31 December 2022

'The Dying Year' by S. Frances Harrison

               The old year dies! Of this be sure,
                     The old leaves rot beneath the snow.
                     The old skies falter from the blow
               Dealt by the heavens that shall endure
                     When sky and leaf together go.

               And some are glad and some are grieved.
                     Much as when some poor mortal dies;
                     The first sensation of surprise
               Is lost in sobs of his bereaved.
                     Or cold relief with dry-dust eyes,

               That view his coffin absently, 
                     And wonder first how much it cost,
                     And next, how came his fortune lost,
               And how will live his family.
                     And how he looked when he was crost.

               But tears—no, no—they only surge
                     From those who knew him. They were few;
                     He had his faults; he seldom knew
               The thing to say, condemn, or urge;
                     Tis better he has gone from view.

               So neither do we weep—God knows,
                     We have but little time for tears!
                     A time for hopes, a time for fears,
               A time for strife, a time for woes
                     We have—but hardly time for tears.

               O it were good, and it were sweet.
                     If we might weep our fill somewhere,
                     In other world, in purer air,
               Perhaps in heaven's golden street,
                     Perhaps upon its crystal stair!

               For "power and leave to weep" shall be
                     The golden city's legend dear;
                     Though wiped away be every tear.
               First for a season shall flow free
                     The floods that leave the vision clear!

               So if we could we would, Old Year,
                     Conjure a tear up when you go,
                     And pace in solemn order slow
               Behind your gray and cloud -borne bier,
                     Draped with the wan and fluttering snow.

               Yet what is it, this year we miss?
                     An arbitrary thing, a mark;
                     A rapid writing in the dark;
               Dead wire, that with a futile hiss
                     Strikes back no single answering spark.

               There is no year, we dream and say,
                     Again, no year, we say and dream,
                     And dumbly note the frozen stream,
               And note the bird on barren spray.
                     And note the cold, though bright sunbeam.

               We quarrel with the times and hours,
                     The year should end—we say—when come
                     The last long rolls of March's drum.
               And too—we say—with grass and flowers
                     Should rise the New Year, like to some

               Gay antique goddess, ever young,
                     With pallid shoulders touched with rose,
                     Firm waist that mystic zones enclose,
               White feet from violets shyly sprung.
                     Her raiment—that the high gods chose.

               And yet the poet, born to preach
                     With yearning for his human kind,
                     His verse but sermon undefined,
               Will fail in what he means to teach,
                     If he proclaim not, high designed,

               The Old Year dies! It is enough!
                     And he has won, for eyes grow dim
                     As passeth slow his pageant grim,
               And many a hand both fair and rough
                     Shall wipe away a tear for him—

               For him, and for the wasted hours,
                     The sinful days, the moments weak.
                     The words we did or did not speak,
              The weeds that crowded out our flowers,
                    The blessings that we did not seek.
—From S. Frances Harrison's Pine, Rose and Fleur de Lis (Toronto: Hart & Co, 1891)

26 December 2022

The Very Best Reads of 2022: Ladies First

Late last night, as Christmas festivities drew to a close, I pulled Victor Lauriston's The Twenty-first Burr (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1922) from the shelves. It seemed appropriate way to end the holiday. One hundred years earlier, my copy was presented by the author to a woman named Olive Shanks.

I enjoyed the first four of its twenty-eight chapters, but know I won't be finishing the novel before year's end, meaning it's time for the annual Dusty Bookcase recap of best reads, books to be revived, etc.

This was a year unlike any other in Dusty Bookcase history. For the first time, women wrote a majority of the titles; twelve of the twenty-two reviewed here and in the pages of Canadian Notes and Queries.

Sara Jeannette Duncan's A Daughter of To-day and Joanna E. Wood's The Untempered Wind stand well above the other twenty. Both are available in Tecumseh's Early Canadian Women Writers Series, which goes some way in explaining how it is that only male authors feature in my annual selection of the three books most deserving of a return to print:


Grant Allen
London: Chatto & Windus,

It was publisher Andrew Chatto who encouraged Allen to try his hand at fiction. This debut novel, first published in 1884, furthers the author's writing on philosophy,  naturalism, religion, and socialism. Ironically, its ending was spoiled by Chatto's intrusion. 

Whispering City

Horace Brown
Pickering, ON: Global
   Publishing, 1947

A noir thriller set in Quebec City, Whispering City pre-dates Hitchcock's I Confess by five years. Both have their weaknesses. Brown's adaptation of the former – likely the first novelization of a Canadian feature film – improves upon its source material.

Stephen Leacock
Toronto: S.B. Gundy, 1915

Leacock's legacy suffered a blow this year when McGill announced that the building named in his honour, would be renamed after a venture capitalist who had pledged $13 million to the the university.

It's the stuff of a Leacock story.

As series editor of Véhicule Press's Ricochet imprint, I was involved in reviving Arthur Mayse's 1949 debut novel Perilous Passage. 'Telling the Story,' the introduction provided by the author's daughter, Susan Mayse, is one of my favourite in the series. Reprinted in Canadian Notes & Queries, it can be read through this link.

Recognition this year goes to England's Handheld Press for its reissue of Marjorie Grant's 1921 novel Latchkey Ladies.

I knew nothing of Marjorie Grant or Latchkey Ladies before reading this March 22 review in The Times

Finally, sadly, I report that the New Year's resolutions made last December didn't go far:

  • I resolved to focus more on francophone writers, yet read just one: Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé (and then only in translation).
  • I resolved to feature more non-fiction, and yet this writer of non-fiction reviewed nothing but fiction.
  • I resolved to keep kicking against the pricks. This was easily done. Witnessing the  miscreants of the Freedom Convoy roll past on its way to Ottawa gave extra incentive.
This December I make no resolutions.

Here's to the New Year!

Bonne année!

25 December 2022

'Christmas' by S. Frances Harrison

      Who will sing the Christ?
                  Will he who rang his Christmas chimes
                  Of faith and hope in Gospel ray,
                  That pealed along the world's highway,
                  And woke the world to purer times—
                              Will he sing the Christ?

                  Or that new voice which vaguely gives—
                  One day its song for Rome—the next,
                  In soul-destroying strife perplext
                  For England's faith and future lives
                              Shall he sing the Christ?

                  Or the sweet children in the schools,
                  That hymn their carols hand-in-hand
                  All purely, can they understand
                  The wisdom that must make us fools—
                              Can they sing the Christ?

                  Or yearning priest who to his kind
                  From carven pulpit gives the Word,
                  Or praying mother who has erred,
                  And blindly led her erring blind—
                              Have they not sung the Christ?

                  "Lord! I of sinners am the chief!"
                  One, seated by his Christmas fires,
                  Hearkens the bells from distant spires,
                  But hangs his head in unbelief—
                              He cannot sing the Christ.

                  Grant to such, Lord, the seeing eye!
                  Grant as the World grows old and cold,
                  All hearts Thy beauty may behold.
                  Grant, lest the souls of sinners die—
                              That All may sing the Christ.

—From S. Frances Harrison's Pine, Rose and Fleur de Lis (Toronto: Hart & Co, 1891)

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

19 December 2022

The Ten Best Book Buys of 2022 (plus gifts!)

This year will be forever remembered as the one in which Sexpo '69 was added to my collection. An elusive book, published in 1969 by Brandon House of North Hollywood, I spent at least two decades on its trail. My pursuit ended this past summer. The book set me back over one hundred dollars.

I'm betting it was worth every penny and that Lisa and considerate, gentle, sophisticated Bobbie will not disappoint.

"What?" I hear you say. "You mean you haven't read it!"

No, I have not. Too busy.... so busy that I didn't visit the Strand during last month's trip to New York. I did find time for Trump Tower, but only because it was so close to my hotel. I expected to be underwhelmed, and was more than underwhelmed. This was during the weekend of the New York City Marathon, and yet the place was nearly deserted. 

The length of my tie is not a political statement.

Each of this year's ten best book buys was found online, which is a sad state of affairs given recent travels. These are the remaining nine:

Behold the Hour
Jeann Beattie
Toronto: Ryerson, 1959

Jeann Beattie won the Ryerson Fiction Award for Blaze of Noon (1950), her debut novel. Behold the Hour, her second and last, is set in the early days of CBC television. I didn't think much of the novel, but illustrator Ken Elliott's dust jacket is a favourite.

Mrs Everard Cotes (Sara
   Jeannette Duncan)
New York: Appleton, 1894

Not at all what I expected.

What did I expect? At twenty-one, I read Duncan's classic, The Imperialist, but remember nothing.

