As some of you may know, I recently moved A LOT of my personal library from Calgary, where it had been stored for a number of years, to my trailer in Ontario. I’ve spent the past few weeks sorting through what arrived, have enjoyed reacquainting with lots of old friends, and tried to figure out how to sort and shelve all the books in this limited space that is my summer home. (That’s part of the fun of book ownership though … being a custodian to all these great books I’ve accumulated over the years – decades, actually – and revisiting with them, remembering why they are important to me and why I am still planning on keeping them.)
I really do have limited space! Even if I were to find another bookshelf it’s doubtful I’d be able to fit it in anywhere … unless I were to move out the pull-out couch in the sunroom. But then, where would overnight guests sleep? So I currently have stacks of books in various places, books that I couldn’t shelve or that are eventually going to be shipped to Bequia (which is another problem … How many more books can I possibly fit on the bookshelves there? None, would be Dennis’s reply).
So, the books I did manage to shelve on the two bookshelves I do have are the real keepers, and mainly signed copies written and published by authors (and publishers) who I know personally, have met, or promoted at some time in my career. The smaller shelving unit I’ve earmarked for Children’s books and Cookbooks on the top shelf, with the rest of the space being dedicated to authors who have not only signed books for me, but who I’ve met, been taught by, or become friends with over the years – and who I also felt to be influential throughout my career in books. These are my mentors and author-heroes. (Not all their books are here though, because there are many authors who have been equally influential but whose books have resided on Bequia for a couple of decades. More on that group of authors and the importance of their books later when I return there in October.) What I’ve done for this first blog post on dedicated reading – because that’s what I’m calling this exercise – is to pull one book written by each of the authors on these shelves, and I plan to these books (alphabetical, according to author’s name) over the next while. Here’s the first stack:
First on the pile and read already is Billy Collins‘s The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems. I met Collins when he was the Calgary Distinguished Writer at University of Calgary and I was on the selection committee. At that time, I bought this and five other books he’d published, and he signed them all. (There are many videos of Collins reading his own poetry posted to YouTube and, if you’ve never read his poetry or heard him read, you’re in for a treat!)
Second is a novel by Jack Hodgins, The Master of Happy Endings. When I was a new bookseller in the late 70s, Hodgins had just published his first books, Spit Delaney’s Island and The Invention of the World. I loved his writing from the very beginning! I met him in Edmonton at a conference (where I also met a couple of other writers listed below) and bought the book I plan to read next. He signed this copy, and I also have a signed copy of Distance, an earlier novel, although I’m not sure now whether I had it with me to be signed at the same time. Hodgins wrote an excellent book on the craft of writing, A Passion for Narrative that has become a standard text book in Canada, and he taught fiction writing at the University of Victoria. One of his students there was Ann Ireland (see below). I have other books by Hodgins in my Bequia library.
Coincidentally, next on the stack is a novel by Ann Ireland! I studied a number of writing courses through Ryerson University (online) with Ireland and she was an excellent teacher, always a great champion of me and my writing as well. We did meet in person a few times in Toronto, at her request, for coffee and to just talk writing and the book business. Unfortunately, Ann Ireland died in Sept. 2018. While I own copies of all her novels, the only one that may be a signed copy is down in Bequia. I’ll have to check that one for a signature. This time around, I’m reading Exile, which was published by Dundurn, a Toronto publisher I repped. I also featured Ann Ireland on my promotion blog, Reading Recommendations.
Next up is another emotional one for me … Robert Kroetsch. It wasn’t until I moved west in ’78 and began work as a bookseller that I learned about a number of very important Western Canadian authors (several of them on this list, in fact), but over the years I discovered what my Eastern Canadian University degree in literature hadn’t taught me – there’s a wealth of great writing that’s been published for decades coming out of the West! Thankfully, I also had the opportunity to meet many of these authors over the decades, and Robert Kroetsch is certainly one of the most memorable. (I first met Kroetsch at that same conference in Edmonton, mentioned above under Hodgins.) I’ve been tearing up in preparation for writing this short piece about the man, so I decided instead to just post what I wrote about him a number of years ago on this blog, when I’d heard he had died in a car crash.
Another of the famous Western Canadian Authors I only heard about after moving to Calgary was Grant MacEwan, and the book I have of his to read is a old tattered edition of Eye Opener Bob (a Calgary classic!), which I suspect may have come to me from the library of publisher, Dennis Johnson (but that’s another story). I do remember hosting MacEwan for signings when I worked at The Guild Gallery in Calgary, and he was extremely popular (especially with the eldery ladies …), having also been the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta. Then later, when I worked at Sandpiper Books, his granddaughter came to work with us. While I sold many of MacEwan‘s books at those two bookstores and as sales rep for his publisher, I’m embarrassed to say that this will be the first of those books I’ve read. Looking forward to this slice of Calgary history! I also have a copy of Between the Red and the Rockies.
The next author on my list is still writing and publishing and still in contact with me through Facebook. Alice Major writes poetry, for the most part, and lives in Edmonton where she was the city’s first poet laureate and continues to support other writers and the poetry scene. I have four of Alice Major‘s books, all published by the University of Alberta Press, which I was repping and the reason I first met this author. (Again, I believe I met her first at that Edmonton conference!) Alice also participated in a literary salon I organized in Calgary that was generously sponsored by UAP. I will be reading her collection of poetry, Memory’s Daughter, this time around.
I was just a new bookseller in Calgary the year that Sid Marty published his first book, Men for the Mountains, which proved to be a bestseller in Canada. I know we would have hosted him at The Guild Gallery at the time of that publication, but it wasn’t until decades later, at the Fernie Writers’ Conference, that I got to know Sid Marty much better. He’s a musician – a singer/songwriter – a poet, and writer of some very fine non-fiction. I have a more recent collection of his poetry, The Rider With Good Hands, published by Calgary’s Frontenac House, to read.
To Be Continued … Dedicated Reading … My New TBR List: Part 2