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

Archive for January, 2012

January 31st, 2012 • Posted in On The Book

The Relative Value of Canadian Books

I learned yesterday that a Hyundai Genesis Coupe signed by Justin Bieber sold on e-bay for $40,000. The sale was in aid of charity; the car retails for $35,000. So someone values this signature – or the charity – at $5000.

Yesterday I acquired two books – first editions – designed by iconic Canadian book designer Frank Newfeld. I paid under $50 for Earle Birney’s Ice Cod Bell or Stone,


and under 20 for Alligator Pie, by Dennis Lee.


The former represents a striking example of Newfeld’s ability to unite shape, 100_0008



and typography


into an arresting, elegant form. The latter is probably Canada’s best known and loved children’s book – the one  which both Lee and Newfeld


are most often lauded for, and connected with.

Dennis Lee will be participating in Ottawa’s upcoming, second annual VerseFest. I hope to get him to sign my copy of Alligator Pie.


Several months ago I contended here that Canadian-designed books are disgracefully undervalued. An equivalent American title – Where the Wild Things Are, for example – goes, signed, for as much as $20,000.

There is no reason – other than of course, gargantuan lack of demand and interest – why Alligator Pie shouldn’t fetch at least half this. Perhaps Canadians will never value books produced in this country; perhaps such books, despite being intrinsically important…and acclaimed internationally, will always be available for next to nothing.

This would be a shame, because they’re worth much, much more than what they currently go for; they are beautiful, transformative cultural artifacts that shaped the way Canadians told stories to themselves, and saw the world. As such they deserve to be cherished by all who appreciate creative genius, and artistic expression.

Canadian Books. To laugh or cry, carp or crow.

January 29th, 2012 • Posted in Wicked Quotes

Wicked Quotes: W.H. Auden

"…a wedding cake left out in the rain."

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing on the street.


He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky


A poet’s hope: to be,
like some valley cheese,
local, but prize elsewhere.


It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn
much more money writing or talking about his art than
he can by practicing it


Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are
undeservedly remembered.


When I find myself in the company of
scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by
mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.


Look, stranger, at this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.


Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they
must do is the same as what they most want to do.


The gradient’s against her, but she’s no time.


Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,

Silently and very fast.


White as an orchid she rode quite naked

in an oyster shell on top of the sea


No opera plot can be sensible, for in sensible situations
people do not sing. An opera plot must be, in both
senses of the word, a melodrama.


Art is born of humiliation.


Several years ago I visited Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples. I wrote about it here. Hung out at one of Auden’s local watering holes, the Maria Cafe.


January 26th, 2012 • Posted in Authors and Books

Oily White Meat


CALIBAN IN REVERIE By Richard Outram from his Selected Poems (Exile, 1984)

I have caught an eel;
A writhing treat.
I will peel it to reveal
The oily white meat.
I have stolen onions,
A multitude of spheres;
I will mash them into gruel
Despite my tears.
And I have torn a mare’s heart
From her living breast:
A live heart is, of all fare,
By far the best.
You see, I have a captive girl,
All for my very own!
I have crowned her, masked her face
Placed her on a throne,
Where I will bring my dainties;
Eel, onions, beating heart.
Soon she will come to love me.
Till then we lie apart:
But when she learns to cherish
Me for myself alone,
Then we cleave together
To the very bone!
January 24th, 2012 • Posted in Bookstores

A Tribute to Bookseller Nelson Ball

Nelson Ball, Bookseller

Several weeks ago I stopped in at Nelson Ball’s bookstore. His is a ‘By Appointment’ shop located on the main floor of an attractive looking art deco-style apartment

Nelson Ball, Bookseller

building in Paris, Ontario (yes, not far from London…). Over the past several years I’ve been casually seeking out the first publications of various publishing houses (Coach House’s Man in a Window by Wayne Clifford for example), especially those that I have featured on The Biblio File. I’d bought four or five such books from Nelson over the Internet. He obviously knew Canadian books. So I was pleased to visit him, and very impressed with his monster collection

Nelson Ball, Bookseller

of Canadian poetry.

Given the thin gruel that our National Library is being served currently by the ‘Harper’ government, it’s sellers such as Nelson, and private collectors, who we must increasingly depend upon if our written-word culture is to be preserved, remembered, considered. So here’s to Nelson and others like him. Next time you’re jetting between London and Paris, drop in on him, buy a book or two. There are plenty of wonderful volumes to choose from.

January 23rd, 2012 • Posted in Bookstores

Beautiful Bookstores: Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal

January 22nd, 2012 • Posted in Literary Tourism

What is Literary Tourism?

City Lights Book Shop, London, ON

Daniel Nester recently contacted me to ask some questions about literary tourism for an article he was writing for the Poetry Foundation website. It’s now live here. So, what is literary tourism?

Literary tourism encompasses several different but related kinds of activities. One involves visiting destinations that appear in works of fiction. Another incorporates ‘pilgrimage’ – paying respects to favorite authors: visits to gravestones, tours of childhood homes and museums, walks along footpaths that have inspired favorite poems or prose. Still another focuses not on literary content – but on the casing or container. Here literary tourists seek out rare book libraries and (if the acquisitive type) antiquarian bookstores, thrilling to the touch of leather, the feel of letterpress printed pages, the look of woodcut illustrations.

