Publishing

A golden harvest

Booksellers are upbeat about the literary crop

D’ARCY JENISH September 8 1997
Publishing

A golden harvest

Booksellers are upbeat about the literary crop

D’ARCY JENISH September 8 1997

A golden harvest

Publishing

Booksellers are upbeat about the literary crop

BY D’ARCY JENISH

When Jim Munro opened his Victoria bookstore in the mid-1960s, new works by Canadian authors usually arrived in small batches, with little or no advance publicitly. Munro recalls that he practically had to pitch them personally to customers. He would prominently

display freshly published novels by Margaret Atwood or Robertson Davies at the front counter, and recommend them at every opportunity. These days, he notes, such measures are rarely necessary. Many English-Canadian writers have become household names across the country and literary stars abroad. Their books arrive with considerable fanfare amid great expectations. “Our literature seems to have really found itself,” says the 67-year-old bookseller, the former husband of short-fiction master Alice Munro. “When I started out, not many Canadian authors even got near the best-seller lists. Now, it’s mainly Canadian books at the top of the lists.”

This fall, among the bounty spilling from the pages of publishers’ catalogues, dozens of titles will be vying for the cherished status of best-seller. In the literary fiction field, the early favorites are new works by two mature writers—Winnipeg’s Carol Shields (Larry’s Party) and Montreal’s Mordecai Richler (Barney’s Version)—and eagerly anticipated works by younger but established novelists— Wellesley, Ont.-based Jane Urquhart (The Underpainter) andTorontonian Nino Ricci (Where She Has Gone). The nonfiction side is so

crowded that predicting winners is a risky business—although names like Peter C. Newman and Pierre Berton, both of whom have new books this fall, seem to have perennial appeal.

Over the next 2 V2 months, publishers will bombard the market with shiny new works on politics, business, history, culture, women’s issues, hockey, war and other subjects. And, to add a touch of frenzy to the season, one publisher has already released a book on the Bre-X boondoggle—the biggest gold-and-stock scam ever. The Bre-X Fraud (McClelland & Stewart), by Douglas Goold, Andrew Willis and several Globe and Mail colleagues, was released last week, and two others are on their way. “Unless there are really startling revelations in the others,” predicts Jane Cooney, owner of the Toronto shop Books For Business. “The first out is going to be the winner.”

Given the volume and variety of new titles, at least a few are bound to molder on bookstore shelves. But with the economy on a roll, publishers and booksellers are in an upbeat mood following two very difficult years. “Attitudes are changing,” says Sharon Budnarchuk, coowner of Audreys Books Ltd. in Edmonton. “We went through a big downsizing as a government and university town, but I think we’re going to have a good fall.” Books, however, are always a gamble, and industry players dream of the big win that launched the fall season of Toronto’s Key Porter. Publisher Anna Porter opted for an early release of Fear, Greed and the End of the Rainbow: Guarding Your Assets in the Coming Bear Market, co-authored by the late Andrew Sarlos and Toronto journalist Patricia Best after market guru Sarlos died sud-

denly in late April. The book quickly shot to the top of several best-seller lists. “It’s a hell of a way to start the season,” says a beaming Porter.

Among the fiction lists, none of the four big novels en route to bookstores is viewed within the industry as an automatic blockbuster. Shields has followed up her 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Stone Diaries, told from a female protagonist’s point of view, with Larry’s Party (Random House), a male baby boomer’s chronicle of his marriages, divorces and various trials and tribulations. The ever-prickly Richler returns with Barney’s Version (Random House), in which the thrice-married, drunken, violence-prone hero,

Barney Panofsky, tells his life story. Urquhart, whose 1993 novel, Away, spent 130 weeks on best-seller lists, is back with The Underpainter (McClelland &

Stewart), the sprawling and ambitious story of an American “1 painter plunged back into his past. And Ricci’s Where She Has Gone (McClelland & Stewart) completes the trilogy he launched in 1990 with the hugely successful Lives of the Saints.

As with last season, women dominate the fiction lists. Also eagerly anticipated are In the Wings (Stoddart) by Toronto’s Carole Corbeil, author of the critically acclaimed debut Voice-over, and Visible Worlds (HarperCollins) by Marilyn Bowering of Sooke, B.C., who also scored with her first novel, To All Appearances a Lady. In a more popular vein are Missing Pieces (Doubleday), a psychological thriller by Toronto-based veteran Joy Fielding, and A Dry Spell (Doubleday), a horror novel by relative newcomer Susie Moloney, of Little Current, Ont. Meanwhile, among the younger male writers, there is much buzz about Oakville, Ont., author Lawrence Hill’s Any Known Blood (HarperCollins), the saga of a black Canadian family.

Some Canadians may be looking for fictional relief once the newly elected but regionally fragmented Parliament meets this fall. But many readers will be unable to resist several new books examining the personalities and grievances driving the country’s increasingly fractious politics. Ottawa writer Lawrence Martin has already created headlines with his latest political biography, The Antagonist: Lucien Bouchard and the Politics of Delusion (Viking), while Alberta writer Frank Dabbs takes a fresh look at an equally provocative leader in Preston Manning (Greystone). And former Conservative cabinet minister John Crosbie, renowned for his colorful language and delicious barbs, has written his memoirs, No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics (McClelland & Stewart), co-authored by Maclean’s managing editor Geoffrey Stevens.

