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Archive for March 18th, 2012

March 18th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Library and Archives, Canada’s National disgrace (Part 1 of 3)

One of the reasons I launched  was to encourage book-lovers and others to get out from behind their computers and into used, antiquarian bookstores, rare book libraries, writers festivals – face-to-face with booksellers and authors, listening to their stories, learning from them, buying their books.  In short, the goal was to help people to enjoy the pleasures that can be had from being out in the real world, interacting with actual people, encountering real books, engaging with live culture and genuine historical source materials.

Some of this sentiment is captured by Lawrence Lande – one of the all-time great Canadian book collectors – in his Adventures in Collecting (a beautiful book designed by Robert R. Reid in 1975) about the importance of source materials to the process of learning and understanding Canadian history.

“During our Centennial year, I published through my Foundation at McGill, a small work entitled “A Check List of Confederation Pamphlets. It is a summary description of about one hundred pamphlets printed prior to and during the year of Confederation, 1867, and some years later for our Western Provinces. These pamphlets were published in English and French, some for and others against confederation. I had an opportunity of discussing this work at a luncheon meeting with ten or eleven McGill professors, each of whom was involved in his own particular discipline. As a layman, I told them that if I were teaching Canadian history I would try to harness as much of the source material that I could lay my hands on which McGill possesses in her libraries and museums. For example, I would attempt to set  up a room with furnishings  from the time of Confederation in Canada, including the pictures on the wall and the journals of the day on the table. I would involve my students with the poetry and the literature that was read at the time and the popular music of the day; the clothing that was worn; the medical and social practices and the problems of the day, including alcoholism; and even the methods of transportation and so on. I would present them with a hand-writing analysis of the Fathers of Confederation and other well-known Canadian political figures of that year. I would include a study of the problems of our neighbours below the border resulting from the Civil War, the Fenian raids, the economic conditions and the type of currency used. I would have Xeroxed copies of some of the printed material that was pertinent and distribute this material to the class. I would encourage my students to possess, through Xeroxed reproductions, their own home-made laboratory of Canadian history, and to become collectors within the frame of their own modest means….”

“Future librarians will be collectors, curators, custodians, and teachers. Because of their access to source material, they will have a knowledge of knowing how to set the stage for any period of history.. They will be imaginative in their use of frequent displays of such material. They will have a much wider and continuing involvement with professor and student. They will understand that source material is a medium of communication that not only serves to expand one’s knowledge of the past, but contributes to an understanding of what motivates us today. They will encourage collecting and collectors, but as precious as source material might be to the collector, its contribution can be gauged only when activated by the researcher.”

And now to the nub of it: I went to Library and Archives Canada today to do some research on Canadian book design. Upon entering the building

on Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa, I was struck by how grim and soviet-like

the place looked. Devoid of any colour or joy, it seemed dead, absent of people, of books…of life.

Here’s a look at the exhibition


at Canada’s national library.
Yes. That’s it, three sterile,
empty rooms,
with nary a book in sight.

I asked the woman at reception why there weren’t any exhibits on display.  “There hasn’t been anything here for more than a year and a half” she told me.

I later learned that management of the main floor of the building has been turned over to Public Works, meaning that community organizations previously free to rent space for their various book related events and activities at no charge, now have to pay “market rates”.  The Library itself no longer, apparently, has control over its own space.

Not that it ever was much to speak of – it’s never been promoted; in fact the miserable little postage stamp
of a visitors parking lot serves, more than anything else, as a disincentive to come to the building…

What an embarrassment.

Three pathetic little exhibition rooms, no parking – and no exhibits planned. This is the face of modernization?

‘Digitize’ is the new mantra. Access for all. The virtual over the physical.

And decentralization.

Let’s spread the collection across the entire country. So what if this makes it even more inconvenient for scholars and others to get the full picture. Who cares about efficiency, or continuity or critical mass, the important thing is that every square centimeter of this great country gets its fair share…of everything…regardless of logic.

Digitization will allow many more people to access the collection. No question. But this should not be undertaken at the expense of collecting and preserving essential historic source materials.

It’s more important to ensure that history is recorded and preserved – and that source materials are displayed  – in context – and made available for research and study, than to go into a scanning frenzy. If there is a need to choose, then scanning should take a back seat to the acquisition of what is “important” historically, to preservation and to the contextualized display of source materials. Only then, once this has been accomplished, should we consider scanning.

Just as the band Black Keys is balking at the perfection of technology and the “loss of our ear for raw music”, so too should we who cherish the ‘real’, rebel against digitization programs that are being foisted on us, at the expense the actual…the raw.

Ogling polished fakes is no substitute for experiencing the genuine article. Instead of the permanent, what we’re being offered is the ethereal, the ephemeral; instead of the actual, we’re being fed the virtual.

What I saw today, within stark, neglected walls, was evidence of a serious abdication of responsibility at Library and Archives Canada.  A failure to do justice to our past. This is nothing short of a national disgrace.

March 18th, 2012 • Posted in Seattle

Some Used Bookstores and Sellers in Seattle…

In addition to what you


might normally expect to find in a






Seattle’s Pike Place also offers up a few surprises. Take this dude

for example. Or this:


or this delightful admonishment on the door of Left Bank Books:


More to the point, here








stops we’d recommend you make during your visit. Be sure to grace Wessel & Lieberman’s


elegant show room, and check out its excellent Books on Books section -  it was here, to my happy surprise, that I picked up a couple of sought after Devil’s Artisan back issues.

For additional bookish things to do in Seattle, see the Literary Tourist listings map here.

March 18th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Celebrate Northrop Frye’s 100th Birthday in Moncton, New Brunswick, April 23-29th 2012

Atlantic Canada’s largest literary event will be held from April 23 to 29 in Greater Moncton, New Brunswick.  Guest list includes Eduardo Manet, Nora Young, David Homel, Marina Endicott and Rudy Wiebe.

“This will be such an amazing year for the Frye Festival and for Greater Moncton”, says Dawn Arnold, Chair of the Festival. “Northrop Frye’s centenary has sparked a lot of interest from around the world and has definitely inspired our programming as we thought about how to celebrate his 100th birthday and pay tribute to his ideas of educating imaginations, critical thinking and the advancement of civil society. The 13th annual Frye Festival will give everyone in our community a chance to come together, meet great writers and share ideas as more than 30 authors from across Canada, the US and abroad feed our imaginations.”

The line-up includes: Giller and Governor General’s Award nominated author Marina Endicott, who grew up in Nova Scotia and whose book The Little Shadows takes readers to the world of vaudeville circa World War One;  Rudy Wiebe, who, since the 1950s has been entertaining  readers with award-winning novels, short stories, essays, memoir, histories and screenplays. In 2004 he won the Charles Taylor Prize for his memoir, Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest; David Gilmour, the author of eight books, including The Film Club, the GG Award-winning A Perfect Night to go to China and an even better novel, The Perfect Order of Things (one of this reader’s favourites). For much of the nineties Gilmour hosted the award-winning “Gilmour on the Arts” on CBC Television;  Nora Young, host and creator of Spark, CBC Radio’s show about technology and culture, on how technology changes the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Her new book The Virtual Self comes out in April; and  Dave Bidini, whose On a Cold Road was recently a finalist for Canada Reads 2012. He’ll be talking about Writing Gordon Lightfoot: The Man, the Music, and the World in 1972. Bidini is the author of nine books, producer of two Gemini Award-winning sports films and a founding member of the Rheostatics.

Finally,  Antonine Maillet the world-famous Acadian author will deliver the Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture on Saturday, April 28 at Théâtre l’Escaouette. Her latest novel, L’albatros, was published in 2011.

Tickets for headlining events are now available through the Capitol Theatre box office.  Tickets for workshops will be made available by the end of March, and many tickets will be sold at the door. There are Festival events for all budgets, with many free or “pay what you can”. For more information visit the Frye Festival Home Page here.

March 18th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Calabash May 25-27: the only annual international literary festival in the English Speaking Caribbean

Attended a rippin’ good party last night, loads of great food, packed with a who, who, whose-who of the Ottawa advertising and design community. Although the day was St. Patrick’s, and the celebration Irish, Jamaica’s the country that sticks in the mind. That’s because we learned about a literary event that takes place down there in the land of wood and water, a poetry festival called Calabash. Founded in 2001 by novelist Colin Channer with the support of two friends, poet Kwame Dawes and producer Justine Henzell, the aim was “to create a world-class literary festival with roots in Jamaica and branches reaching out into the wider world.”  They succeeded. Now in it’s eleventh year, and the only annual international literary festival in the English-speaking Caribbean, Calabash is a three-day celebration with readings and music and other forms of storytelling folded in the mix, it’s “earthy, inspirational, daring and diverse”.  All festival events are free and open to the public. “Passion is the only price of entry.” But voluntary contributions are accepted.

This year’s festival goes from May 25-May 27, 2012. Check it out!

For more info, contact:

The Calabash International Literary Festival Trust
2a Bamboo Avenue #4
Kingston 6
Jamaica, W.I.