22 July 2017

CBC Books' French Problem

The time has come to ask why CBC Books demonstrates so little regard for this country's French language writing. Published yesterday, its 150-title "Great Canadian Reading List" features just six books in translation from French into English. That's one fewer than the number written by women named Margaret.

Coincidentally, CBC Books' abysmal "100 Novels that make you feel proud to be Canadian" from three years ago also featured six. The number in its 2015 "100 young adult books that make you proud to be Canadian" list was one.

I'm not the first to note that the maple leaf featured in its photo is Japanese, though I do believe I am the first to point out that the pages are blank.

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04 July 2017

Cover and Illustrations by Seth!

With just about a month until The Dusty Bookcase begins arriving in stores, it seems a good time to reveal the final cover design. I have Seth to thank for this and the interior illustrations.

I can also reveal that the book will be 368 pages – 64 more than first announced. More books, more dust!

The Dusty Bookcase is available for pre-order at Amazon, Chapters/Indigo, and McNally Robinson.

01 July 2017

'Canada to England, July 1st, 1917' by Horace Bray

A 100-year-old poem for the sesquicentennial, written during the dark days of the Great War by Horace Bray of Thamesview, Ontario. A rector's son, the poet enlisted in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force at the age of eighteen. He fought in the cavalry at the Ypres salient, and was badly wounded. After recovery, Bray joined the RAF. On July 9, 1918, he was killed in a mid-air collision over Shropshire, England.

This version of the poem is taken from John W. Garvin's anthology Canadian Poems of the Great War (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1918).
We hold the pride You held — and now we give
        New pride to add unto your garnered store,
New deeds beside the old ones, meet to live
        And pass into our hearts forevermore.
We do not boast: but we are proud this day
        That we have stood the stern and sudden test;
We too have done a little in the fray,
        And we have given of our little best.
We too have lost the ones we held most dear,
        And we are linked by a new bond of grief;
We too have fought against and mastered fear,
        We have sought comfort of the same Belief.
Men called you great, and feared your anger just —
        May we too know the strength of noble ire:
As all men honour you because they must,
        Teach us to grasp a little of your fire.
Now we are proud, and thankful that the Day
        That saw your testing, gave to us our trial,
To pay the debt our fathers fain would pay
        And chalk the even score upon the dial.
Mother and daughters now may journey forth
        Comrades in arms, along that better way
That comes with Peace, and things of nobler worth,
        And brings the dawning of a brighter day.
Perchance in days gone by, we thought you cold —
        You may have thought us childish still, and weak —
But now we know; we know your heart of Gold;
        We know the things you felt and could not speak.
And you, mayhap, have learned a little too,
        Of eager youth, impetuous to aid,
Impatient of delay, and quick to do,
       Too young, too ignorant, to be afraid.
O little Mother of the Island Race!
        O Mother-Mistress of the distant seas!
We heard your call, and proudly take our place
        Now by your side, no longer at your knees!
Horace Edgar Kingsmill Bray
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29 June 2017

More News from a Messy Desk in a Dusty Room

I wrote in my previous post that changes were afoot... and now they've begun. Starting this week, most new reviews of our suppressed, ignored, and forgotten will be posted at the Canadian Notes & Queries website. In fact, the first, of Kenneth Orvis's Cry Hallelujah!, went up just yesterday.

I've been researching Orvis on and off for three years now. A fascinating figure, he was born and raised in Montreal, yet I've not been able to find a single person who knew the man. Between 1956 and 1974, Orvis published a total of seven novels (he claimed the number was eight). Cry Hallelujah! stands out in that it doesn't focus on crime or espionage, but evangelism. Published in 1970, it followed his two biggest sellers, The Damned and the Destroyed (1962) and Night Without Darkness (1965), bombed terribly, and sent Orvis's career into a tailspin from which it never recovered.

You'll find my new review of this old book here:
'A Thriller Writer's Very Bad Career Move'

None of this is to say that this blog will disappear. I'll still be posting other things, including the occasional review of some old book or other. And, um, there's also The Dusty Bookcase – the book – coming from Biblioasis. Look for it in early August.

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26 June 2017

News from a Messy Desk in a Dusty Room

The publication of The Dusty Bookcase – the book – approaches. I spent several hours last week going over copy edits, which is one reason there hasn't been much activity here. The second reason is that changes are afoot.

More anon.

