Several years back, Lawrence Martin had an idea. He is an elongated scribbler from Hamilton, formerly a fine correspondent for The Globe and Mail in Washington and then Moscow, and now a national columnist for the Southam chain.
He suggested a Book Day. Instead of sending a friend a box of chocolates or a bottle of Scotch, send a friend a book. The idea has now evolved into Canada Book Day,
April 23, organized by The Writers’
Trust of Canada, and bookstores from St. John’s to Vancouver are all throwing events from the goofy to the imaginative—such as knocking off the GST that day.
Here would be my suggestions:
Ron Chernow’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller (Random House) a fascinating dissection of the first tycoon, who felt that his abstemious Christian life justified his ruthless capitalism being turned into massive philanthropy.
All the hype for Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full (Bantam) can be forgiven. As he first did with The Bonfire of the Vanities, he again socks it to the Updikes and Mailers of the literary world, proving that a journalist who works hard with real life can produce novels like no one else. Since Dickens is dead.
If you want to get a handle on this Balkans mess, former Washington Post man Dusko Doder, born in Yugoslavia, wrote a manageable explanation—246 pages—The Yugoslavs (Random House) in 1978. You can spend weeks riffling through Peter C. Newman’s fascinating Titans: How the New Canadian Establishment Seized Power (Viking), reading it backwards or forwards, more dirt and gossip than can fuel any dinner party.
Pamela Wallin’s Since You Asked (Random House Canada), in which she confesses her lifelong attraction to bad men, didn’t stay on the best-seller list as long as it deserved. Martin blames a “stupid” cover and inadequate promotion by the publisher. Rod McQueen’s The Eatons: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family (Stoddart) is a brilliant and sad tale of how the four spoiled brothers piddled away the legacy left to them.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Fourth Edition
(Norton), for anyone who has the slightest interest in the English language.
The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers (Random House Canada) by Terry Gould, has only one surprising fault— not enough down-and-grungy real sex. Probably, one surmises, because he didn’t want to offend his wife.
For anyone who still hates Brian Mulroney, your mind might be changed by William Kaplan’s meticulous Presumed Guilty: Brian Mulroney, the Airbus Affair, and the Government of Canada (McClelland & Stewart).
Canada’s most prolific lefty, Walter Stewart, builds his usual impressive case with Dismantling the State: Downsizing to Disaster (Stoddart).
Anyone who loves books of course loves bookstores. The real task is to find a first edition of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, with “two hundred and thirty-four illustrations” (Chatto & Windus, Piccadilly 1881).
Anybody who wants to write their memoirs (hello there, Pam) might well read Scott Young’s A Writer’s Life (Doubleday).
Anybody who wants to become a newspaper hack has by now, one hopes, tracked down the four paperback volumes of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (Penguin Books).
You sick of the nonsense in Kosovo? The most searing tale of the sickness of war is The Red Badge of Courage, a mere 166 pages (Washington Square Press), by Stephen Crane who never saw a battle at home, wrote this epic description of the American Civil War two decades after it ended and died of, well, bad living at age 29.
Stephen Crane and Nick Auf der Maur would have been buddies. Nick: A Montreal Life (Véhiculé Press) is a collection of tributes to the ineffable Montreal boulevardier and columnist, who smoked himself to death, from dozens of his friends, including Mr. Mulroney and one Conrad Black.
The funniest showbiz autobiography ever written? Some good used bookstore surely has somewhere David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon (Dell Publishing) where he recounts, among other things, having to dip his thingy into a brandy snifter after a freezing trip down a Swiss ski slope when his zipper didn’t work.
Since we’re dipping, so to speak, into nostalgia, all book lovers are essentially explorers and so should be able to dig out, somewhere, the two paperback volumes of Malcolm Muggeridge’s The Green Stick: Chronicles of Wasted Time (Fontana/Collins).
And, finally, still the finest stylist writing in Canadian journalism, Dalton Camp’s Gentlemen, Players & Politicians (McClelland & Stewart) makes us wish that he would get around to rounding out his life with his signature view of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
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