Reviews

Fall 1990 Book Catalogues

Eve Corbel

There are a few hundred book publishers in Canada, most of them producing between one and fifteen books a year. Few of us ever get to see publishers’ whole lists and only some of us get to see their catalogues (which are usually distributed to bookstores and libraries). But what better way to test the temper of the times, than by looking at how publishers present themselves and their products to that amorphous entity, the Market? Here are some of the notes generated by a headlong rush through a random pull from the fall lists. Alphabetic by publisher. (If you'd like to see any of these catalogues, drop me a line.) The Blizzard catalogue, for starters, is very jazzy—inside and out, formwise and contentwise. This is a new drama specialist and a hot one, ha ha. Carol Shields (Departures and Arrivals) is on page 1, Connie Gault (The Soft Eclipse) on page 2, and so on. All with lush visuals and draw-you-in type. However, the word “prestigious” appears twice in a 12-line publisher’s intro. Stare at the Brick Books catalogue for 1 minute without blinking, then look at your friend and watch her nose swim before you. Inside the catalogue, it gets better: poetry and fiction that actually look readable. I’ll let you know what I think of A Season of Mourning (Frances Itani) and Amanuensis (Phil Hall). You let me know about Rediscovered Sheep and Rack of Lamb. The 4-colour image on the Cormorant catalogue is very arty indeed. It is less arty in black and white on page 1, but it accompanies From the Foot of the Mountain (Claudia Morrison), fiction set in ancient Rome and inspired by Jonathan Schell. What a combination! Nino Ricci's Lives of the Saints and Yuen Chung Yip’s The Tears of Chinese Immigrants also say “Read me.” The Coteau Books catalogue is très chic and postmodern. Lead title: On Air (Wayne Schmalz), a history of radio in Saskatchewan. Companion volume: Studio One, radio plays, illustrated here with a photo of Donald Sutherland performing earnestly. Then the Herstory calendar and Wishbone, Reg Silvester’s, um, episodic short fiction? This catalogue has lots and lots of words in it. The Douglas & McIntyre cover is a glossy colour clown-pig painting, which may tempt you to buy the collector's edition of Scott Watson's Jack Shadbolt: $575, but it's signed, eh? Page l: Jack Webster’s autobiography. Who cares? Better: An Iron Hand Upon the People (Cole & Chaikin), about when potlatches were outlawed. Elsewhere: bears, boxing, pipelines, cat lifestyles. Goose Lane’s catalogue looks a bit like an annual report. Lead title: The Landscape of Craft (George Fry), a real New Brunswick book with pictures of locally created objects. Page 2: The Real Klondike Kate—author Ann Brennan claims she was from New Brunswick. Don’t miss page 12: Arab-Canadian Writing from York Press. Goose Lane distributes a lot of smaller presses and the catalogue is amazingly easy to follow. Guernica’s is the only pocket-sized catalogue in the lot. Also the only company whose lead title is 2 years old and whose new books are buried in later pages. This press has been passed by and put down for publishing unfashionable ethnics, which is a good enough reason to have a look. Be the first on your block to try Writers in Transition (Minni & Ciampolini) or Conscience and Coercion (Gualtieri). Oh boy, a collection of Harbour publisher Howie White’s own writings. Writing in the Rain—perfect title. Also a new Raincoast Chronicles, a new Spilsbury (Spilsbury's Album), Don Graham's Keepers of the Light in paper, and other tempting stuff. I’m cheating, there’s no catalogue here. But I heard about these books anyway, which is just as good. I give up, what’s the phallic peach-and-white graphic on the cover of Mercury (formerly Aya)’s catalogue? Anyway the catalogue has great special effects—beige paper (recycled?) between glossy white covers. Page 1: Cary Fagan’s City Hall and Mrs. God, a sort of Down and Out in Toronto. Page 2: Poetry Markets for Canadians. Looks good, but I still can’t figure out that cover image. With its name and prominent tulip motifs, Netherlandic has a focus that can’t be missed. The lead title is Radiant Life Forms, poems by Diana Brebner, but more intriguing is Buffaloberries and Saskatoons: Dutch-Canadian Stories and Poems. In a spring release, Naked Trees, John Terpstra meditates on human-tree relationships, from tree-o-philia to tree-o-phobia. Sarah Murphy’s new stories (Comic Book Heroine) lead the NeWest pack. Then ecology essays, plays, poetry, fiction. And Women of Western Canada, an anthology selling for $13.95 (as compared to the usurious $16.95 of M&S’s new trade paper Native anthology). Very daring backlist section, called “Backlist” instead of a silly euphemism. More daring, a photo of the publishers up front. New Star’s big fall book: A Death Feast in Dimlahamid—about Tibet, right? No, it's the third world here at home, the Gitksan-Wet'suwet’en fight for land claims. A must-read. So are Where the Fraser River Flows, about B.C. Wobblies, and Getting the Goods, Information in B.C.: How to Find It, How to Use It. This catalogue and Pulp Press’s are the only ones made of newsprint. Why? Newsprint always looks great. Cool Blues, Nightwood’s lead title, does not fool me: Charlie Parker was not a Canadian. The press redeems itself, however (I’m guessing) by publishing or re-publishing Al Neil’s novel Changes. And a revived 1941 “classic murder mystery.” The real mystery: just what are those little dingbat-symbols at the end of each book description? I read the whole Nu-Age catalogue, hoping to find out at last what the new age is. (I still don't know; do you?) Page 1: Muhla, the Fair One, a magical tale about a young girl “trapped in the body of a spirit monster.” Page 2: Dance Agenda, a calendar with photos of bodies contorted into contemporary art positions. Page 4: Community Care & Participatory Research. Whew! Oolichan’s lead title is The Golf Widow’s Revenge (P. J. Smith), which was excerpted in