin in a cot next to the stove in the camped kitchen. The missus can't abide this thrashing about under the covers.

Read nothing into that.

Stewart loves Minnie. Minnie loves Stewart. Their lives are happy. Each Friday night, Minnie meets her man as he leaves work. He hands her his pay packet. She withdraws a shilling and he has a dram at the local. Minnie enjoys a bottle of lemonade.

Stewart's shilling comes through his employ at Mackenzie Bothers, one of Edinburgh's most respected  jewellers. He works in semi-darkness below the shop floor, polishing silver with fellow old soldiers. Robert Mackenzie, the sole surviving Mackenzie brother, prefers veterans for the task. It's easy to see why. Stewart follows direction and is dedicated to the job at hand. When tasked, he can be trusted to deliver goods to Edinburgh's finest homes, doing so with fine military bearing. What's more, Stewart Reid lives by routine. While this is disturbed somewhat by his annual summer holiday, Minnie maintains an even keel.

"He's a man who needs a woman to look after him, or a sergeant," says Todd, the oldest of the old soldiers.

Old Soldier is a quiet novel. Nothing much happens. After several dozen pages, one looks about in search of a plot device. Might it be Mackenzie Brothers' flirtatious charwoman Nell Drummond, she of the swinging skirt? Could it have something to do with cold Rev Dr Churchkirk's refusal to be held accountable for the debts of his wife and daughter? How about paymaster Beck's suggestion that Stewart's holiday allotment be held back, lest the old soldier spend it on... you know, his holiday?

Wait, it's the holiday itself, right?

But no, Old Soldier is a tale of everyday life. Its hero is a man who ventures out on a Monday, does drudgery, and suffers an indignity or two for the love of his wife and boys. On Tuesday, he rises in his kitchen cot and prepares for the same. Stewart becomes complaisant. The reader becomes complaisant. When something of significance does happen – remarkably late in the novel – the reader may be caught off guard.

I know I was.

These things happen to other people. Not to me. Not to Stewart Reid.

And yet he continues on, an old soldier.

Dedication: To the author's wife, journalist Mary Pauline Thorne-Quelch.

Object: Purchased last year for £3.00 from a bookstore in Wallingford, England, my copy once belonged to the Newlands Circulating Library of Fiction, 16 Stafford St, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh. I'm sad to report that the address is now taken up by a Frontiers store.

I found this piece of ephemera glued to page 187:

The novel is followed six full-page adverts for other Niven titles: The Flying Years, Triumph, Mrs. Barry, The Rich Wife, The Paisley Shawl, and The Three Marys.

Access: As far as I've been able to determine, the novel enjoyed just one edition and one printing. A bookseller in Tamworth, England offers an ex-library copy at £8.00.

That's it.

It can be read online here courtesy of the Faded Page.

Related posts:

06 December 2021

The Ten Best Book Buys of 2021... and much more!

A better year than last, right? I got out more, raised pints in pubs, saw my daughter, and spent seven days touring Quebec City and the Eastern Townships. Hell, I even saw a movie in a theatre.

I also visited more bookstores, though a depressingly small number were worth the effort. Six of this year's ten best buys were purchased online. Ted Allan's pseudonymously published Quest for Pajaro (London: Heinemann, 1957) is my favourite. I'd known about about this science fiction romance since 1983, but in all the years that passed had never come across a copy.

No surprise, I suppose.

Quest for Pajaro was published in 1957 by Heinemann. There was no Canadian edition. Was anyone distributing Heinemann in Canada back then? If so, were they aware that "Edward Maxwell" was in fact Montrealer Ted Allan?

Doubt it.

I purchased Quest for Pajaro after having been invited to comment on Allan's work at this year's Toronto Jewish Film Festival. While not his best book, it is his most intriguing. There hadn't been many many Canadian science fiction romances before 1957 – still aren't. What's more, the novel's linchpin is an experimental jet known as the "Arrow."

Bruce Petty's gorgeous jacket illustration puts it over the top.

What follows is the rest of the ten best:

Ted Allan
Toronto: McClelland &
   Stewart, 1977

The author's only children's book, this tale of a talented squowse (offspring of a squirrel and a mouse) proved one of the most enjoyable and life-affirming reads of the year. The fifty – fifty! – Quentin Blake illustrations brought further joy.

Whispering City
Horace Brown
Pickering, ON: Global
   Publishing, 1947

Horace Brown's adaptation of this film noir shot in Quebec City, for years I'd hoped to find a reasonably-priced copy. This year I did (US$89.95).

Can it be as good as The Penthouse Killings? Please tell me it's better than Murder in the Rough.

Blood on My Rug
E. Louise Cushing
New York: Arcadia, 1956

A mystery novel that begins with the discovery of a body in a Montreal bookstore, since I'd long been searching for this novel. Might it be a candidate for reissue as a Ricochet Book?


Still, I'm still happy to have it in my collection.

Let Not Man Put Asunder
Basil King
New York: Grosset & Dunlap,

Though it's been two years since I bought, never mind reviewed, a Basil King novel, I leapt at this one. Let Not Man Put Asunder is either the seventh or eighth King novel to be adapted by Hollywood. IMDb does not recognize, but I have this photoplay edition as evidence.
Toute la Vie
Claire Martin
Quebec: Éditions de L'instant
   même, 1999

I've admired Claire Martin since reading Dans un gant de fer in CEGEP. David Lobdell's translation of her Doux-Amer deserves a return to print. Imagine the thrill in finding three signed Martins during my recent visit to Quebec City. This is one.

In Spite of Myself: A Memoir
Christopher Plummer
Toronto: Random House,

I regret many things in leaving our St Marys home, not the least of which involves selling thirteen-hundred books, In Spite of Myself amongst them.

I'm slowly been buying them back. This signed copy was found at the Kemptville Youth Centre Book Fair.

Marshall Saunders
Toronto: Standard
   Publishing, 1897

I own many copies of Beautiful Joe, but this is by far the most... um, beautiful. At one dollar, it was the least expensive book I purchased this year.

The Countess of Aberdeen provides an introduction!

Menaud, maître-draveur
Félix-Antoine Savard
Éditions Fides, 1967

Another Quebec City find, I came upon this inscribed, slip-cased edition on the very same day I made my pilgrimage to the author's home.

I vow to read it in the New Year.

Poldrate Street
Garnett Weston
New York: Messner, 1944

This old novel proved to be 2021's most unpleasant, stomach-turning read. Voyeurism, adultery, greed, murder, and something approaching necrophilia figure.

Good fun from a Toronto boy who made a killing in Hollywood before retiring to Vancouver island.

Two generous souls donated books to the Dusty Bookcase this year.

Lee Goldberg noted my interest in the novels of former Vancouver newspaperman Tom Ardies (Their Man in the White House, Kosygan is Coming) and was kind enough to send me newly published copies of This Briefcase is Going to Explode, Pandemic, Balboa Firefly, and Manila Time (the latter two written under Ardies' Jack Trolley nom de plume). 

Lee is in the process of reissuing Ardies' entire bibliography through Brash Books.

More power to him! 

Fraser Sutherland died this earlier this year. I was honoured to have been asked to provide an obituary for the Globe & Mail. One of the greatest challenges in its writing concerned family, specifically the name of a sibling, an older brother, who had died at a young age. Our newspaper of record is insistent on such things. It seemed not one of Fraser's friends could quite remember... and then one came through, which led me to this uncommon chapbook:

Published in 1976 by Northern Journey Press, Within the Wound is dedicated to that brother, Hugh Sutherland (1941-1965). I shared this discovery with Fraser's good friend, Adrian King-Edwards of Montreal's Word Bookstore, who in turn presented me with this copy.

RIP, Fraser. You are much missed.

01 December 2021

The 1921 Globe 100 206: Don't Mention the War

The Globe, 3 December 1921
The 1921 edition of 'Recent Books and the Outlook,' the Globe's annual list of best books, begins on a positive note: "Author's and publishers have had an unhappy experience during the past few years owing to conditions which they could not control, but the current season has a distinctly better tone."

The Great War must surely have ranked as the preeminent condition. There were years in which the conflict came close to dominating 'Recent Books and the Outlook.' The 1920 edition had an entire section devoted to books about the war:

Not only is the Great War barely mentioned in the 1921 'Recent Books and the Outlook,' just three of its 206 books are related to the bloodshed just twenty-four months past. Great War poetry disappears entirely... and with it poetry. I exaggerate, but only slightly. Eight volumes of verse are listed, down from nineteen the previous year; four are Canadian:
My Pocket Beryl - Mary Josephine Benson
Later Poems - Bliss Carman
Bill Boram: A Ballad - Robert Norwood
Beauty and Life - Duncan Campbell Scott
I'm not familiar with any of these titles, but have read and reviewed Robert Service's 1921 Ballads of a Bohemian. To this point, the Bard of the Yukon had been a 'Recent Books and the Outlook' favourite;' I'd thought Ballads of a Bohemian a shoo-in. Is Bill Boram: A Ballad so much better? I must investigate.