Not only a beautiful volume, but one of the year's two best reads.
One-Way Street

Dan Keller [Louis Kaufman]
London: Hale, 1960

Flee the Night in Anger, Keller's first novel, is unique as the only post-war pulp to be set in both Montreal and Toronto. There's a fair amount of travel back and forth. This second and last novel, a very attractive hardcover, begins with a man arriving in Toronto from Montreal. Will he return? The title may provide a clue.

Leonie Mason [Joan Suter]
London: C & J Temple, 1947

Following East of Temple Bar (below), Murder By Accident was the second novel by Joan Suter. Both were published the year she divorced her first husband, left England for Canada, married again, and began writing as Joan Walker. The author hid her first two novels. Why she did is a mystery. This novel is another.

Martha Ostenso
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Ted Allan and Hugh Garner were published by News Stand Library under pseudonyms – not so Martha Ostenso! And the Town Talked first appeared in a 1938 edition of McCall's. Where it doesn't appear is in any Canadian reference book.
The Blowtop
Alvin Schwartz
New York: Dial, 1948

The author's first novel. Published twenty years before he gave up the United States for Canada, it is set in Greenwich Village and concerns fallout stemming from the murder of a local pusher. Did I read somewhere that one of the characters is based on Schwartz's friend Jackson Pollack?

Joan Suter
London: C & J Temple, 1946

Another favourite cover, it graces the hidden debut novel of a woman who would one day win the 1954 Stephen Leacock Medal for Pardon My Parka and the 1957 Ryerson Fiction Award for Repent at Leisure. I liked the novel for its depiction of a time and place in which one could make a decent living as a writer.

Frances Shelley Wees
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1949

As Ricochet Books series editor, I've returned two Wees novels to print. Lost House, a gothic thriller involving drug runners in remote British Columbia looked to be a possible third. Sadly, it is not one of the author's best.

The second book ever published by Harlequin!
A Question of Judgement

Phyllis Brett Young
London: Allen, 1970

Phyllis Brett Young published six books between 1959 and 1969 — and then nothing in the remaining twenty-seven years of her life. One wonders what happened. A Question of Judgement, her last, was first published in 1969 by Macmillan of Canada. This British edition, which appeared the following year, has the better cover.

This year the Dusty Bookcase received several gifts and review copies.

I'd long been an admirer of Dick Bourgois-Doyle's exploration of Leacock Medal winners. After reaching out, the author not only sent a signed copy of What's So Funny? (Burnstown, ON: Burnstown Publishing, 2016), but invited me to speak on Joan Walker and Ted Allan

Quebec history and literature enthusiast Helen Meredith gave me this copy of Kurt W. Stock's All Quiet on the Russian Front (Richmond Hill, ON: Pocket, 1973), which she spotted at a Montreal Salvation Army Thrift Store. Another in the Simon & Schuster's short-lived "series of original Canadian books." I'd never seen a copy.

Novelist Lee Goldberg, publisher of California's Cutting Edge Books, sent three newly-reissued novels – initially published between 1948 and 1961 – with Canadian settings: Muriel Elwood's Heritage of the River, Robert McCaig's The Burntwood Men, and The Tall Captains by Bart Spicer.

Karyn Huenemann of Canada's Early Women Writers gave me a copy of The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1922) by Theosophist and mystic L. Adams Beck. Like Sexpo '69The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories sits near the top of my TBR pile.

Here's looking forward to next year's book purchases.

Here's hoping some will be found in physical book stores.

Related posts:

12 December 2022

Ten Kicks at the Can for A.E. van Vogt

Destination: Universe
A.E. van Vogt
New York: Signet, 1958
160 pages

I began this book wondering if I hadn't been too hard on A.E. van Vogt. Science fiction was an adolescent passion, and like so many abandoned in adulthood – superhero comics being the prime example – I can be overly critical.

I didn't read van Vogt as a kid; had I known he was Canadian I would've. In middle age, his novel The House That Stood Still (1950) served as my introduction. It begins well, reading like a decent pulp thriller, but things take an abrupt turn, the writing changes, and then comes a second turn, more changes, and near complete disintegration. I agree with Fletcher Pratt, who wrote in the 17 December 1950 New York Times that "it is frequently impossible to understand precisely what is going on."

And Pratt liked the novel.

I was similarly baffled, was less impressed, and even more confused by his other 1950 "novel" Masters of Time, my second van Vogt. 

