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Archive for February, 2012

February 29th, 2012 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio: Interview with Jan and Crispin Elsted on The Barbarian Press

Crispin Elsted, Canada’s own larger (about a foot taller) than life William Morris.

Barbarian Press was established in 1977 in Kent, England where Jan and Crispin Elsted worked with Graham Williams at the Florin Press. With three flatbed hand presses and many cases of type, the couple returned home to Canada in 1978 to set up shop in Mission, British Columbia, about 50 miles east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley.  The press’s publications range from new translations of poetry and prose, Victorian melodrama, and new poetry to bibliography, illustrated classics, typography, and books on wood engraving. This last has become a particular speciality since the publication in 1995 of Endgrain: Contemporary Wood Engraving in North America, which was greeted with considerable acclaim, and is now widely sought after. This has spawned an ongoing series of books called Endgrain Editions, each showing selected work of a single engraver, printed from the original blocks, with an introduction and a catalogue of major works.

I met with the Elsteds recently to talked to them, in their home, about, among other things, their literary backgrounds; gifts, hands and the discovery of artisanal skills; aspirations and influences; the continuity of human experience; books and students and work experiences; doing all of this together; retirement at age 30; hand presses, hand-made paper and hand setting type, Canadians in England studying Americans; publishing the canon; wood engravings; favorite children; wine and typeface connoisseurship; books as unique performances, and the evils of the digital age. Please listen here:

February 29th, 2012 • Posted in Authors and Books

Three Great Current Canadian Books

Here’s proof that Canadians are writing as well as, or better than, any other English speaking ‘nationality’ – in every genre:

1. Fiction: The Perfect Order of Things, by David Gilmour.

2. Non-fiction: Mordecai The Life and Times, by Charles Foran.

3. Poetry: No End in Strangeness, by Bruce Taylor.

Exquisitely turned phrases, and luminous lines and sentences, fill each. There’s great pleasure to be had here – and wisdom to be acquired.

February 28th, 2012 • Posted in On Book Collecting

Video: Winners of the 2011 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest

February 26th, 2012 • Posted in Authors and Books

A stunningly similar feature shared by two respected Fine Presses

I’ve given this a lot of thought – spent hours scrutinizing their respective achievements; compared and contrasted their finished products; held their books in my hands…visited their homes -  and I now feel comfortable in stating that the Barbarian Press and the Janus Press share at least one, stunningly similar feature:
Claire Van Vliet's Cat


February 26th, 2012 • Posted in Authors and Books

Animal Rights on Hollywood’s agenda?

Like the preppy Ivy Leaguer – dressed up in Church shoes, a Barbour jacket and Burberry slacks – this film may look the part, but you know damned well it isn’t British. Too Ralph Lauren-perfect.

And in a way War Horse is too perfect. The country-side is just so; the thatched cottage roof; the pale skinned farm boy and his wizened, bearded just-so dad.  It’s an all too polished, technically superior film about the growing up of horse and boy, the trials they face together, their separation, their battle-hardening travails, and their eventual, unlikely reunion.

A Disneyland presentation of a simple-themed story of strong attachments and the almost universal love that humans hold for animals. If any rights are to be championed again this year by the Academy, War Horse stands a good chance of bagging Best Picture. Not because it’s particularly good – it’s slow moving, filled with caricature characters, overly twee countryside settings and an annoying Gone with the Wind use of lighting – but because it focuses on the importance, loyalty and dignity of animals – all of which are emphasized against a brilliant Steven Spielbergian depiction of war, carnage and human stupidity.

If all that this far-from-flawless film does is to get people to think differently about animals and question why the ‘human’ food industry is allowed to exploit and brutalize them so savagely, this film will have succeeded. If it gets an Academy Award along the way,  so much the better. In fact, Horray for Holllywood!

February 24th, 2012 • Posted in Bookstores

‘By Appointment’ dealers: the B&Bs of the Used Bookshop world?

Why, you might ask, have we at Literary Tourist included ‘By Appointment’ dealers in our database of used bookstores when they don’t operate ‘brick and mortar’ shops? Well, the main reason is because they very much are, or at least should be, bona fide literary destinations; places where literary tourists can visit and spend time talking about, touching, enjoying and yes, buying, books.

Though ‘By Appointment’ selling is not necessarily a new concept, it is now, thanks to so many brick and mortar shops moving their stocks home to avoid exhorbitant ‘main street’ rental costs, more prevalent than ever. Siezing on this trend, and a belief that book buyers may well be unclear about how ‘By Appointment’ sellers operate, Duncan McLaren of Lord Durham Books, has recently established an association for these kind of booksellers, called IHOBA… the International Home Office Bookshop Association. Check out the new website here.

Two interesting challenges face McLaren: one is a reluctance on the part of some ‘By Appointment’ dealers to ‘go public’, because it may mean having to pay both additional municipal taxes, and insurance premiums; the other: potential reluctance on the part of customers to pursue this kind of shopping experience either because they feel they may be intruding upon sellers who prefer not to be disturbed at home;  or because they don’t want to feel obliged to buy anything just because they’ve made the seller open up his/her house

These are the negatives. The positive is that By Appointment, or ‘Home office Bookshops’ (HOBs), as McLaren has dubbed them, have grown significantly in number, in ways that mirror what has happened in the accommodation business, where Bed & Breakfasts (B&B) have, over the years, become increasingly popular. Many travellers now prefer this type of accommodation/service to the traditional hotel experience.  Booklovers who frequent By Appointment dealers are guaranteed a more personal service by dint of the fact that they will normally be the only customer “in the house”.  Home Office Bookshops (HOB) stand to learn a lot from the B&B movement.

Regardless of how McLaren’s association fares, I see it as a positive development. The more visitor-friendly literary destinations that are out their to greet us, the richer the travel experience for the Literary Tourist.

February 23rd, 2012 • Posted in On Book Collecting

Canada’s Third National Book Collecting Contest Deadline: 5 March 2012

I launched a series of Biblio File interviews on publishers’ histories several years ago because I believe in the importance of book collecting. Book collectors collect for many reasons. One of the most significant is to preserve and understand the intersection of imagination and reality;where  literature and society, content and presentation meet. Without imaginative collectors, scholars and historians are deprived of valuable, tangible evidence essential to the discovery and understanding of nation-defining activities, events, trends, pastimes…you name it. So, young book collectors of Canada, step forward to be recognized for the great work you are doing:


ContestPosterEnglish copy

The National Book-Collecting Contest was created by the Bibliographical Society of Canada (BSC) in 2008 to encourage young Canadians to collect books and study the discipline of researching and writing bibliographies. It’s partners, the W.A. Deacon Literary Foundation (DLF) and the Alcuin Society are passionate about reading, collecting, and studying book history.


First Place: $1,000
Second Place: $500
Third Place: $250

The prizes will consist of money and gifts from partners and co-sponsors. There will be three prizes including first, second and third place. A one year membership subscription to the BSC and its papers will be part of the prize(s).

Requirement for Entry

  • The Contest is open to all Canadian residents under thirty years of age as of the deadline date for submissions.
  • The collection must be owned and collected by the contestant.

Entries will not be returned and become the property of the Bibliographical Society of Canada. Entrants agree to allow the BSC and its partners to publish their essay in full or in part, in print or electronic form in a future issue of the BSC Papers and its web site.

Entries must be postmarked no later than 5 March 2012.

Entries should be emailed or mailed via Canada Post to:

The Bibliographical Society of Canada
P.O. Box 575, Postal Station P
Toronto, ON
M5S 2T1

Winners will be notified by 12 May 2012.

The winners’ names will be publicly announced and prizes awarded at the the 2012 Annual General Meeting of the BSC. The winning essay and possibly photographs of the collection will be posted on the BSC website.

A sampling of the winner’s collections may be exhibited in a display case at the BSC annual conference and possibly at another location(s) with our partners.

The required submission materials:

Cover sheet:

Proof of age
Street address
Telephone number
Email address
Collection title

Additional contact information for the month of May 2012 should be provided if the entrant will be away during this time.

The Essay

The contest requires participants to write a 1,500 to 2,000-word essay on their collection, including where appropriate, the description of the books: binding, cover decoration, illustrations, and bibliographical features such as format, printing, and publication data. Example collections include children’s books, illustrated books, artists books, flip books, Arthurian legend, Generation X, eighteenth and nineteenth-century literature, serial fiction, graphic novels, a single author, cookbooks, modern authors, travel, experimental poetry, little magazines, etc. The essay may be written in French or English.

Past winning essays: The Works (and Quirks) of Alexandre Dumas père; The L.M. Montgomery Collection in the Forest City; The Complexities of Ordinary Life: Autobiographical Comics and Graphic Novels; A History of Fish; The Tudors & Stuarts; Superlative Works from the Subcontinent.

The List

The list of books must be organized according to some logical principle: most probably by author or by subject. Each book listed should include at least the following information: author, title, date, place, publisher, format (e.g. hardback or paper), and an indication of condition.

Full Contest Rules are located here and on the sponsoring partners’ websites.

These Rules are subject to change.


The ury is comprised of senior bilingual representatives of the Bsc, DLF, Alcuin Society, and a possible outsite guest. The panel of judges will include no more than five persons.

Judging Criteria

The criteria for judging collections include the focus of the collection, method of collecting, progress made in creating the collection, and the quality of the explanation of the collection’s focus. Where appropriate, the quality of the description of the books, that is, of the physical characteristics such as binding, publication details, etc., are taken into consideration. Collections will not judged on dollar value or size.

Suggested reading that may prove useful in answering questions about book collecting:

Bowers, Fredson. Principles of Bibliographical Description. Winchester (1994)
Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors. (revised by Nicolas Barker). London (1994)
Kirsop, Wallace. Bibliographie matérielle et critique textuelle, vers une collaboration, Lettres modernes. Paris (1970)
Laufer, Roger. Introduction à la textologie. Vérification, établissement, édition des textes. Paris (1972)
Malclès, Louise-Noëlle. Notions fondamentales de bibliographie. Paris (1955)
Peters, J., (editor). Book Collecting: A Modern Guide. New York (1977)
Peters, J., (editor). Collectible Books: Some New Paths. New York (1979)
Tanselle, G. Thomas. Selected Studies in Bibliography. Charlottesville (1979)


February 22nd, 2012 • Posted in Bookstores

Read a Fucking Book


February 20th, 2012 • Posted in Authors and Books

SFU Librarian Eric Swanick on Jim Rimmer


“PRINTING, ILLUSTRATION, TYPE DESIGN, typefounding, type engraving, bookbinding, graphic design, stone cutting and digital type design are things that have occupied me for over seventy years, and do to this day.  Excepting the bit of letter cutting in stone, these occupations have all put dinner on the table; but it has been my good fortune to have loved the work.”

This is how Jim Rimmer (1934-2010) starts off his Pie Tree Press, Memories from the Composing Room Floor (Gaspereau Press, 2008)

Rimmer was a mainstay of the letterpress/private press community in Vancouver for much of the past 50 years. Trained as a commercial compositor in the 1950s, his aesthetic taste,  artistic talent and mechanical know-how combined to produce a long, significant career as a graphic artist, printer, type designer and caster.  Despite the many fonts he designed, engraved and cast, despite his beautiful linocuts, and despite the fact that in 2004 he completed the first engraving and casting of Carl Dair’s Cartier face in metal, Jim is remembered most of all for love.

The love of a business that he was passionate about; and the love that he instilled in so many, for books, the printed word, and the letterpress printing process.

An archive containing much of Jim’s work is held by the Special Collections Library at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., where I met recently with Eric Swanick, Head of the Library, to talk about Jim Rimmer. Please listen to our conversation here:

February 19th, 2012 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio: Leah Gordon on The Alcuin Society’s Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada

Leah Gordon, Chair of the Awards Committee, Alcuin Society

The Alcuin Society’s Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada have been recognizing achievement in this field since 1981.

As Marlene Chan put it in the preface to the 2009 winners’catalogue,

“The hallmark of the judging process in all of the Alcuin competitions is, and has always been, that each book is considered as a total entity. The discerning judges examine every aspect of each book, including the dust jacket, binding, endpapers, half-title page, copyright page, title page, page layout, typography, integration of illustrations, chapter openings, running heads, reproduction of illustrations, clarity of printing, choice of paper, footnotes and bibliographical references. The judges select books in eight categories to encourage the very best in Canadian design, only where they see exceptional merit.”

I met recently with Leah Gordon, Chair of the Book Design Committee, at her home in Vancouver to talk about the history and goals of the society – and, in particular, its Awards program; about some of the books the society has published over the years, and about how in addition to the judging criteria cited above, appropriateness and usefulness also factor into the judges’ decision making process.

Please listen to our conversation here: