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Archive for October, 2011

October 31st, 2011 • Posted in On The Book

Batsford Dust Jacket designer Brian Cook

Acquired from the same Carleton U used book sale mentioned in the last post: these


Brian Cook,

Batsford dust jackets.

Wiki tells us: Sir Brian Caldwell Cook Batsford (18 December 1910 – 5 March 1991) was a British painter, designer, publisher and Conservative Party Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire as Brian Caldwell Cook, he adopted his mother’s maiden name in 1946.

In 1928 he began working for the production department of the publishing firm of B.T. Batsford, of which his uncle, Harry Batsford, was chairman. Following his uncle’s death in 1952, he became chairman, and held the position until 1974. He is perhaps better known as Brian Cook, the illustrator/designer of the dust jackets of the highly-collectable Batsford books from the 1930s to the 1950s. The distinctive vibrant colours of the jackets were achieved by the Jean Berté process, which used rubber plates and water-based inks.

According to Derbyshire Life, “His first jacket was for The Villages of England (1932) when he was 21 years of age – an innovatory design in which the picture wrapped right around the book from front to back. In Cook’s own words ‘the colours were, for those days, blatant, bizarre, strident and unreal.’ Helped by new printing technology, he had produced, before the term was widely used, a classic of the art deco age, and almost a precursor to later Pop Art.

More followed in the same vein – blue trees, mauve shadows, brown streets, bright orange roofs and even yellow sky – not a million miles from Andy Warhol in the psychedelic sixties! But the gamble worked – at a time before colour photography had become widespread, Batsford’s boldly-tinted topographical and architectural works sold well. From 1932 to 1939 Cook turned out new jackets continually, and the Old Reptonian became a Batsford director in 1935.

Most of the inter-war titles Cook worked on fall into distinct series which are now highly collectible – The English Life and British Heritage series, the Face of Britain and Pilgrim’s Library – each recording an urban and rural Britain ‘as it was’ before the Second World War. As such the books were patriotic purveyors of stability and hope, full of tradition and the ‘right values’ in architecture, folklore and landscape alike. Cook’s jackets caught the reader mood perfectly – his was the Britain people cherished.”

October 31st, 2011 • Posted in On The Book

Used Book Sales: You don’t have to get there first

Day three of the Carleton University Friends Circle Used Book Sale, and I happen upon these

 wonderfully jacketed Modern Library editions, designed by ‘the Picasso of dust jacket design",  E[dward]. (“Ted”) McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954). As Stephen Gertz puts it: "At a time when marketers preferred simple, representational designs heavy with copy, he took another direction. His dust jackets are highly coveted by rare book collectors."

October 30th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview with Emilie Buchwald, co-founder of Milkweed Editions

Founded in Minnesota in 1980 by Emilie Buchwald and R.W. Scholes, Milkweed Editions is one of the nation’s leading independent, nonprofit literary publishers, releasing between fifteen and twenty new books each year in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s literature. Much of its nonfiction is addresses critical environmental issues and works to expand ecological consciousness. Milkweed’s authors come from Minnesota and around the world. Today more than one million Milkweed books are in circulation. Collectively they have received more than 190 awards and special designations, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, two American Book Awards, the Liberatur Prize for Fiction, seven New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year, and ten Minnesota Book Awards. Milkweed’s mission, which combines an emphasis on the literary arts with a concern for the fabric of society, leads it to be active in the Minneapolis community in ways that demonstrate the social relevance of literary writing.

I met recently with co-founder Emilie Buchwald to talk about the history of Milkweed, and how interested parties might go about collecting its books. Please listen here


October 30th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Mumford & Sons, Zack Brown, and Lyonese Sausage

Something clearly wasn’t sitting right at the Mumford and Sons concert I attended last Thursday night. Perhaps it was supper’s Lyonese sausage. More likely it was the venue. Place Bell -  home to the Habs – and the acoustics of the place, the 20,000 screaming fans, the sound equipment.

A band like Mumford and Sons is best listened to without all the booming amplifiers, which, in many cases, drown out the skilled guitar, keyboard, banjo, cello and violin playing; in an intimate bar setting…or a bookshop.

Now, you can’t fault the band for its popularity. If this big a crowd wants to see them, where else are they going to play. Touring is after all the way that bands these days make most of their money…and how. Do the math: 20,000 times say an average of $50 per ticket = $1 million – in one evening. Pay all the fees and wages, and I’ll bet the band pulls in a cool half a million profit each time they hit the stage. But back to the music: despite the noise, Mumford’s songs are ripping good,  the choruses contageously singable, the melodies wonderfully easy to wail along to, even if you don’t know the lyrics, which, for the most part, deal with head and heart matters.