As in years past, fiction makes up the biggest category; their number is seventy-two, the star being If Winter Comes by A.S.M. Hutchinson:

Hutchinson's achievement aside, the Globe is disappointed by foreign offerings:
Fiction in other countries has been disappointing during the last year, and has certainly not proved as rich as biography or history. American readers fall into two classes says the New York Times Book Review, those who like John Dos Passos' "The Three Soldiers" and those who do not.
The correct title is Three Soldiers.

It doesn't make the list.

My copy
(New York: Doran, 1921)
Where foreign writers of fiction disappoint, Canadians flourish. A record twenty-four Canadian fiction titles figure. Or is it twenty-three? Twenty-two?
The Lone Trail - Luke Allan
Anne of the Marshland - Lady Byng
Barriers - Lady Byng
To Him That Hath - Ralph Connor
The Lobstick Trail - Douglas Durkin
The Gift of the Gods - Pearl Foley
Red Meekins - W.A. Fraser
Maria Chapdelaine - Louis Hemon [trans W.H. Blake]
Maria Chapdelaine - Louis Hemon [trans Andrew Macphail]
The Quest of Alistair - Robert A. Hood
The Hickory Stick - Nina Moore Jamieson
Little Miss Melody - Marian Keith
The Conquest of Fear - Basil King
Partner of Chance - H.H. Knibbs
The Snowshoe Trail - Edison Marshall
Purple Springs - Nellie McClung
Rilla of Ingleside - L.M. Montgomery
Are All Men Alike? - Arthur Stringer
The Spoilers of the Valley - Robert Watson
Let's ignore the misspelling of Isabel Ecclestone Mackay's surname, shall we. Louis Hémon's, too. Interesting to see both Maria Chapdelaine translations, don't you think? What really intrigues is the inclusion of Basil King's The Conquest of Fear.

As my 1942 World Library edition (above) suggests, The Conquest of Fear is a work of philosophy. The Globe describes it at a novel:

The inclusion of Arthur Stringer's Are All Men Alike? is just as intriguing. The author published two books in 1921, the other being his heart-breaking roman à clef The Wine of Life. By far the finest Stringer I've read thus far, my dream is to one day bring out an edition featuring the twenty-four James Montgomery Flagg illustrations it inspired.

My collection of the Globe's 1921 Canadian "fiction" titles
Is Are All Men Alike? superior to The Wine of Life?

I haven't read it, nor have I read Jess of the Rebel Trail or Little Miss Melody. I have read Miriam of Queen's and The Window Gazer, both of which disappointed. The Empty Sack is my very favourite Basil King title, and yet it too pales beside The Wine of Life.

Or is it better? Are they all better?

What do I know? I think Three Soldiers is the best novel of 1921.

Yes, I'm one of those who like it.

29 November 2021

Talking John Glassco With Patricia Godbout

Last week, I has the pleasure of joining Alexandra Irimia, Bilal Hashmi, Patricia Godbout, Phyllis Aronoff, and Arianne Des Rochers for the 2021 John Glassco Translation Prize Gala.

My congratulations to this year's recipient Luba Markovskaia for Notes de terrain pour la toundra alpine, her translation of Elena Johnson's Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra.

The streamed event has been preserved for posterity on YouTube:

Arianne Des Rocher delivers the jury statement at 51:40, which is followed by Luba Markovskaia's acceptance speech.
Beginning at 19:45, my participation takes the form of a discussion of Glassco's life and work with Patricia Godbout. Host Alexandra Irimia serves as moderator. What a pleasure it was to finally meet Prof Godbout... if only virtually. She's does such good work. I've long admired her Traduction littéraire et sociabilité interculturelle au Canada (1950-1960).

Here's hoping for a healthier 2022, and that the John Glassco Translation Prize Gala can return to being an in-person event.

I need an excuse to buy a new suit.

22 November 2021

The Dustiest Bookcase: T is for Trueman

Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).

Cousin Elva
Stuart Trueman
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1955
224 pages

I prefer my humour dark, which pretty much explains why I haven't read this mid-century comic novel. The jacket copy discourages:

What does it say about me that I have have no interest in a group of lovable characters? What does it mean that I don't want to read "a truly happy book."

Nothing good, I expect.

Did McClelland & Stewart do its author a disservice? It wouldn't be the first time. And I do like Trueman's illustrations.

Do Cousin Elva, Mr Bogson, Dr Fergus, Nathaniel Scribner, and luscious Beth Hailley rank amongst the most extraordinary characters in Canadian literature?

I'll be the judge of that... just not this year.