October 2022

Contents Related Letters

Re: “Rumour Has It,” by Kyle Wyatt

I wanted to thank you for your plug for ­support for researched Canadian non-fiction, which the Canada Council for the Arts is not providing. I’d tar the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with that brush as well. It will not fund research by people who do not have full-time university jobs or who aren’t graduate students. There are many writers with doctorates (myself included) who are capable of addressing a mass audience while still doing scholarly research. SSHRC will not fund us, but it will give grants to university academics who wish to research the latest Nepalese dance craze.

Mark Bourrie

Re: “Yesterday’s News,” by David Marks Shribman

As the President of the Canadian Business History Association, I am writing to compliment you on your review of Mark Bourrie’s biography of George McCullagh, Big Men Fear Me.

Over forty years ago, a biography was written about John Bracken, the longest-serving premier in Manitoba history and also the hapless leader of the federal Conservative Party, from 1945 to 1948. (He is the one who, unfortunately, added the word “progressive” to the party’s name.)

Bracken had to deal with McCullagh, the principal financial backer of the party, and once confessed to Dick Bell, the senior party organizer, that “he would rather do a hard week’s work on the farm than have a ten-minute ­telephone conversation with George McCullagh.” I’d say that’s one of the great unknown lines in Canadian political history.

Joe Martin

Fascinating history. A must-read for Globe and Mail journalists (current and former).

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Re: “To Lüneburg,” by Joyce Wayne

I must object to a description in Joyce Wayne’s recent review of Judith Kalman’s Called to Testify. Wayne writes, “Unlike the shtetl Jews of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus who fled to Canada, Hungarian immigrants were often more cosmopolitan.” In fact, Europe’s ­largest Jewish communities before the Second World War were in Warsaw, Lodz, and Krakow — all major urban centres in Poland. There were also large Jewish communities in Lublin, Kiev, and so on. These were not shtetl Jews by any means, and they were just as ­cosmopolitan as the Hungarian Jews.

Certainly, there were shtetl Jews among those who perished in the Holocaust, but to suggest that all the Holocaust survivors who came to Canada from Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus were shtetl Jews is misleading and an unfortunate ­descent into stereotypes.

Goldie Morgentaler
Lethbridge, Alberta

Many thanks to the Literary Review of Canada for the attention given to my memoir, Called to Testify, from Sutherland Books.

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Re: “Whims and Longings,” by Jessica Duffin Wolfe

This review left me open-mouthed. While barely addressing the two books she was assigned, Jessica Duffin Wolfe indulges in irrelevant asides and uninteresting personal opinions and experiences — the story about her boots, for example. She never really tells us whether Marius Kociejowski’s A Factotum in the Book Trade is good or not; and if I were Jason Camlot or J. A. Weingarten or their editor at Wilfrid Laurier University Press, I would ask for her review copy of Unpacking the Personal Library to be returned, so little does she say about it.

Wolfe worked earlier in her life, as she tells us, for one antiquarian dealer and one new book dealer, which ought to have given her a solid basis for reviewing books about books and the trade. Instead, she fills her piece with statements such as this: “The thrilling din of strangers’ voices is what makes bookstores, like cities, so captivating.” If she can find a single bookseller ready to second that opinion, I will eat my hat. She also floats other vaguely ­animistic contentions, such as “I like the feeling of books doing as they want to do, and they never seem happier to me than when they are gathered in the more or less orderly jumble of a used bookstore.”

Really? Happy books, rocking on in retirement? Good grief.

Bruce Whiteman
Peterborough, Ontario

Jessica Duffin Wolfe’s piece — as well as Mark Kingwell’s “Me, My Shelf, and I” in the same issue — speaks to the obvious joys of the acquiring and otherwise handling of books. Many of us experience these very visceral feelings, whether when settling into one’s university digs and unpacking those few boxes carefully acquired during the teen years; in an older bookstore, be it in Paris, London, or Rome; or in the single English-language shop in Antibes, France, scoring the last copy of the only book Graham Greene wrote while living there (­something I was fortunate enough to manage this past ­summer). We’ve been there, felt that.

What I would like to have seen (and I am not aware of it having been treated elsewhere) is some comment on the very real anguish of having to part with one’s books, an all too familiar occurrence for those of us who are older and moving into much smaller accommodations. This happened to me some years back and involved having to abandon some forty boxes of books to the questionable fate that is my local symphony’s annual used book fair. I am not certain how others have felt in similar circumstances, but for me it was like suddenly having to go out into the world wearing almost no clothes!

Fortunately, the building into which my wife and I moved has a modest library, and that allows me to keep buying, gathering a certain stock, and then off-loading volumes before they become an impediment to walking around or, indeed, a fire hazard. But even this minor ­parting is always fraught with a certain measure of sadness, and it is one of the several regrets one has both about smaller living spaces and about growing old. Perhaps someone will one day explore in depth the sobering experience of ­losing those friends that are one’s books.

Merv Daub
Kingston, Ontario

Jessica Duffin Wolfe’s review of Marius Kociejowski’s A Factotum in the Book Trade: A Memoir managed an astonishing feat of ­ventriloquism in assessing an author’s wonderful book in the same register as it was written in.

This review made me feel like I was ­getting to read an extra chapter of Kociejowski’s engaging prose. As a matter of fact, maybe Wolfe should consider writing a longer piece about her own adventures among books. I’d be happy to read it. I’d even pay for it.

Antanas Sileika

Re: “Wanted Dead or Alive,” by Bob Armstrong

According to Bob Armstrong’s review of The American Western in Canadian Literature, Joel Deshaye cites the remarkable influence of Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman’s Boy “in renewing general and historical interest in the Western.” Vanderhaeghe’s prose in that novel from 1996 is stirringly explicit and evocative. Just take the first sentence (one of the best “first ­sentences” in English literature): “Even from such a distance Fine Man could smell their camp, the fried-pig stink of white men.”

Mel Simoneau
Gatineau, Quebec

The Literary Review of Canada welcomes your comments and feedback, which we may edit for length, clarity, and accuracy. Write to letters@reviewcanada.ca.