A decade passed. I felt no urge to give van Vogt another try, which is not to say that I wasn't curious. Surely he couldn't be so bad a writer as all that; after all, the man was a graduate of the Palmer Institute of Authorship.

Popular Mechanics, June 1949

A master of time myself, I finished with three weeks to spare.

Destination: Universe proved to be one of 2022's weakest books, but was not nearly so difficult to get through as Jeann Beattie's Blaze of Noon or Mrs Savigny's A Romance of Toronto. Most of its ten stories get off to a running start, propelling the reader for at least a couple of pages. But they soon become bogged down in a problem faced by the protagonist and his various attempts to find a solution. There's a good amount of repetition, explanation, and description of some future technology or other.

'Enchanted Village' concerns the first landing on Mars – a crash, really – which leaves one lone survivor who stumbles upon an uninhabited village that attempts to reconfigures itself to his needs. The visitor is repeatedly frustrated by his inability to communicate with his new home. I found the story memorable for the unnecessary twist in the penultimate paragraph.

'A Can of Paint,' provided a welcome touch of humour. In this story, space explorer Kilgour defies Earth's laws in voyaging to Venus, thus becoming the first human to visit the planet. He emerges from his cigar-shaped spaceship into a field of long green grass,  breathing in the air, "tinglingly sweet and fresh and warm." and almost immediately spies a cube – note: not "can" – containing paint. It spreads over his body, endangering his life as he races against time to find a means of removing it.

The 1953 first Signet edition.
Of the ten, the stand out story is the first, 'Far Centaurus.' Its plot centres on a five hundred year voyage to Alpha Centauri undertaken by acquaintances and friends Pelham, Blake, Renfrew, and narrator Bill. Pelham, has invented a drug, Eternity, which enables humans to live in non-degenerative hibernation for decades on end. Throughout the centuries, the four return to consciousness, but only briefly and never at the same time. Bill, the first to emerge, finds Pelham's decomposing corpse. On his second awakening, 150 years later, he finds a note from Blake expressing concern about Renfrew's mental health. Bill is awoken a third time by an alarm. Through viewers, he sees another spaceship on fire, but can do nothing to help, and so takes another hit of Eternity. Bill awakens for the fifth time as the spaceship is reaching its destination, only to discover that the planet they'd thought might be habitable had been settled centuries earlier. Travel between Earth an Alpha Centauri now takes three hours.

Renfrew loses his mind and van Vogt loses his way.

Of the ending, Colin Wilson wrote that van Vogt had "no idea of how to finish his story." 

I suggest that van Vogt had no idea of how to finish any story. The main thing I've learned in reading the man is that he could have a good idea for a beginning, and might even craft a pretty good middle, but that is it.  Am I wrong? I ask because I have only twelve examples to go on.

I'm not interested in reading a thirteenth.
"He turned. His horny body towered above the man."
Trivia: In 2004, sixty years after it was first published in the pages of Astounding Stories, 'A Can of Paint' was adapted to the screen in a 24-minute short. 
Object and Access: The third Signet printing, my copy, a gift from a friend, is a bit worse for wear. The Stanley Meltzoff cover illustration imagines a scene not found in the book. 

Within the pages of my copy I found this bookmark for Canadian Children's Literature. It appears to date from 1997.

A receipt suggests that it was once purchased for $3.50 at Ottawa's Book Bazaar.

The collection was first published by Pellegrini & Cudahy in 1952 as Destination: Universe! Signet dropped the exclamation mark for this printing. There have been many other editions from many other publishers over the years, but as far as I can determine the collection is currently out of print.

Used copies are numerous and cheap.

Destination: Universe! has been translated into French (Destination univers), Italian (Destinazione universo), Romanian (Destinat̨ia univers), and Swedish (Destination universum).

Related posts:

02 December 2022

Best Books of 1922: Amidst a Flood of Mediocrity

Published one hundred years ago today, the 1922 Globe round-up of the year's noteworthy books doesn't display much by way of enthusiasm. The three pages – previous years had five – begin with a reference to something once said by long-dead Englishman George Crabbe. It really sets the tone:

The trend may be away from fiction, but fiction makes for nearly half of the Globe's list. And I can't help but note that not one science title features.

The newspaper's greatest focus is on "GENERAL FICTION," by which it means fiction that is not Canadian. Babbit is recognized as the year's big title. I can't quibble because I still haven't read it. I have read The Beautiful and Damned, which doesn't feature.

