30 November 2017

RIP NCL: A Multinational Reacts to a Eulogy

It has been a month since the publication of "For All Its Faults," my essay on the death of the New Canadian Library (CNQ 100).

The response was immediate. Penguin Random House replaced its NCL webpage, featuring Jane Austen, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, W. Somerset Maugham,  and T.S. Eliot, with this:

It's an improvement, I suppose.

"For All Its Faults" is now available online – gratis – at the CNQ website. It can be accessed through this link.

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  1. I share your regret, but I think the situation is a little more complicated, at least for more recent works, in that the original publishers or their successors are less willing to cede reprint rights to a series like NCL. This may result in a kind of dog in the manger situation, with the book not being reprinted at all. You might ask David Staines about this.

    Then there is the shift in student interests. A colleague of mine who teaches CanLit tells me he can't get students interested in any book more than a few years old. Enrollments have suffered. But maybe this is not true everywhere? If demand is down to a trickle, then maybe the solution is a print-on-demand system to keep the books available.

    1. I expect you're correct about more recent works, Patrick. This was the very challenge NCL faced with books first published by Macmillan and Clarke Irwin. Indeed, evidence indicates that Macmillan's Laurentian Library and Clarke Irwin's Canadian Paperbacks were established not only to exploit the school market, but to keep titles in print and in house.

      I am mystified by the shift in student interests. That said, I recognize the influence of voices like CBC Books. The message given in its online features and lists (the most notorious being "100 Novels That Make You Feel Proud to be Canadian") is that the vast majority of books worth reading were published within the last two decades. It seems a disgrace that we cannot have proper editions of older Canadian literature, and will have to rely increasingly on print on demand houses like Tutis.

  2. Thanks for your terrific article on the death of the NCL, Brian! I share your regret too. FYI: Two Solitudes will be reissued next June by McGill–Queen's University Press as part of its editions of MacLennan novels.


    1. Thanks for the kind words, Benjamin. I've been aware of MQUP and Michael Gnarowski's efforts to wrestle Two Solitudes from Bertelsmann. That they have succeeded brings some light to the all too dark present.