Today, I wanted to announce the return to print of John Buell's The Pyx, the twelfth title in the Ricochet Books series. As series editor, I couldn't be more proud. To be honest, after Peregrine Acland's All Else is Folly, I never thought I'd be involved in the republication of so important a novel. First published in 1959 by no less a house than Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, The Pyx has been roundly praised. It enjoyed numerous editions and translations, remaining in print for over three decades. It was last published in 1991 by HarperCollins Canada – curiously, I've yet to encounter this edition.

The new Ricochet Books reissue features "A Reminiscence By Way of Introduction" by the author's former student Sean Kelly.

If you're knew to Ricochet, The Pyx is a great place to start. If you've been buying the series, thank you!

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24 June 2017

Pour la fête de St-Jean-Baptiste, 1858

Montreal's Crystal Palace as it was in preparation of the 1874 fête St-Jean-Baptiste,  sixteen years after this verse was composed by lawyer L.J.C. Fiset (Joseph-Cyprien Fiset, 1825-1898).The version here is found in Les fleurs de la poésie canadienne (Montreal: Beauchemin & Valois, 1869).

Bonne fête!
(Pour la fête de St-Jean-Baptiste) 
C'est la fête du peuple, il la veut grande et fière!
La nature sourit à sa noble bannière;
          Le soleil annonce un beau jour!
Le Tout-Puissant exauce et la vierge qui prie
Et les bons citoyens offrant à la patrie
          L'humble tribut de leur amour. 
Que ne puis-je, en son nom, fixant tes destinées,
O Canada Français, t'annoncer des années
          De gloire et de félicité!
Que ne puisse, de Dieu l'élu comme Moïse,
Mourir en signalant une terre promise
          A ta nationalité! 
Mais les temps ne sont plus où de divins oracles,
Aux peuples dévoyés, par d'éclatants miracles
          Indiquaient un chemin tracé:
Aveugles, pour guider nos pas dans la nuit noire,
Ecoutons, saisissant le fil de notre histoire,
          Ecoutons les voix du passé....  
—"Peaux blanches, abordez sans crainte ce rivage,
"Oubliez parmi nous les périls du voyage
          "À travers le grand lac salé;
"Nous vous offrons nos bois, nos fleuves, nos montagnes
" Et l'épi de maïs cueilli par nos compagnes
          "Aux dents de perle, au teint hâlé. 
"Partagez avec nous! Dans nos vastes domaines,
"Le castor vit en paix avec les douces rennes
          "Qui viennent boire à son étang;
"L'esprit de feu qui brille au-dessus de nos têtes,
"En chef hospitalier, convie aux mêmes fêtes
          "Le guerrier rouge et l'homme blanc. 
"Soyez les bienvenus! mais quand nos solitudes
"Se rempliront du bruit d'étranges multitudes
          "Qui sur vos pas vont accourir,
"Laissez à nos enfants les signes de leur race,
"Leur vie errante et libre et leur pays de chasse,
          "Nos os et notre souvenir!"... 
Des siècles expirés franchissant les ténèbres,
Race éteinte, pourquoi, sur des tons si funèbres,
          Viens-tu jeter dans nos festins,
Comme un reproche amer, l'hymne de l'espérance
Où, jadis, saluant l'étendard de la France,
          Tu croyais charmer les destins? 
Viens-tu nous annoncer que l'espoir n'est qu'un rêve,
Que tout change ici-bas sans retour et sans trêve,
          Que tout sentier mène au néant?
Qu'avec Tyr et Sydon, Babylone et Palmyre,
Des peuples, des héros, grands noms que l'on admire,
          Nul n'échappe au gouffre béant? 
Que semblable au torrent de la marée avide,
Des enfants d'Albion l'invasion rapide
          Nous fera sentir ses rigueurs?
Que nos fils parleront une langue étrangère,
Que les traditions apprises de leur mère
          Ne feront plus battre leurs cœurs? 
Ah! cesse de troubler nos fêtes patronales!
D'un plus noble avenir nos brillantes annales
          Offrent des gages glorieux.
Silence!... un chant plus doux module à notre oreille
Les refrains endormis que ce beau jour réveille.
          Ecoutons la voix des aïeux! 
"Quand au sommet d'un mont stérile,
"Le royal habitant des airs,
"Loin des sentiers de l'univers
"A su se choisir un asile,
"Ce n'est pas que des aquilons
"Le cortège ait pour lui des charmes;
"Mais il ressent moins d'alarmes
"Pour l'avenir de ses aiglons. 
"Tel, de l'heureuse Normandie
"Quittant la rive en soupirant,
"Aux bords lointains du Saint-Laurent
"Champlain fonde une autre patrie.
"Ce n'est pas l'exil de la Cour
"Qui le pousse vers cette plage;
"Non, son cœur y voit l'héritage
"Des Français qui viendront un jour! 
"Ainsi commença l'épopée
"Qu'au prix de son sang généreux
"La France grava dans ces lieux
"Avec la hache, avec l'épée;
"Ce fut une œuvre de géant!
"Qui nous rendra nos jours de gloire?
"Pourquoi faut-il que la victoire
"Nous ait trahis au dernier chant! 
"D'Israël le bras tutélaire
"Succombe aux coups de Dalila;
"Montcalm que, seul, Wolfe égala,
"Cède à la fortune arbitraire!
"Mourons! pour la dernière fois
"Sur nos drapeaux a lui l'aurore.
"Vivons! si Dieu nous laisse encore
"L'honneur, notre langue et nos lois! 
"Dépôt sacré, pour ta défense,
"Nos fils, quand nous ne serons plus,
"S'armeront des mâles vertus,
"Seuls dons que nous laisse la France!
"Mais si par le sort envieux
"Leur âme, aux faux dieux asservie,
"Sur leurs autels te sacrifie,"
"Viens, viens nous retrouver aux cieux!" 
Vos vœux s'accompliront: dormez, ombres chéries,
Dormez; nous le jurons par l'immortel Cartier!
Ce dépôt illustré par vos mains aguerries,
Gardé par notre amour depuis un siècle entier,
Cet auguste héritage, aujourd'hui que nous sommes
Eprouvés par la lutte, un demi-million d'hommes,
          Qui songe à le sacrifier? 
Le trahir? nous! comment? par peur? comme le lâche
Tout couvert de mépris justement prodigué!
Comme le serf obscur qui, courbé sur sa tâche,
Se plie au joug honteux de père en fils légué!
Par un sordide espoir? comme le mercenaire
Qui livrerait son Dieu pour un hideux salaire!...
          Mais nous étions à Châteauguay! 
Nous n'étions que trois cents à notre Thermopyle:
Pour défendre nos droits, nous serions trois cent mille
          Invoquant la foi des traités;
Et votre sang soudain, s'allumant dans nos veines,
Déroberait encore aux Parques inhumaines
          Nos immuables libertés! 
Tels, des rochers rivaux que la discorde anime,
Unissent leurs efforts pour soustraire à l'abime
          Les débris de leur seul vaisseau:
Les torts sont oubliés, le péril les efface;
De leurs divisions s'évanouit la trace,
          Comme celles des vents sur l'eau. 
Ainsi puisse Albion sur l'océan du monde,
Bénissant un accord si fécond en bienfaits,
Aux splendides couleurs de la reine de l'onde
Allier pour toujours le pavillon français;
Et puissent dans nos champs qu'un même fleuve arrosa,
L'érable et le chardon, et le trèfle et la rose,
          Croître unis et fleurir en paix!
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16 June 2017