My copies of the first Canadian editions
The big work of "CANADIAN FICTION" is Ethel M. Chapman's God's Green Country, a novel that is new to me. Here's what the Globe has to say:

God's Green Country is long out of print, as is every other Canadian fiction title selected by the Globe:
The Return of Blue Pete - Luke Allan [Lacey Amy]
Flowing Gold - Rex Beach
Chalk Talks - J.W. Bengough
Indian Legends of Vancouver Island - Alfred Carmichael
God's Green Country - Ethel M. Chapman
King's Arrow - H.A. Cody
Caste - W.A. Fraser
Pagan Love - John Murray Gibbon
D'Arcy Conyers - Bertal Heeney
Mortimer's Gold - Harold Horn
The Timber Pirate - Charles Christopher Jenkins
The Bells of St Stephens - Marian Keith
The Dust Flower - Basil King
The Twenty-first Burr - Victor Lauriston
Openway - Archie P. McKinshie
Over 'ere and Back Home - P. O'D
Tillicums of the Trail - George C.F. Pringle
Poisoned Paradise - Robert W. Service
Neighbors - Robert Stead
The Prairie Child - Arthur Stringer
Salt Seas and Sailormen - Frederick William Wallace
The Shack Locker - Frederick William Wallace
Ignore Flowing Gold; a Texas adventure by American Rex Beach, its inclusion is a mistake. Of the twenty-one truly Canadian titles, I've read only Basil King's The Dust Flower.  It may be the author's weakest novel – I have ten left to tackle – but I'm not surprised that it made the cut. What does surprise is the absence of Bertrand W. Sinclair's The Hidden Places, which may just be the best Canadian novel of 1922.

My collection of the Globe's 1922 Canadian fiction titles.
Four that didn't make the list.
In its selection of Canadian fiction titles, the Globe demonstrates a certain preference. Hinted at in the praise of God's Green Country, it is stated plainly in the description of D'Arcy Conyers.* 

We get all too few of such?


Most Canadian novels dating from this time have rural settings.

More, please?

The Globe is most complimentary in its opinion of Canadian verse, but not before taking a dig at the Mother Country: "In Britain, during the past year, deflation has not been confined to finance, and poetry scarcely rises above the horizon." But Canada, young Canada, imbued with "national sentiment stimulated by the war, receives refreshing satisfaction from the study of the poet's message."

Nine of the fourteen volumes of verse are Canadian:
Jean Blewett's Poems - Jean Blewett
Complete Poems of Wilfred Campbell - Wilfred Campbell
Contrasts - Lawren Harris
Complete Poems of Archibald Lampman - Archibald Lampman
Fires of Driftwood - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
The Woodcarver's Wife and Later Poems - Marjorie L. Pickthall
Christ in the Strand and Other Poems - James A. Roy
Verse and Reverse - Toronto Women's Press Club
Impressive... until one realizes that Complete Poems of Wilfred Campbell and Complete Poems of Archibald Lampman do not exist. Going by the descriptions, I'm sure what's being referred to are The Poetical Works of Wilfred Campbell and yet another edition Archibald Lampman's Poems (first published by Morag in 1900). I own two earlier editions of the latter and a very nice copy of Isabel Ecclestone Mackay's Fires of Driftwood. Am willing to trade all three for a first of Lawren Harris's Contrasts.

We Canadians don't do nearly as well in the rest of the list, nearly falling flat in the "JUVENILE" category – two titles in a list of thirty-four – but we hold our own overall in contributing 47 of the Globe's 167 titles.

Of the forty-seven, Over Prairie Trails by Frederick Philip Grove is in print today as a New Canadian Library title. New Canadian Library being no more, it's old stock now housed somewhere in a Penguin Random House warehouse.

What else is in print?


Oh, Canada.

* In researching Bertal Heeney's D'Arcy Conyers, I stumbled upon the work of British actor, director, and screenwriter Darcy Conyers (1919-1973). Amongst his many accomplishments is the screenplay for the 1961 comedy The Night We Got the Bird. The IMDb summary promises an evening of good fun:
Cyril's family is unaware that he and his cabinet-maker employee are making and selling false antique furniture. It is only when he dies and his salesman Bernie marries his widow Julie that the truth comes out through Cecil re-appearing as a parrot, puzzlingly given as a wedding gift. When a local Brighton heavy realises he's been conned the family band together to try and fix things.