Several years ago I was in Nashville and took in the Zac Brown Band, can’t remember the name of the place, but it was a perfect venue. Great acoustics, intimate feel, I’d say about 4,000 in the audience. One fifth the money, but hell. Give them a listen.

Lots of parallel’s here with Mumford, not the least of which: a bunch of guys just givin’ ‘er on similar instruments, choice vocal harmonies and wild exhuberant, crazy-assed strumming…no wonder strings broke. Also, although they come from different directions – England-Ireland and the U.S. South – these Celtic/Country sounds meet and mingle very comfortably in Rock and Folk.



October 29th, 2011 • Posted in On Book Collecting

The Poetry Book that Frank Newfeld got Absolutely Right

Just picked a signed copy of this highly collectible title from Odyssey Books in Montreal (in addition to a signed copy of Richler’s Giller-winning novel Barney’s Version). Why collectible: Because, as the Devil’s Artisan says: 

"[Frank] Newfeld claims it wasn’t until the publication of Sandra Kobler’s All there is of Love in 1969 that he got a poetry book "absolutely right"…and that this is his best type designed poetry book.

October 26th, 2011 • Posted in Literary Tourism

Literary Tourism centers around Poets…

From here.


…"literary tourism generally centers around poets, because successful literary tourism gets it traction by blurring the line between the life of the writer and the literature they create.  There is a trail in Winchester, for instance, that is reputed to have inspired Keats’ "To Autumn."  A few days before Watson’s lecture, I had followed the footsteps of many people before me in tracing Keats’ footsteps, trying to memorize his poem as I walked.  Others walk the path to inspire their own poetry, or to search for clues that might give the poetry greater meaning."

October 26th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Stephen Spender 1909–1995 by Wyndham Lewis

Stephen Spender (1909–1995) by Wyndham Lewis, 1938

October 23rd, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books, CITIES, Kingston, ON

Blogging the Fall 2011 Ottawa International Writers Festival: Douglas Gibson

Stories about Storytellers with Douglas Gibson

There is a large  screen at the front of the room displaying Globe and Mail cartoonist Tony Jenkins’ caricatures of various Canadian literary icons. They are united on screen because all have been edited and/or published by Douglas Gibson at some point or other during the past 50 years.

Stories commence.

The first book Douglas edited after emigrating to Canada in 1967 was a biography of Stephen Leacock, an author he’d read in his youth at home in Scotland. Another early important  editing job was on R. D. Symons’ Where the Wagon Led, a book essential to the understanding of cowboy life in the Western provinces. Harold Horwood, who worked with Joey Smallwood to bring Newfoundland into Confederation is called a ‘neglected genius’, and his book Dancing on the Shore our Walden.

Gibson is an engaging, endearing  - at times ebullient – animated storyteller, and a talented mimic. His voice of John Crosbie complaining about cheapskate publishers – picking up nickels with their arses – is rich and accurate. Barry Broadfoot’s Ten Lost Years, which told anonymous people’s stories of the depression and established Broadfoot as an important oral historian, sold half a million copies, gained Gibson a ‘publishing whiz-kid’ moniker, and got him a job as editorial director at Macmillan while still in his twenties.  This put him into contact with Hugh MacLennan, a man who, says Gibson, epitomizes the word ‘courtly’; shy and humble, he greatly forwarded the cause and practice of Canadian literature. His novel Barometer Rising was was one of the first to be set in Canada. It contains one of the most important sentences in Canadian literature, according to Gibson, one that invented a ‘satellite view’ of the country. MacLennan was also, Gibson informs us,  a great, influential, ‘engaged’ essayist.

Gibson started editing Robertson Davies in 1974. Davies apparently, at that point, thought himself a failure; an ugly duckling who wanted to be the great Canadian playright, instead of what most saw him as – a swan-like novelist. His persona was, according to Gibson, an act…Davies was always nervous before going on stage, despite delivering brilliant performances.

Gibson on editing:  First I read a book straight through with my hands tied behind my back. Then I sit and think. Only afterwards do I return to read every word again closely, to begin a dialogue with the author in the margins: is this the right word? Should we include this? Are you giving too much away? The process is not a win or lose, not a zero sum game, rather it’s a series of suggestions, some followed, some not.

Jack Hodgins wrote a classic book on how to write fiction, one which if read, even if you don’t write, will make you a better reader.

James Houston is a most interesting ‘group of people.’ Without him, and his northern sketching trips, it’s unlikely there would be any Inuit art. Recommended read:  Confessions of an Igloo Dweller

The fact that Gibson spoke at so many of his authors’ funerals, says, I think, a lot about the man’s charm; his ability to work with others toward a common goal, and his capacity for friendship.

Diplomat Charles Ritchie could have been a very good spy. Recommended read: An Appetite for Life, which paints a good portrait of the at times brutal Brideshead set.

Trudeau tested Gibson, grilling him before agreeing to make suggested changes to his Memoirs, and got his name wrong on stage while launching the book in front of 1100 people. Mavis Gallant once had to sell some of her clothes in order to eat. After Updike she is the author that has most often been published in the New Yorker magazine.  Gibson convinced her to publish a book of short stories ‘she’d already written,’ Home Truths. It won the GG, and raised Gallant’s previously neglected status at home, in Canada.  

Brian Mulroney was a very hard worker who felt betrayed by Peter Newman and had to survive terrific financial insecurity as a child, which, surmises Gibson, might explain the unsavoury Schreiber scandal.  Paul Martin was very capable, but as a politician, too excited by ideas.

Alice Munro was also a hard worker, with no fancy airs, who equated showing off with criminal behaviour. Everyone kept urging her to write novels. Gibson claims to be the one who kept her writing short stories. You write them, I’ll publish them.  Her work, he quotes other as saying, is the most likely of all contemporary writers’ to be read in 100 years.  There are two Alices: the one who cares, and the one who is very funny, filled with Huron County humour. No-one has a bad word to say about this fine person.

Gibson ends his talk with W.O. Mitchell, a man he loved. Mitchell, who taught him much of Canada, had a wife named ‘for Christ’s sake Myrna’ or so it seemed. W.O. died of prostate cancer, but not before turning a hard farewell to Gibson into a ‘brave joke.’


Read Stories about Storytellers. It’s delightful fun. And if Gibson delivers his one man presentation of it at a Festival anywhere near you, run to it. It’s even better. Complete with music, it’s an event worthy of Stephen Leacock. Charles Dickens even.

October 20th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview with Randy Bachman: On collecting guitars, vinyl and books

Hard not to like Randy Bachman. He’s smart, friendly, interested, passionate…and a collector. Why a collector? Because in 1976 his favourite guitar was stolen from a Toronto hotel room, and he wanted to get it back. What? A late-1950s orange Gretsch guitar, the Chet Atkins model.Bachman used it — “my first real professional guitar” — on the Guess Who hit Shakin’ All Over, and later for Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Takin’ Care of Business. He has yet to find it.

Not all was lost however. Thirty years of hunting, on and off line, through music stores, pawn shops, websites and garage sales resulted in the world’s largest and finest collection of Gretsch electric guitars. This trove of roughly 380 instruments was sold to the Gretsch company several years ago for its museum in Savannah, Ga.

I met with Bachman recently in Ottawa – he was here to promote his new book Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories, a written telling of stories told on his popular CBC radio program of the same name. Please listen here as we discuss the madness and wonder that is guitar, vinyl and book collecting. Budding collectors: be sure to note the records he suggests you go after.

October 19th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Why I love Publishers’ Histories, Part Whatever…

This 1934 edition of Nocturnes by Thomas Mann, was designed by Lewis F. White, and, according to my recently acquired copy of A Relevant Memoir, The Story of the Equinox Co-operative Press, is, in the opinion of some of its members, the best designed book produced by the press. Because of its title "White chose a dark blue cloth for the binding upon which the Equinox members blew, though a stencil, black powdered ink. The stencil allowed the blue of the cloth, in the shape of a star, to shine through the dark of the powdered ink, and also for the design of the pointed oval shapes, in varying shades of black, to leaf out from the star in all directions.

The ink blowing was done in the [Lynd] Ward’s living room and although sheets had been spread over floor and furniture, May Ward continued to find powdered ink in odd spots of her living room for several months. On their way home Equinox members were made aware, by the glances of fellow subway passengers, that they had not gotten all the black powder off their faces, necks, hands and hair."

Nocturnes was voted one of the AIGA’s ’50 Books of the Year’, and was priced at only $3.00.  Please don’t buy it. I want it.