Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts

Archive for July, 2008

July 31st, 2008 • Posted in On Collecting

A Short Detour through my library while I avoid packing


As promised, here are some detail shots from a few of the books in my library


Chatto and Windus published Huxley, and more recently Iris Murdoch. Interesting that most of Huxley’s books feature plain, cream coloured dust jackets, save of course for the stunning Brave New World. Murdoch’s covers are extraordinary for their colourful artwork. 



I was taken by the laid paper here, and La Belle Sauvage in London:


…it was a pub that features in Pickwick Papers, and Cassell rented a part of it in the 1850s. 

Image from


Lovin’ the weave here:

Most of these photos are of books published 100-150 years ago. I knew the Scots were into books but this is ridiculous. Almost every one I glanced at during this procrastination break seems to have been printed in Edinburgh.


And a little U.S. content for our American readers...

July 30th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Great Books Command Great Prices: Hemingway worth 337 times Callaghan

I’ve noticed an inordinate amount of praise directed toward Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business lately. Personally I don’t get it. But I’m not here today to argue the point. Rather, to focus on its contents page, and to show off some of the more pleasant aspects of a few of the books I’ve just spent hours packing into boxes.

 First off, tell me what’s wrong with this picture…

Right. Chapter 4 starts on page 122, Chapter 3 on 172. This ‘point’ is what marks the edition I have as a First. Not a terribly difficult book to find really. And not very expensive. $200 from Steven Temple Books. 

Which speaks to the point that John Metcalf makes in Shut Up he Explained, the latest of his characteristically bracing, salient books. He quotes rare book dealer Bill Hoffer who wrote in The Tanks Campaign, "For many years I have ridiculed the absurd spectacle of apparently grown men and women pretending to have succeeded at the very difficult tasks of art." 

Hoffer’s low opinion of Canadian writing was not isolated, says Metcalf, nearly all Canadians share it. "There seem to be few book collectors in Canada and even fewer collectors of Canadian books. The lack of a first edition market for Canadian books is a rather extraordinary fact. It means that there aren’t enough people who love a book to buy it competitively."

The assumption here, and I think it is a valid one, is that collectability is linked to quality. Great books command great prices. Sure, the demand for Ernest Hemingway is going to be greater than for Morley Callaghan (a perennial Metcalf punching bag), there are ten times the number of Americans as Canadians; but $175,000 for  The Sun Also Rises (1926) versus $518 for Strange Fugitive (1928)??

Perhaps it’s wrong to measure quality by ‘popularlity,’ or demand. I’ve in fact attacked the practice recently; while I don’t think contemporary success is an appropriate measure of merit, I do think that time is a valid arbiter, and it, eighty odd years’ worth, has had a good go at these works. Eyeing the level of price discrepancy, one can’t help but agree with  Metcalf, whose sharp, detailed literary critique of Callaghan is just another reason to read this most entertaining book. 


If you really love a Canadian work of fiction, why not head out to your local antiquarian book dealer and snap up a first edition. Your pocket book certainly wont feel the difference.

July 30th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Celine Dion and How you can develop Good Taste in Music, Art and Literature


Published by continuum.

Discussion here of Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk about Love with CBC’s Ian Brown and guests. I read the book on the recommendation of The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, concur with his recommendation, and refer to the book here in an article I wrote for Guerilla magazine on how to develop good taste.  

July 30th, 2008 • Posted in Literary Criticism

Character and Tainted Beauty

Interesting how one character


can have more than one


side to his personality

And how learning about this other side can taint any beauty she might possess. 


July 29th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

When Martin Amis’s Voice Changed…

This from John Latta at Isola di Rifuiti

"…launch’d myself into Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica, who’d a thunk the life of the Bas-Thornton children in Jamaica—the “general round energeticalness” of it, to use a Hughes tag—’d enthrall so compleatly. Odd dub: the thirteen-year-old Martin Amis act’d in Alexander Mackendrick’s 1965 movie of the book, though with dubbing by an actress: Amis’s voice having changed during filming."

 Photo: The Martin Amis Website.

Thankfully his writer’s deep, sonorous voice remains rich, unchanged over the years. 

July 28th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

‘The Ten Best Canadian Books’


In a recent post I mentioned picking up ten books for a dollar. One was Read Canadian: a book about Canadian Books (James Lewis & Samuel, 1972). At its end we are treated to a list of ‘the ten best (English) Canadian books’ as chosen by its editors Robert Fulford, David Godfrey and Abraham Rotstein, and thirty odd contributors.  No criteria for selection was, of course, provided, only a reassurance that ‘The argument about ‘best’ still rages among the jurors and will continue, we hope, everywhere Canadian books are read.’ Here’s the list:

Morley Callaghan’s Stories, (1959)

Donald Creighton, The Empire of the St. Lawrence (1956)

Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (1957)

George P. Grant, Lament for a Nation: The defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965)

Harold Adam Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History (1930)

Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel, (1964)

Stephen Leacock, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)

Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The making of Typographical Man (read my review here)

E.J. Pratt Collected Poems (second edition, 1958)

Mordecai Richler, St. Urbain’s Horseman: A Novel (1971)


July 28th, 2008 • Posted in Literary Criticism

The First thing a Good Literary Critic should do…


Enjoying Praising it New: The Best of the New Criticism, edited by Garrick Davis. In his introduction William Logan cites the best advice I’ve yet read on how to criticize. It’s from Matthew Arnold:  "…have always in one’s mind lines and expressions of the great masters, and to apply them as a touchstone to other poetry." Not that other poetry must resemble the lines of your chosen greats. Rather the great should be used as a method, a yardstick, a gold standard against which the relative presence of quality in other, new works is measured.

Logan then follows through with this splendid flourish: " Beyond the holy trinity of race, class and gender; beyond the murder of the author (hardly the death of him); beyond jargon ridden, vatic, riddling "methodologies" fond of sophomoric wordplay and genial mystification… contemporary "theory" remains largely inoculated against the way poems work. In the end, it is a very dull way to look at poetry."

Despite its pretense of tolerance and dispassion, "theory" says Logan, is surprisingly judgmental. It wallows in the age’s prejudices, female over male, anarchy over order, etc. You can’t, he says, have it both ways. You can’t pretend to moral relativity and embrace such prejudices. You can’t, as certain obnoxious blog commentators do, attack criteria for judging literary value, and then argue for the superiority of one text over another without adhering to a set of your own. As Logan puts it "For a criticism that prizes non-conformity and "difference," theory proves alarmingly fond of orthodoxy."

Ezra Pound piles on later in the book in his essay ‘How to Read,’ with: "The first credential we should demand of the critic is his ideograph of the good; of what he considers valid writing, and indeed of all his general terms….He must begin by stating that such and such particular works seem to him "good," "best," "indifferent," "valid", "non-valid."

I’d only add to this: and then explain in detail why he has chosen what he has chosen.

July 27th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

On photographing flowers: Apple falls Close to the Tree

Pretty clear from whence I got my love of photographing flowers. This is a little montage my father put together of what he found growing atop the high-rise he lived in in North Vancouver. He never paid much attention to the equipment, but I think had a very good eye, and paid a lot of attention to composition.

That’s Grouse Mountain in the background. He loved the view. Used to sit out on his balcony every morning, drinking his instant coffee lightened with what we jokingly called ‘the white death,’ some generic brand of coffee mate I think it was. Probably did him in. He died almost two years ago now. I think of him pretty well every day. During the last three or four years of his life we used to talk regularly on the phone. He was hugely supportive of what I was doing with this blog and interviewing authors etc. We used to laugh ourselves to tears almost every time we spoke. I’ve never experienced quite such a connection. We were just able to crack each other up. This is why I like the Auden quote so much:

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator; but among those whom I love, I can: all of them can make me laugh.

I’ve avoided packing a good part of the day, spending the time instead enjoying all the photos I’ve found in various family paper filled chests. These require urgent scrutiny. Much more pressing a task than putting silly old books in boxes (not). Anyhow, I’m motivated, for whatever strange self revelatory reason, to post a selection of photos I’ve come across of my grandmother, and father, up here on the site, so stay tuned…

July 27th, 2008 • Posted in Nigel Beale Bookstore Photos

Bookshop Photo of the Week…

okay…of the month…or however often I’ve been posting them up here…this one, afraid I don’t know its name, is located on Cecil Court in London, just off Charing Cross Road. Peter Ellis (listen to our interview here) and Nigel Williams are close by. Foyles is just around the corner.

July 27th, 2008 • Posted in Uncategorized

A dirty great big salt Isthmus…


 (or whatever) through his head, and still, he exhibits no pain.

(Yes. I’m procrastinating. Looking through old photos…that’s my brother on the right…the one without the gut…we’re doing the Dead Sea…anything to avoid packing all these bloody books).