A Forgotten Film of a Hidden Novel

The Spring Issue of Canadian Notes & Queries arrived in the mail yesterday, pushing aside all other reading. Sorry, Kenneth Orvis. As the cover says, this one focusses on film. Matthew Hays has an article on Claude Jutra, the man and the scandal. Natalie Atkinson writes about A Cool Sound From Hell, 1959 film noir set in Toronto. Anthony Easton covers Vixen!, Russ Meyer's Canadian sexploitation film. Chase Joint looks at the animation of Jess Mac, while Rob Benvie's 'Make It Dangerous' explores Canadian film's punk sensibility.

My contribution is a look at Intent to Kill, a feature film from '58, based on the suppressed Brian Moore novel of the same title. If this sounds at all familiar, it may be because I've written before about both the novel (here) and the film (herehere, and here). They are endlessly fascinating.

Other contributors include:
Tamara Faith Berger
Jeff Bersey
Paige Cooper
Jason Dickson
Matthew Forsythe
Stephen Fowler
Alex Good
Rohan Maitzen
David Mason
James Pollock
JC Sutcliffe
Bruce Whiteman
Catriona Wright
Alissa York!
We all worked under the watchful eyes of Emily Donaldson.

Subscriptions to CNQ – the perfect Father's Day gift – can be purchased through this link.