Many book-loving travelers also enjoy Shakespeare, and good theatre. They look for live stage performances; others are on the hunt for favorite living authors, to listen to them, and to get books signed.

Literary Tourism then incorporates both the real, and the imagined, the past and the present, the dead and the living.


As a market segment, literary tourism is on the rise. In 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) gave this form of tourism a new level of credibility by launching its ‘Cities of Literature’ program. Since then five cities: Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin and Reykjavik have earned this special designation.

Research by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that Cultural Tourism (of which Literary Tourism is an important sub-set) is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the travel business. Increasingly, tourism authorities are using culture as a draw – as a Unique Selling Proposition.

By highlighting destinations such as rare book collections, festivals and literary landmarks in their marketing materials, cities are distinguishing themselves from others and attracting new, typically upscale, visitors. They are also developing related strategies to help generate private, public and non-profit sector convention/meeting business. And we’re helping them to do this! Stay tuned for news on an exciting new pilot project we’ve just conducted with Rochester, New York.



January 20th, 2012 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio: Charlotte Gray on Nellie McClung


According to her website, "Charlotte Gray is one of Canada’s best-known writers, and author of eight acclaimed books of literary non-fiction. Born in Sheffield, England, and educated at Oxford University and the London School of Economics, she began her writing career in England as a magazine editor and newspaper columnist. After coming to Canada in 1979, she worked as a political commentator, book reviewer and magazine columnist before she turned to biography and popular history."

In 2008, Charlotte published Nellie McClung, a short biography of Canada’s leading women’s rights activist in the Penguin Series, Extraordinary Canadians. We talk about it here:

January 15th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Frederick Douglass among the Lilacs

Rochester’s Highland Park is an arboretum, or tree garden, located along Reservoir Avenue. The Park has a sunken garden, a Gothic-style castle (known as the "Warner Castle"), and a greenhouse called Lamberton Conservatory.  A statue of Frederick Douglass the famed American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman overlooks the amphitheater which is used for summertime concerts, Shakespeare in the Park performances, and free movie showings.

In 1888, nurserymen George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry endowed Rochester with the 20 acres of land that make up the park, one of  America’s first municipal arboretums and one of many designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Horticulturist John Dunbar, later known in local circles as ‘Johnny Lilacseed’, started the park’s famous lilac collection in 1892; some of the 20 varieties he installed were descendants of native Balkan Mountain flowers brought to North America by early colonists.

January 15th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

‘Living Proof that Slaves could be Accomplished American Citizens’

Frederick Douglass the famed American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman was born in February 1818 on the Holme Hill Farm in Talbot County, Maryland. His father was an unnamed white man, his mother, Harriet Bailey (1792-c1825), a slave owned by Aaron Anthony.

After escaping from slavery Douglass rose to become a leader in the abolitionist movement, thanks largely to his extraordinary oratory and writing skills. He stood as living proof that slaves had the intellectual capacity to function as accomplished American citizens.  Many in fact found it hard to believe that such a great speaker could have been a slave.

Douglass wrote three influential autobiographies during his life-time: A Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).  He was the first slave to stand publicly and declare his fugitive status, became a prolific lecturer, and published many newspapers devoted to championing “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  

After the Civil War, Douglass remained active in the struggle to make America truly a "land of the free". He supported women’s suffrage and held a variety of public offices. He believed firmly in the equality of all: black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, famously saying,  "No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck."

He spent 25 crucial years of activism in Rochester, New York. In 1847, he founded the anti-slavery newspaper The North Star which gained a circulation of over 4,000 readers in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. The University of Rochester’s Rush Rhees Rare Book Library holds more than a hundred of his letters which date from before the Civil War to shortly before he died in 1895.

January 15th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Audio: Literary Tourist Podcast: Just Your Type


The Cary Collection is one of America’s premier libraries on graphic communication, its history and practices. Located in Rochester on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology, the original collection of 2,300 volumes was assembled by New York City businessman Melbert B. Cary, Jr. during the 1920s and 1930s. Cary was director of the Continental Type Founders Association (a type-importing agency), a former president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), and proprietor of the private Press of the Woolly Whale. His professional and personal interests in printing led him to collect printer’s manuals and type specimens, as well as great books on the printer’s art. In 1969 his collection, together with funds to support its use and growth, was presented to RIT.  Today the library houses some 40,000 volumes and a growing number of manuscript and correspondence collections.

While its original strengths continue to be an important focus, other aspects of graphic arts history have also been developed. For example, the Cary is committed to building comprehensive primary and secondary resources on the development of the alphabet and writing systems, early book formats and manuscripts, calligraphy, the development of typefaces and their manufacturing technologies, the history and practice of papermaking, typography and book design, printing and illustration processes, bookbinding, posters, and artists’ books.

Though many of the volumes in the library are rare, the Cary has maintained, from the beginning, a policy of liberal access for students , especially those enrolled in the RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, and interested literary tourists.

The Cary Collection also manages some 36 Graphic Design archives documenting the work of important 20th-century Modernist graphic designers, and has been aggressively acquiring examples of avant-garde book typography. This great library is a must visit destination for all those who love books and the processes involved in making them. Listen to the Literary Tourist podcast interview with Curator Steven K. Galbraith and Assistant Curator Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, here: