Christmas and books. They’re concepts that run together in the mind like Liberals and arrogance or oka and pears. For me anyway one of the best times of the whole hokey season always comes around one o’clock on the eighteenth of December when I push my way into some narrow bookstore, crowded with shoppers on their lunch hours, crabby clerks distractedly answering requests for boxed editions of the Annotated Alice with “Well, who’s it by?" and the frenzied manager standing on a varnished three-step stool hunting for a book on Upper Canadian ironstone and shouting down to his assistant at the same time to bring up another box of Bertons from the basement. At such moments I always get the feeling that what the manager really ought to be doing is piling titles on tables under prominent signs — not with the usual catch-all categories printed on them (History, Hobbies and other monotonous appositions like that) but really helpful signs that might suggest what to buy as a gift for your aunt in Wetawaskiwin who still recites Pauline Johnson in moments of deep feeling or your classmate in Burlington who’s only lately into batik and social animation, having left yoga and bilingualism irretrievably, though irresolutely behind. No bookseller in his right mind is going to do this of course (think of the stink that would be raised if he arranged a pile of Mordecai Richlers under a sign reading “For Devotees of Déjà Vu’’) but it’s entertaining to imagine the kind of signs that might be put up and the books from the publishers’ fall lists that might fit under them. There’d probably have to be one that read “For Everybody” and first in the category of course would come the latest Pierre Bertons.
Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush 1896 -1899 (McClelland and Stewart, $10.00) and The Great Railway (M & S again, $17.95) are neither of them new exactly. Klondike is a revised edition of the book published in 1958 with an explanatory foreword and some recently uncovered material and The Great Railway is a pictorial history with text, tracing the narrative of The National Dream and The Last Spike, the big Berton books of 1970 and 1971. But they both look unusually handsome in their slipcases and smell expensive when you crack them. Klondike is my favorite Berton; it reads even now as though it was written out of his innards with all the splendid, unselfconscious vitality that animated his early work.
A Whale For the Killing by Farley Mowat (McClelland & Stewart, $6.95) is so imbued with the author's roaring persona, so full of his concern for endangered species both animal and hu-
man, so plainly a first-rate read, that you could give it with equanimity to anyone over the age of twelve.
Briefly, it's the heroic story of Mowat locked in symbolic battle with the juggernaut of progress, trying to save the life of a Fin Whale that became trapped in a lagoon near his home in Burgeo, Newfoundland. How he lost the battle is poignant, why is heart-sickening for the destructiveness it shows as endemic to our twentieth-century lives. Survival by Margaret Atwood (Anansi, $8.50 cloth, $3.25 paper) will probably prove to be one of the most crucial, important and original Canadian books produced during this decade of our nationalistic discontent. It’s subtitled A Thematic Guide To Canadian Literature and it was planned as a come-on introduction to CanLit for students and teachers as a result of Atwood’s experiences with audiences at poetry readings who wanted to know more about the subject and had no idea where to begin. But because Atwood is so discerning, and so gifted with mother-wit, it turned out to be a thematic guide not just to Canadian literature but to Canadian life. She says we’re victims all, unlovely losers by temperament, and our writers write the way they do because we live the way we cower. It’s a terrific book, funny, enraging, alive — and I wish someone would give it to every continentalist in the Cabinet and every smug academic in all the cosy common rooms across this colonized land.
picures, Gourmands and Gloomy Jocks with social consciences have all been remembered in the fall lists with books both intelligent and useful:
The Gourmet's Canada by Sondra Gotlieb (New Press, $7.95) is very nearly guaranteed to make you feel hungry and hopeful. It’s by a warm and spirited woman who loves to cook and loves to eat and has had an ecstatic education in both arts in places as remote from each other in ambience and cuisine as Winnipeg and Paris. What she does in the book is to use the educated palate she acquired in the latter to judge the food she finds in the former; in brief she determinedly applies a cosmopolitan gourmet’s standards to restaurants, regional recipes, and food and liquor outlets across Canada, contending all the while that it’s possible to get good food and good drink in this cold country if you know how and where to look. She writes about apples, goldeye tourtières, smoked salmon, and cipaille in a manner both civilized and titillating so that she proves implicitly her own belief that it’s possible to be fastidious, greedy and Canadian all at the same unlikely time. Champagne Is For Breakfast by George Bain (New Press, $6.95) sets out to show that it’s also possible to be thirsty, fastidious and Canadian — but only if you’re stubborn. The book is two things: a lovely mellow guide to wine drinking which takes the author on a glorious high holiday through the wine growing districts of France with side excursions into Germany and a tolerant glance at the vintages of Italy, Hungary, Portugal and Spain; plus a very funny, heavily-documented diatribe against the provincial liquor control boards by one of the best light essayists in the country (who’s coincidentally and consistently the best political columnist we have.) You may start the book reiterating your own variation of the “I don't know much about wine but I know what I like” declaration and Bain claims comfortingly that this is just fine while making certain, gently and expertly, that you’ll know a great deal more when you’ve finished without having felt for a moment you’ve been lectured. After I read the last page I went downstairs, uncorked a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which I’d just found out was far too young and certainly overrated, rolled a little around on my tongue for a sec and then raised my glass in honor of Bain. The Death of Hockey by Bruce Kidd and John MacFarlane (New Press, $5.95) should really have been called the Americanization of Hockey which is not nearly so ballsy a title but far more apt in describing what the authors want to decry. (You just can’t, after the September hysteria over Team Canada, say that hockey’s dead, even metaphorically.) It’s their contention that hockey is the Canadian identity, the national religion, a magical game with
unlimited possibilities, and that by allowing it to be sold out, and turned from a game into a big business, we’ve defiled our heritage and hocked our future. This may seem a little overwrought (it did to me at first since I’m one of those oddities who figure it’s only a sport) but the authors are persuasive in their outrage and marshall their arguments surpassingly well.
ny Literate Body you know who refuses to believe that the novel is dead would be heartened by either of two new ones by two writers we continue to claim as Canadian though they’ve both long since moved into what’s usually called the mainstream of English (i.e. Anglo-American) literature: The Manticore by Robertson Davies (Macmillan, $7.95) is a companion volume to his novel, Fifth Business, which was published two years ago and acclaimed in international reviews that were little short of ecstatic. It can be read independently but it explores the further adventures of some of the same characters and displays again the controlled elegance of style and sheer narrative force that made the earlier book so engrossing. The protagonist is a Toronto lawyer, David Staunton, who suffers a nervous breakdown after the mysterious death of his father and goes to Zurich to consult a Jungian analyst. What he does in effect is to put himself and his life on trial, breaking down his Upper-Canadian upper-class repressions in the process. The book is written out of the arcane life experience of a rare man and a reading of it leaves you feeling as though you yourself had been compelled into the cave of analysis and come out shaken, exhilarated, and renewed.
Catholics by Brian Moore (McClelland and Stewart, $4.95) tells the spare futuristic story of a confrontation between an old Irish priest, the Abbot of Muck, and an envoy from Rome who comes to his remote island to tell him to stop conducting the mass in Latin and accept the no-nonsense modernity of ecumenism. But more than that, it’s a lapsed Catholic’s keening for what he sees as the end of nearly two thousand years of power and glory for the one true church. A brilliant short novel, it’s fascinating as prophecy to the agnostic mind though it must be scorching to any Catholic’s spirit.
olitical Freaks and Other Masochists who didn’t get enough during the fall campaining might like: Mike, The Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Lester B. Pearson, Volume I (University of Toronto Press, $12.50). Just before I began reading this book with the pant-
ing interest of a survivor-observer of the Pearson Years, a survivor-observer of the Trudeau Years was talking to me about personal responses to Pearson’s successor and he made the canny observation that he knew lots of people who were in awe of P.E.T., many more who hated him but he’d “never met a man who simply said he liked him.” Well, I’ve never met a man who said he didn’t like LBP and when you read his memoirs, you know why: he’s been since he was born in 1897, as boy, man and minister-counsellor, just such a good guy, espousing all the right principles and exposing all the right frailties. The life he describes with characteristic self-depreciation here (this volume, the first of three, takes him up to 1948 when he was just entering politics) has been called charmed. But in fact it was Mike who made it charming. The life itself could have been hard and fretful; he never had enough money, either in the Ontario parsonages where he grew up, at college or later in the world capitals where he and his wife set up housekeeping; he endured some harsh taskmasters (Mackenzie King was not a sweetheart and there is just enough irony in Pearson's descriptions of his antics to make one realize how difficult he must have been to work for); he lived through the horrors of two wars, in the first as a volunteer in the Canadian army who had all of the boredom and none of the glory, and the second as a diplomat pressed hard by circumstance in London and Washington. And yet he was always totally responsive to the best aspects he could fathom in whatever circumstances he found himself, a man optimistic beyond the well-adjusted’s tamest dreams. It was this sunniness of nature that enabled him to believe in and work hard for large unlikely concepts like world peacekeeping, biculturalism and a distinctive Canadian flag and while I’m all too aware of the arguments that are raised against him by sterner minds (he equivocated too much, didn’t judge other men realistically, etc.), this book makes me glad he lived the way he did and is willing to talk so engagingly about it.
Paradox: Trudeau as Prime Minister by Anthony Westell (Prentice-Hall, $6.95) probably should have been sub-titled “Some People, Places And Events That May Or May Not Have Taken Place During The Regime of the Right Honorable Pierre Trudeau” because an intimate portrait of our fifteenth Prime Minister it most decidedly is not. In his stolid, old-style journalist’s manner, Westell has explored the Trudeau government’s responses to the large problems that confronted it between 1968 and 1972 and tried hard to give them meaning and animation. But he’s
hampered in his purpose both by the government’s paranoid secrecy (the book does not contain a single meaningful previously unpublished direct quote from either Trudeau or his aides though Westell is supposed to have had ample access, in interviews, to the great man and his intimates) and by his own mannerisms (he’s the sort of writer who seeks to enliven his style by the insertion of words like snarky and mod and who figures it’s possible to adequately characterize a complex personality through meaningless phrases like “a fast-rising young mandarin . . . who was widely regarded to be one of the most influential men in Ottawa”). Still, the book is interesting if only because Westell is widely regarded as having been close to the Trudeau regime and his work can be considered as an authorized version of what’s supposed to have gone on in Ottawa these past four curious years.
ig Beautiful Books, for people of whose tastes you are uncertain but whose hearts you hope to warm are Christmas Staples and two new ones this season that are sufficiently gorgeous to be worth their price are: Contemporary Canadian Painting by William Withrow (McClelland & Stewart, $25), a study of 24 painters that Withrow, the Director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, thinks are representative of the quarter century (1945-1970) when Canadian art came of age. His introduction and essays on individual painters, which accompany color prints of their works and personal statements made by each of them, are gossipy and revealing so that unlike most compendiums of the gendre, this one is pleasurable to re'ad.
Portraits From North American Indian Life (New Press, $20, with introductions by A. D. Coleman and T. C. McLuhan), a collection of photographs taken by Edward S. Curtis, an American who decided at the end of the nineteenth century that he wanted to produce an enduring record of the lifestyle of the North American Indian before it vanished from the Plains. The pictures he took in Western Canada and the United States were published in a limited edition, sold for $3000 per set and then vanished into rare book rooms or private collections, remote from the general view. T. C. McLuhan unearthed them during research for a previous book about Indians she edited, called Touch The Earth, and this collection marks the first time they’ve been generally available in their original size and form. They’re magnificent. Each one has a kind of purity and ageless strength that makes a statement no words can recreate. ■