Next issue will be the magazine's 100th. You don't want dad to miss that, do you?

05 June 2017

Frustration, Part II: Paint a Vulgar Picture

So, how was your weekend?

Regular readers will remember that I ended last week's post on Henry C. Clayton's very, very bad Frustration by recommending the novel. There are several reasons why you should read it, and all have to do with the past.

Like any work of fiction – historical novels included – Frustration is of its time, and reveals a good deal about same. A News Stand Library title, it was sold through news stands, not book stores. A cheap thing, it was not built to last much beyond its November 1949 pub date. News Stand Library didn't last long either, but in its brief history, it published several novels about men who make a living as artists. My favourite is Artists, Models and Murder by Toronto-based comic book artist Tedd Steele.

You can see why these books appealed to post-war commuters. Painting nudes for a living is far preferable to, say, processing overdue payments in the accounts department at Sun Life.

Maybe that's just me.

Tony Pearce, the protagonist of Frustration, paints nudes for a living. Some of his canvasses end up in high-end Manhattan art galleries, but most are used in ads for Joyous Brassieres and more restrictive undergarment manufacturers: "The moguls of feminine underthings were well aware that the touch of genius in Tony's renderings of the body beautiful gave them an out-of-this-world quality which caused men to lick their lips and some wives to first fume, then rush out to buy the same type of girdle in the hope, never realized, that they would look like that." The most unusual thing about Tony's craft is revealed three pages into the novel:
There was the cynical, flippant Tony Pearce who painted gloss nudes, adroitly exaggerating a curve here on the bust, adding length to the thigh there, and so causing virile men to become restless and their wives to rage with futile envy. Tony never put the garments on his creations. They were added to the nude, with just the proper degree of transparency, by air-brush experts at the advertising agency.
Today's ad agencies would have no use for Tony – nor air-brush artists – though the manipulation of the female form continues. That in itself makes this novel interesting, but the main reason one should read Frustration has nothing to do with advertising.

Spoilers follow:

The murderer in Frustration – three bodies in total – is Tony's friend Eileen Henley. A talented artist, and smart as a whip, Eileen has by far the most attractive personality in the novel... and yet she is a spinster. To Tony, Eileen is beautiful in every single way except that she walks with "a slight limp." Minutes after meeting Eileen, Tony turns to his agent, Johnny Kozak, and says: "I liked her. Too bad she's crippled."

Tony is sometimes distracted from Eileen's limp by "the swelling of her breasts and the enticing valley between," and so he must remind himself that she is a cripple. Nevertheless, our hero enjoys Eileen's company and is often tempted to give her a kiss. As the novel draws to an end, author Henry C. Clayton rushes things along by having Tony take Eileen to the Stork Club, then really ramps it up:
Funny, wasn't it? The girl he would fall for wasn't perfect – and maybe that was why. Physically perfect girls were a dime a dozen. But the fact that she could ignore her infirmity so blithely, that she could climb the ladder of her career with any sears on her soul, that meant that Eileen was a girl in a thousand.
After eats, Tony ends up at his date's Sutton Place flat, where she slips into something more diaphanous:
Eileen came back in to the room and he stared. She was wearing a thin black negligee – and nothing else, and her hair was down on her shoulders. He hardly noticed her limp until her saw clearly her left leg was thinner than the other. Not much, but enough to show. It wasn't nearly as bad as he thought it would be.
Yes, not nearly as bad as he thought it would be, but Eileen has let slip something that suggests she just might be the triple-murderer. Tony doesn't do anything about it because her negligee falls open and he is fairly choked by "the heat of her breasts."

Next thing you know, Tony is struggling for breath as Eileen tries to strangle him with a strip of canvas. Fortunately, Tony is able to fish a penknife from his pocket and cut the fabric. Eileen says she has to pee and commits suicide in the bathroom. This leaves our hero to explain her motive:
The girl had beauty and talent, a rare combination, and yet she was deformed. She had a passionate nature, and yet it would be difficult for her to find a husband, a decent husband who was on her own intellectual level.
And so, you see, she killed.

"Different times," remarked my wife.


Researching this piece, I learned that last year the World Health Organization recorded just forty-two cases of polio worldwide. It is expected that next year the disease will be eradicated completely.

This information felt good. But it was followed that same day by a video from The Rebel's in-house Jew-hater Gavin McInnes:, in which we find these words:
Who doesn't want to know a handicapped person? That's cooler than a black friend. I want to at least have a friend with, like, a lobster claw. You need that in your repertoire. Friends are baseball cards. You need some freaks in the mix.