Beyond the personalities, there are the ideas that drive politics, and three notable new works explore this side of the game. Formidable Toronto thinker John Ralston Saul examines some of the myths and ideologies that divide the country in Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century (Viking). Vancouver-based Peter C. Newman has produced Defining Moments: Dispatches from an Unfinished Revolution (Viking), a sequel to last year’s best-selling The Canadian Revolution: From Deference to Defiance. And in the ongoing battle to redefine the right, Kingston, Ont.-based political commentator and former prime ministerial aide Hugh Segal has written

Beyond Greed: A Traditional Conservative Confronts Neoconservative Excess (Stoddart).

For thousands of Canadian investors, big and small, the name BreX is now synonymous with greed and excess. Calgary-based Bre-X Minerals Ltd. skyrocketed from a penny stock to a $6-billion company in the space of 24 months, before crashing last spring when its supposedly mammoth Indonesian gold discovery was revealed to be a fraud. The story unleashed the publishing equivalent of an old-fashioned gold rush—a mad dash to get Bre-X books into print for the fall season. Toronto-based McClelland & Stewart has won the race with The Bre-X Fraud. The runner-up is Key Porter’s Bre-X: The Inside Story, written by Financial Post editor Diane Francis, with help from eight researchers, and scheduled to hit the stores on Sept. 8.

Three more Bre-X books are in the works. Newspaper giant Southam Inc. plans to be out by November with an as-yet-untitled work by Vivian Danielson, editor of The Northern Miner, and James

Whyte, a senior writer with the Southam-owned mining industry journal. Canadian Business senior writer Brian Hutchison was scheduled to weigh in with Fool’s Gold: The Story of Bre-X and the World’s Biggest Gold Fraud this November, but his publisher, Knopf Canada, announced last week that the book will be delayed until next fall. Finally, Toronto-based Penguin Books Canada Ltd. plans to publish All that Glitters by Maclean’s Senior Writer Jennifer Wells—but not until the fall of 1998.

Along with tales of political scalawags and business scoundrels, publishers are offering several new biographies on some inspiring Canadian figures. James King, a professor at Hamilton’s McMaster University, discloses in The Life of Margaret Laurence (Random House) that this beloved postwar Canadian novelist took her own life in January, 1987, rather than accept a gruesome decline from cancer. Another academic, W. Terrence Gordon of Dalhousie University in Halifax, has produced Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding (Stoddart).

Four intriguing works have been written by non-academics. In Mrs. King: The Life and Times of Isabel Mackenzie

This year's trends include Bre-X and biographies

King (Viking), Ottawa journalist Charlotte Gray takes a look at the mother of Mackenzie King, Canada’s most eccentric prime minister. In Barrel-House Kings (Little Brown), Toronto poet and novelist Barry Callaghan has combined a memoir of his own youth with a look at the life of his famous father, novelist Morley Callaghan. Ernest Hillen follows up on The Way of a Boy, his acclaimed memoir of his youth in a Japanese labor camp in Indonesia, with Small Mercies (Viking). And fellow journalist Eileen Whitfield probes the life of Canadian-born Mary Pickford, known as America’s Sweetheart, in Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood (MacFarlane, Walter & Ross).

Histories, both popular and academic, invariably turn up on the fall lists, and this year’s titles reflect the diversity of the country’s past. Canada At War: From the Archives of Maclean’s (Viking), edited by Michael Benedict, the magazine’s editorial director of new ventures, provides contemporary accounts of this century’s most bloody conflicts, and the often-heroic contributions of Canadians. And Chatelaine, the country’s largest magazine for women, opened its archives to produce A Woman’s Place: Seventy Years in the Lives of Canadian Women (Key Porter), edited by Toronto novelist Sylvia Fraser. One of Canada’s

most perceptive historians, Toronto-based Christopher Moore, has written 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal (McClelland & Stewart), and Kleinburg, Ont.’s Pierre Berton, a writer with more energy than an Eveready battery, has produced 1967: The Last Good Year (Doubleday).

The fall books on current affairs and contemporary issues are equally diverse. Veteran journalist Peter Desbarats of London, Ont., no doubt hopes to create waves with Somalia Cover-up: A Commissioner’s Journal (McClelland & Stewart), while Vancouver-based environmentalist David Suzuki spells out his vision for a sustainable future in The Sacred Balance: A Vision of Life on Earth (Greystone), co-written by CBC journalist Amanda McConnell. Toronto writer Patricia Pearson is out to shatter female stereotypes with When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence (Knopf Canada). Morally questionable conduct is also the focus of Hitler’s Silent Partners: Swiss Banks, Nazi Gold, and the Crusade for Justice (Knopf Canada), by Globe and Mail reporter Isabel Vincent.

Rounding out the fall season are the sports books and,

as in previous years, hockey and figure skating dominate the lists. The most enticing offering, based on the combination of subject and author, is Fury: Inside the Life ofTheoren Fleury (McClelland & Stewart), by former New York Times reporter Andrew Malcolm. His profile of the Calgary Flames captain is expected to be more perceptive than the standard, gee-whiz sports biography. And another work that should push the envelope is Zero Tollerance: An Intimate Memoir by the Man Who Revolutionized Figure Skating (McClelland & Stewart), the autobiography of Toller Cranston written with assistance from American writer Martha L. Kimball.

As summer turns to autumn and new books are released by the bushel, booksellers are planning events—in-store author readings and signings and, in some cases, breakfasts at ritzy downtown hotels. The bottom line, unquestionably, is to sell product. But bringing readers and writers together is a way of celebrating something that both love, and that is books. This fall, say the booksellers, there is plenty to celebrate. “I was just talking to a friend in Calgary the other day,” says Richard King, co-owner of Montreal’s Paragraph Bookstore, “and we both agreed it’s going to be a wonderful season.” □