26 March 2013

Condensed CanLit

Why Shoot the Teacher
Max Braithwaite
Reader's Digest Condensed Books
Montreal: Reader's Digest, 1981

Our local public library book sale approaches, bringing a trickle of donated Readers's Digest Condensed Books. Like the leak in the 110-year-old building's limestone foundation, it seems we can't do a thing to stop it.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against condensed books. The problem I have, as someone doing his darndest to raise money for the library, is that no one will buy the things. I do mean no one. A veteran with seven book sales under his belt, I realized last year that we'd never sold so much as a single volume. And so, we decided to give them away.

I was the only taker.

This is it, a lone volume saved from the recycling bin for the simple reason that it features an abridged version of Max Braithwaite's Why Shoot the Teacher, with illustrations by Bruce Johnson. An artist deserving of more attention, I first learned of Johnson last year through Leif Peng's Today's Inspiration.

Numbering four in total, it appears that the illustrations have never been reprinted.

The last two are a touch too wacky for me, but they are in keeping with the novel. This Johnson illustration from a 'fifties Maclean's is more to my taste:

Not many Canadian authors have had bank accounts blessed by Reader's Digest Condensed Books – and the most blessed, semi-citizen Arthur Hailey, hardly needed the money. The decision to include Why Shoot the Teacher seems both obvious and surprising. On the one hand, Braithwaite's good-natured humour is well-suited to the series, on the other it comes so very late. Why Shoot the Teacher was first published in 1965, and was adapted to the screen in 1977, so what's it doing here?

At roughly 72,000 words, I imagine the novel was much easier to abridge than, say, Airport or Hotel. Less than half remains. Never having owned a condensed book before, I was curious to see how it was done. These pages I marked up from the first edition give some idea:

(cliquez pour agrandir)
Not to worry, it's a photocopy.

One trick is to combine chapters – "Tic Tac Toe, Hockey, and Sex" and "The Hot Dust of Spring" become "Tic Tac Toe, Hockey, and the Hot Dust of Spring". No sex, please, this is Reader's Digest. No frozen horse turds, either. "There were always plenty of the around," says narrator Max Brown. Like Canadians of old, he uses them in lieu of a puck. Hockey takes a good hit here with talk of the Olympic hockey team, international hockey tournaments, Gordie Howe, Max Bentley and Ted Lindsay cut.

But what's this?

Where in the original, Max Brown tells us Canada produces "the best hockey players in the world", the condensed version has him saying that we produce "many of the best hockey players in the world".

Isn't that longer?

One last thing, the condensed version replaces "colour" with "color". Shorter.

Trivia: Reader's Digest receives fleeting mention in both the original and condensed versions of the novel:
"Trouble is," Harris said, "we're stultityped in our thinking. All we can think of is growing wheat. Now I've been reading an article in the Reader's Digest that really has the idea."
More trivia: The keen-eyed will have noticed that the second paragraph of the page spread above features an errant line ("wind hit southwestern Saskatchewan and melted most of"), which usurps the rightful words ("hour and a half to two hours' free time each day").

Object: Boards covered in a brown plastic-like material, the book contains three additional condensed works: Banners of Silk by Rosalind Laker, A Ship Must Die by Douglas Reeman and Kalahari by Henry Kolarz.

Access: Not listed amongst the thousands of Reader's Digest Condensed Books currently listed online. You will not find it at your local library.

22 March 2013

Dining with Mister Dressup

Air Fare: The Entertainers Entertain
Allan Gould
Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1984

Okay, so I never dined with Mr Dressup, but I did once break bread with Knowlton Nash. Both idols of sorts, they're just two of the forty-one CBC names found in this artifact of better times. Imagine, our public broadcaster once published books. Air Fare is not its greatest achievement – Northrop Frye's The Educated Imagination was a CBC publication – but it is good fun.

The concept here is simple: Allan Gould profiles some of the Mother Corp's better-known employees, who in turn share their favourite recipes.

I purchased my copy last December in preparation for a resolution that would've had me cooking up a storm in the New Year. What dinner guest wouldn't be impressed by Lister Sinclair's Lamb Chops Champvallon or Gerard Parkes' Funghi Alla Panna?

Ten weeks into 2013, I've tackled just five. Thus far, the only disappointment has come in the form of Martha Gibson's hand-moulded Tuna Cutlets: pasty post-war comfort food.

The best comes from Mr Dressup, Ernie Coombs, himself:

Pasta with Clam Sauce
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium cheese clove, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
½ green pepper, chopped
2 5 oz. cans baby clams, minced
Parsley, chopped
Optional wine, grated Romano cheese
Sauté garlic in olive oil until dark brown, then discard. Add green pepper and onion to oil, and sauté until soft. Toss in a splash or two of white wine, then add the clams and their broth. When the sauce is thoroughly heated, scatter the chopped parsley onto it, and serve over your favourite pasta. Grated cheese may be added at this point.
Serves 4
Make sure the children are in bed, then open a bottle of Soave or dry Orvieto.
Tony Aspler provided the wine tip, but I'm left wondering about the parenting advice. After all, Mr D didn't appear to have any qualms about having son Chris around during the cooking.

Pasta with Clam Sauce is delicious, but what I like most about Air Fare are the 110 photographs of these CBC employees at work and home. Take Marketplace co-hosts Bill Paul and Christine Johnson. Bill was the first to get a computer, but Christine still had the better phone.

Though I'd seen corners of Clyde Gilmour's record collection before, this further glimpse was appreciated.

Who wouldn't want to scan Knowlton Nash's bookcase? Look, he has a copy of John Ralston Saul's Baraka! Just like me!

Meanwhile, Pierre Berton gives yet another lesson in self-promotion.

The profiles – "served up with the delicious humour of Allan Gould", says one ad – are for the most part  forgettable: "Let's get something straight, right off the top: Dennis Trudeau is not related to Him." CBC types already knew – and who but CBC types were going to be buying this thing?

Donning my publishing hat, I'd say my greatest problem with this book lies in the title: Air Fare is all too easily misread as Air Farce – a problem made worse by putting Luba Goy on the cover. As a reader and longtime CBC type myself, I take issue with the subtitle: The Entertainers Entertain. I've never thought of Knowlton Nash, Bill Paul, Christine Johnson or Dennis Trudeau as entertainers – and certainly not Mr Dressup. Today's CBC on the other hand...

Object: An 8½"x10" paperback, 16o pages in length. Though it enjoyed only one printing, that run numbered 20,000 copies. As I say, an artifact from better times.

John Murtagh's cover design owes more than a nod to that 'eighties staple The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Access: WorldCat records just seven copies in Canadian libraries, the beleaguered Library and Archives Canada included. Decent used copies are out there and can be purchased online for as little as $5.45.

20 March 2013

Guelph: City of Galt, Gay, Glyn, Graves and Girdles

March Break. Others head south and we go to Guelph. I've never been much taken with March Break; spring seems so fleeting and I don't want to chance missing an early arrival. Five years ago, when we first visited this area, crocuses were in bloom. This year things weren't nearly so pleasant. Observed Guelph's James Gay, Poet Laureate of Canada (self-proclaimed) and Master of All Poets (self-proclaimed):
Canadian climate must have been changeable ever since the            world begun,
One hour snowing, and the next raining like fun
And so it was when I visited the man's grave. Snow turned to sleet, sleet turned to rain. My wife and daughter chose to stay in our Jeep as I paid my respects. Good sports both, they had no interest in Gay but were in town to take in (pun intended) an exhibit of ladies undergarments at the Guelph Civic Museum.

And so they did, as I stuck close so as to not look like a pervert. The only male in the room, the only male in the entire museum, I was transported back forty years to a time when my mother was in the habit of parking the family car outside the entrance to Eaton's lingerie department. I'd enter the store with eyes trained on the tile floor.    

Now a husband and father, I can not only raise my eyes but talk about some of the items. The girdle above, for example, brought mention of John Glassco, author of Canada's first rubber fetish novel.

(Do we have a second?)

Not a single Canadian boy or girl outside Guelph will be able to tell you that the city was founded by John Galt, once a rival of Sir Walter Scott. Amongst the museum's holdings are the doors to The Priory, the man's Upper Canadian home.

I'd expected Galt's literary works to be recognized, and was pleasantly surprised to see them presented next to those of naughty Guelph girl  Elinor Glyn...

and crossing the room was fairly floored (pun unintended) to find a display devoted to the Master of All Poets. There, by way of telephone, I was treated to an anonymous actor reciting four selections of Gay's finest verse.

Yes, I'm overdue for a haircut.

I'll try to distract with this poem by James Gay:

An Address to My Fellow Citizens of Guelph 
My old townsmen of Guelph, I no longer can repine,
In composing this poem, giving pleasure to all mankind:
I've not been many long years with you: this you know is true;
Not one of all could ever think the regard I've got for you.
Oftimes you have met me on the street, pleasant, good-natured and fine;
This I found my duty, to treat my fellow-mankind.
Working hard in this town of many a year, and tried to do my best;
And, like other misfortunes, I fell away like the rest.

Update: Hair cut.

18 March 2013

Here Comes Sugar-Puss!

The Spring issue of Maisonneuve hits the stands today. Flip it over and you'll find this on the back cover:

(cliquez pour agrandir)

There they are, all three Ricochet Books from Véhicule Press, now joined by Al Palmer's Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street. It's been 64 years since the story of Gisele Lepine – a/k/a Sugar-Puss – was sold at train station and drug store spinner racks. No sexigenerian copies are listed for sale online, but you can place an advance order for the brand spanking new edition (with Intro by Will Straw!) with Amazon, Chapters/Indigo or Véhicule Press itself.

Go get it, ya big lug.

Related post:

17 March 2013

Thomas D'Arcy McGee's 'Home-sick Stanzas'

Thomas D'Arcy McGee
13 April 1825 - 7 April 1868
from Selections from Canadian Poets
Edward Hartley Dewart, editor
Montreal: Lovell, 1864

15 March 2013

Alpha, Beta and Other Crap Sold by Amazon

Corporate greed knows no bounds beyond those imposed by prostate government ministers. Anyone seeking evidence should look no further than the feculence being spewed upon us all by VDM Publishing. Located in the publishing hotbed of Saarbrücken, Germany (pop. 176,000), VDM publishes no original material; for the most part, its writers (unwitting) are the selfless souls who contribute to Wikipedia. The free encyclopedia's entry on Malaysia's South Klang Valley Expressway can be yours through VDM and Amazon for US$146.39. 

If this all seems somehow familiar, its because I've written about VDM, Alphascript, Betascript and its 76 other imprints before... back in 2011 and 2012. I thought then that I was taking shots at a sinking ship. Amazon, through which the company sells nearly all its stuff, seemed ready to "retire" their titles. At least that's what they'd told a disgruntled customer back in 2010 – but you know how slowly things move on the internet.
Consider this my 2013 post. The proliferation of titles aside – the Betascript imprint alone now offers more than 319,000 – there's really nothing new to report. That said, I must acknowledge the debate raging over something in Moscow called "Bookvika". Are they part of VDM or are they an imitator? Because, really, who wouldn't want to follow VDM's business model. 

Recognizing that Bookvika is a 2500-kilometre drive from Saarbrücken, I feel pretty confident in my belief that it falls under the proud VDM corporate umbrella. I cite as evidence the tag found on the cover of Mordecai Richler – "High Quality  Content by [sic] WIKIPEDIA articles" – which is identical to that found on VDM titles. And should we not recognize Jesse Russell and Ronald Cohn, whose names grace tens of thousands of titles?

That Isaac Asimov, what a piker.

Russell and Cohn's Mordecai Richler is worthy of special attention, if only for its odd cover. I must admit, I've never associated the man's name or his writing with China or the Chinese. On the other hand, VDM uses the very same image in hoovering up, bagging and selling entries relating to Pierre Elliott Trudeau... and in 1970 the late Prime Minister did open relations with China. So there you go.

Forget politics, never mind history, being a bookish fellow I'm most interested in VDM's CanLit titles.    

"Scratch an actor and you'll find an actress," opined Dorothy Parker. Here we have former thespian Robertson Davies, the man who gave us the Deptford Trilogyas attractive sorority girl:

There's more gender-bending with Marie-Claire Blais... 

but, oddly, not with Michel Tremblay, whose work is populated by transvestites and drag queens. Instead, VDM's Bookvika imprint presents the celebrated separatist as a staunch federalist.

More weirdness comes with their book on Gabrielle Roy – thirty years dead  which features the laptop she used when writing Bonheur d'occassion and La Petite Poule d'Eau.

Having devoted six or so years of my life – my wife insists the number is ten – to writing a biography of poet John Glassco, it was this title that interested me more than any other:

Amazon sells Alphascript's 18-page John Glassco for $53.00. Buy it and you'll find not only the man's Wikipedia entry, but others on McGill University (which he attended), James Joyce (whom he likely never met), Ernest Hemingway (ditto), Gertrude Stein (ditto) and Alice B. Toklas (ditto). You'll  also find my name because some kind Wikipedian saw fit to cite A Gentleman of Pleasure, my 398-page biography. A McGill-Queen's University Press publication, Amazon is selling the hardcover first edition for $25.17.

Order four and I'll have earned enough in royalties to buy you a beer.

Related posts:

11 March 2013

A Not So Nice Place to Visit

The Sin Sniper
Hugh Garner
Richmond Hill, ON: Pocket Books, 1970

From the back cover:

So what's he doing writing a cheap paperback original?

The answer is going full circle and then some – past Storm Below, his 1949 hardcover debut, to Waste No Tears(1950), Cabbagetown (1950) and Present Reckoning (1951). Paperback originals all, the latter three brought more money than would've been garnered – sorry – through higher literary endeavours. It's true that Storm Below did the author well, but not in an immediate sense. A man needs to eat... and drink.

Garner's seventh novel, The Sin Sniper landed just months after his sixth, A Nice Place to Visit (1970). It enjoyed a higher print run, more editions, and as Stone Cold Dead, would eventually be adapted for the screen in a film starring Richard Crenna, Paul Williams and Linda Sorensen.

Robert Fulford, who had a certain respect for Garner, was none too impressed. Writing in the Ottawa Citizen (5 November 1971), he dismissed The Sin Sniper as "close to being dreadful", adding "one was left with a nothing but baffling sense of being told to go left on Sumach, or right on Dundas, or left on Parliament."

I see what he means. This is the novel's opening paragraph:
Detective Inspector Walter McDurmont of the Metropolitan Toronto Police homicide squad jockeyed his three-year-old Galaxie along Dundas Street East in the morning rush-hour traffic. He crossed the Don River over the Dundas Street bridge, swung left down River Street, made a right turn at Shuter, and stopped when confronted with the raised stop-sign of the school crossing guard at Sumach Street, near Park Public School.
Lest you get lost, the book features a map that looks to have been ripped from a city directory.

Garner's setting is Toronto's Moss Park neighbourhood. The premise is found in the title: a sniper is murdering prostitutes. First to die is Claudia Grissom, whose snow-covered body is found early one morning near the corner of Shuter and Jarvis. Bernice Carnival is shot the next day (Dundas Street, one block from the Dainty Dot, just the other side of Church).

Those looking for a good mystery will be disappointed. There's little detective work here; McDurmont banks pretty much everything on catching the sniper in the act. While he comes to focus the investigation on three suspects, one of whom proves to be the sniper, nothing is provided that might justify the decision.

What saves The Sin Sniper is that the characters driving and walking through the streets of Toronto, turning left and veering right, are real people moving between real places. I'm not suggesting that this is a roman à clef, but I'm certain that Garner, a self-confessed alcoholic, drew heavily on the folks he met in drinking establishments, just as I'm certain that the drinking establishments in the novel would be recognizable to Torontonians of a certain age.

A Torotontonian of a certain age himself, Robert Fulford would know much better than I just how true the novel is to the people and places of Moss Park. I enjoyed the tour as much as the encounters. Fulford concludes his dismissal of The Sin Sniper by writing that the only mystery about the book is that it was published. To me, the answer is obvious: Money. Pocket Books recognized this, as did Paperjacks with their reissue, as did the investors in Stone Cold Dead.

Meanwhile, we're still awaiting the screen adaptation of Storm Below.


Trivia: Set in 1965, the climax of the novel takes place the same day as the Mersey Mops (read: The Beatles) play Maple Leaf Gardens. Garner moves the concert from the summer to the winter.

Outside the Beatles' 19 August 1965 concert, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto.
More trivia: Stone Cold Dead was written and directed by George Mendeluk, who would the next year take on Charles Templeton's The Kidnapping of the President.

Object: I bought my copy for $3.95 this past February 23rd, the day after what would have been Garner's hundredth birthday. A first edition, it features this misleading notice:

Access: Well represented in our university libraries. Decent copies of the first edition are plentiful and begin at $6.00. The 1978 movie tie-in, as Stone Cold Dead, is less common but just as cheap.

08 March 2013

From Femme Fatale to Dewy-eyed Dame

Jack Romaine [pseud. Tedd Steele]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

The Pagans
Jack Benedict [pseud. Tedd Steele]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Time has come to reveal my envy of our early paperback writers. Money was good, work was easy, and as all evidence indicates, some publishers were prepared to print pretty much anything.

Consider Pagan, which News Stand Library published twice, under two different titles and pseudonyms, in July and August of 1949. My twelfth NSL read, Pagan/The Pagans is by far the weakest. In a list that includes The Penthouse Killings and Artists, Models and Murder, it stands out as particularly inept.

That Steele was an editor at Export Publishing likely explains much about the quality of this and other books issued under the NSL imprint. How much is anyone's guess. I'm willing to bet good money that he had something to do with this highly misleading cover copy:

“They” don’t pick Carl Chantrey up in a bar, rather he’s brought home by Marcia Havilland. A wealthy femme fatale who delights in treating men to one night of passion – but nothing more. Such is her body or technique or something that past paramours follow like puppies hoping for more teat or treats or something. More than a few have ended up at Marcia’s Satyr Lake villa, where they live off largesse that comes courtesy of an inheritance left by her mother.

Here I mention that Marcia’s father owns a struggling pharmaceutical company. And now, in homage to the novel's structure, I'll say no more about this until the end of the review.

Back to Carl. The “fledgling alcoholic” concert pianist passes out before Marcia can have her way. She hunts him down the next day and, removing her bikini, seduces him by the "amber pool":
   "Good Lord your [sic] beautiful, Marcia."
   His sentence was prematurely punctuated by the pressure of her lips against his and her body against his and once more he knew nothing but a shaking urge of ecstatic excitement. She was in his arms, eager, insisting.
   The little golden chipmunk looked down from his perch on the tree above and scolded vigorously.
Cover copy has it that the encounter "shook Carl to his soul", but it's Marcia who was most affected by the good vibrations. Owing to his body or technique or something – it can't be his personality – she falls in love with Carl and becomes all clingy and smoochy and stuff.

Marcia may be a babe, but she's certainly not “a breath-taking [sic] beautiful pagan queen”. And she can't be a “condoner of all the unbridled paganism that was practiced at her villa", because there is none. Pagan has nothing to do with religion or ritual, unless one counts end of day tipple.

On his second evening at Satyr Lake, Carl sneaks away as Marcia sleeps, and dodging bullets fired by the local police, manages to hop a train. Feeling abandoned, the former femme fatale is comforted by horsewoman friend Evelyn, whose wandering hands and words follow the finest lesbian pulp tradition:
"Yes, Marcia. I love you... don't go away from me... please... you'll understand... it's not evil... men are brutes they don't know... please Marcia... honey... you'll never worry about a man again."
Not evil? Oh, c'mon, Evelyn, we know it's your breast that has "a strange and evil passion burning fiercely within", and that this is meant to be the "Shocking Climax" sold on the front cover.

But there is no climax.

Horrified and disgusted, Marcia kicks Evelyn out of her bed and Carl returns on the next train.

Remember that pharmaceutical company that belongs to Marcia's father? Seems it was about to go under, taking Marcia's investments with it. Carl wasn't running from Marcia at Satyr Lake, rather he was running to his uncle, Senator Thomas Chantrey, in Washington. After Carl explains the situation, adding that he plans to marry Marcia, Uncle Tom awards the troubled company a large government contract.

Information comes fast and furious and the pace fairly exhausts the reader. It's been just two days since Carl was picked up in that bar and even he has trouble catching his breath:

And he doesn't... at least not in the novel's three remaining sentences.

It's a shame that it all ends so soon. Who knows what Day Three would've brought. We might have learned the reason the police were shooting at Carl – or why they ignored his return. A corrupt senator's influence perhaps?

But, you see, we've reached page 160 – and as Tedd Steele could tell you, no NSL book lasts longer than 160 pages.

Object and Access: Poorly produced mass market paperbacks, Pagan and The Pagans achieved just one printing each. While WorldCat shows no copies of Pagan, the University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has a lone copy of The Pagans. That's it. The good news is that there are currently four copies of The Pagans listed for sale online, beginning at US$7.50.

07 March 2013

Pauline Johnson: 100 Years

E. Pauline Johnson
10 March 1861 - 7 March 1913
from Flint and Feather: The Complete Poems of E. Pauline Johnson
(Toronto: Musson, 1912)