Cosmo. Also on page 1, A Canadian Challenge (Christian Dufour), an essay about the place of Quebec in Confederation. Inside, essays, prose poems, novel, and a history of the salmon canning industry. And a (presumably unretouched) photo of Ogopogo. Orca features Katie Ekroth’s Lionheart, about her 6-year-old son’s heart-lung transplant. It’s billed as the story of Matthew’s courage; I bet his mum’s no slouch either. Some books for young people, the story of western Canada’s Cordillera, and, for the person who has everything, Ian Baird’s Canadian Pacific Railway Stations in B.C. Penumbra is an interesting press with a perfectly beautiful catalogue. The intro says their “focus will continue to be the North—as well as, in this catalogue’s instance, the polar South.” Eh? I yearn to read the Ernst Barlach memoir (A Seltold Life ? really? not Selftold?) but not the “post-modern poetics” with a “critically aware text.” Try the meta-Canadian (tri-lingual!) counting book. Eeeuuuu, the Porcépic cover! A gross bug crawling towards someone’s hand. Oh, and a computer chip, they must be featuring the science fiction line. A surprise on the inside front cover—photos of the book jacket designers! The third Tesseracts anthology is coming up. More enticing: The New Landlords: Asian Investment in Canadian Real Estate by D. Gutstein. Porcupine’s Quill’s lead title: Looking Good, the story of a bird and her curtain. No, not a book. Something about their list of chi-chi design prizes? Ah, got it. The bird is on the cover of Quickening, fiction by Terry Griggs. Ray Smith’s Cape Breton is the Thought Control Centre of Canada might be as good as The Lord Nelson Hotel. Anyways, it’ll look great. Pottersfield’s catalogue is longer on content than style, a ratio I prefer to the opposite. It has a good hit of maritime history: Atlantic Outposts (Thurston), about ordinary folks inhabiting Atlantic Canada, Native Song (Woods), poems and paintings by a native Black Haligonian, and The Man Who Built Churches. I hope the publisher leaves bigger margins in the books than in the catalogue. Classy and understated, Press Gang’s catalogue is full of exuberant author photos. And it’s not stapled, so recycle worry-free! Page 1 features Telling It, creative writing and meditations on who gets to tell whose stories. Also Sojourner’s Truth by Lee Maracle, and feminist tales from boot camp. Read everything they publish and don't miss the Wonder Woman poster. Pulp Press’s catalogue cover is bright red with dead fish on it! It’s for the Salmon Year Itch calendar. Inside, Bridget Moran’s Judgement at Stoney Creek, D. M. Fraser’s posthumously published Ignorant Armies, and no fewer than three new Little Red Books. Allan Lamport actually said, “I get up at five o'clock in the morning no matter what time of day it is.” Whoops, the Quarry catalogue isn’t quite at press, I’m looking at page proofs. Big fall book: Canadian Christmas Stories, by the usual list of literary luminaries. Snore. Page 2: Essays by Doug Fetherling on Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell ... z-z-z-z-z. Later on, poetry from “arguably the best spiritual poet in Canada.” Definitely time for a snooze. Ragweed/Gynergy offers a generous catalogue full of grinning women. Dark jewels is a novel by Rita Donovan, whose work has disappeared in literary journals across the country. Pages 4-5 were prepared by someone who just figured out desktop publishing and wants to use up all the tricks right now. Good thing they’ve got poems by Liliane Welch, Brenda Brooks, and Marg Yeo. Self-Counsel S.E.R.I.E.S. Is anyone else sick of those little dots between letters? The press still delivers legal info, and blows with the wind by offering lifestyle self-help. So there’s The GST Handbook for small businessfolk, and how to sell stuff, cook your own dinner, exhibit at trade shows. And, while doing all that, how to cope with stress. In the Simon & Pierre catalogue are poems about cats, fiction set in Brazil, audition pieces for hopeful actors, ponderous-looking meditations on how to produce Shakespeare plays. All printed up in black and green. The first book listed is the Canadian Book Review Annual (Wilson & Tudor)—now there’s some bathroom reading for you. Talon’s fall flyer features fabulous foto on front by Frank. Leonard Frank, that is. An Enterprising Life is the big book, about the photographer who documented B.C.’s early work history. Talon also has two plays, the third Jovette Marchessault (White Pebbles in the Dark Forests), and some poetry described with phrases like “textual gambits” and “kinetic situation.” My eyes went right to page 3 of the Thistledown catalogue, which says author Béla Szabados is “fascinated by autobiography and self-deception.” The book, In Light of Chaos, looks intriguing anyway. There's new fiction by Cecelia Frey, some kid stuff, and The Eleventh Commandment, a collection of Mennonite stories translated from the Low German by Andreas Schroeder. CanFolkFic? Even though the Tsar catalogue has few graphics to relieve the tedium of desktop Times Roman set too tight, the list is most inviting. Those Who Eat the Cascadura (S. Selvon): novel set in Trinidad. (Should we watch for an updated edition?) Still Close to the Raven: poems by Rienzi Crusz, an Asian Canadian. Indenture & Exile: The Indo-Caribbean Experience (Birbalsingh). Etc. I almost missed the Wolsak and Wynn catalogue, it looks so much like a PR piece from a hotel chain. But no hotel would subtitle an oeuvre A Glossary of the Intertext (Ghosts, by Stephen Scobie). Anyway, many of these, ah, texts are prize-winners, so they must be good, eh? Check out the last title on the list, The Third Taboo, no less than 58 Canadian poets writing on jealousy.

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Eve Corbel

Eve Corbel is a writer, illustrator, cartoonist, mom and grandma. Her writing and artwork have been published in numerous anthologies and periodicals, including Geist.

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