Different times.

Frustration is a novel I won't forget. I recommend it to anyone who has so much as a passing interest in the portrayal of the physically challenged in popular fiction.

The Rebel is also recommended. Know thine enemy.

Note: Gavin McInnes is not a "drunk Scotsman," as he claims. He was born in Herefordshire and grew up in Ottawa. That said, I do believe he is a drunk.

Object: A cheap, poorly-produced 158-page mass market paperback, reading Frustration proved to be more challenging than the average New Stand Library title.

I purchased my copy three years ago from bookseller Nelson Ball. Price: $6.00.

Not on WorldCat. Four copies are listed for sale online. Get one while you can!

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01 June 2017

Frustration, Part I: Paint Over Passion

Henry C. Clayton
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Tony Pearce's nudes are sold in Manhattan's finest galleries, but the really big bucks come from Madison Avenue. He's the artist of choice for Joyous Brassieres, Silky Scanties, a number of girdle companies, and Sparkle deodorant. What Tony does with all that money remains a mystery to this reader. He lives alone in a flat that doubles as his studio, eats and drinks courtesy of others' expense accounts, and is a complete skinflint when it comes to paying his models. The first we encounter, Luba Belleau, "a lush brunette with glistening up-thrust breasts and sleek thighs," is a favourite. One evening, because he's cheap, he hitches a ride with an agency art director to a party being held at a sprawling mansion on Long Island Sound. More free booze and eats. As in a fantasy – mine at twenty – he's approached by a tall, beautiful woman in an evening gown: "Well, fancy meeting you here."

Tony pretends to recognize her, as one does. Fortunately, before things get too awkward, the beauty drops a clue.
"Someday, Tony, you must paint me like this. I've always wanted to be be painted in something swish." She swirled around in front of him, smiling provocatively, and the movement jolted his brain. Good heavens, it was Luba!
     He said lightly, "I hardly knew you with your clothes on."
They walk along the beach and have sex, I guess:
Her resilient body pressed against him demandingly until the moon rocked in the star-studded dome overhead
     Then Luba went limp against him and whispered into his chest, "Oh Tony!"
Whatdoya think? Did they do it? If Tony had gone limp I'd be more certain.

The morning after, Luba arrives at the studio ready for more, but Tony, ever the professional, is intent on continuing work on her portrait. "It was like a douche of cold water." As Friday approaches, Luba suggests a dirty weekend in the Poconos. Tony agrees, and although he does feel a bit bad about it all – Luba is a married woman – they have a great Saturday together. Things cool down that evening when Luba gets all naked and lies down on top of the bed.
The bathroom door opened and Tony entered in his pyjamas. He walked over and gazed down at her for a moment, then exclaimed, "God, Luba, but you are beautiful!"
     He stepped back a pace and mused, "There's something radiant about you – something ethereal."
     Her eyes were black pools. She murmured happily, "You like me, Tony?"
     Tony shook his head admiringly, "Damn it, this is terrific." He turned and opened his bag, fumbling around anxiously.
     "What are you looking for, darling?" Luba smiled in expectation.
     "Oh," said Tony, "I'm looking for my sketching pad."
     "Your what?" Luba raised up on one elbow.
     "It's okay, I've found it."
Luba bursts into tears and accuses Tony of being a "pansy". Frankly, I was beginning to wonder if the man didn't have some sort of clothing fetish; he'd never so much as touched her unless she was dressed. And what's with the PJs?

Luba takes off in the rented car, leaving Tony to find a way back to New York. Two days later, her strangled body is fished out of the East River.

Tony has an alibi, having attended a small get-together hosted by fellow artist and brand new friend Eileen Henley. The same alibi proves handy when Luba's husband is also found murdered.

As mysteries go, Frustration is... well, frustrating. Lieutenant O'Hara's police investigation is slowed because Tony lies and neglects to pass on key information. The artist tries to solve the murder himself, and author Clayton cheats by having Tony focus exclusively on two men who prove to be innocent. Ultimately, the murderer is revealed only when caught trying to kill again, leaving Tony to put all the pieces together as O'Hara nods in agreement.

Frustrating, but not without some value. In fact, I recommend this very bad novel. There's a specific reason why, and so much to write in this regard (and so much that is spoiler) that I'm going to save it for Monday. You know, after the weekend.

Keep it clean, everyone.

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