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Bookends: Fascinating Stories about Canadian Writers February 17, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Fascinating Stories about Canadian Writers

By Dan Davidson

October 19, 2016

– 833 words –

 

 

storytellersStories about Storytellers

By Douglas Gibson

ECW Press

435 pages

$19.95

 

Douglas Gibson visited Dawson and Whitehorse last January, and his one man show, Stories About Storytellers: An Evening with Doug Gibson and Many Famous Canadian Authors, made a very favourable impression on me, so I picked up the book on which the 90 minute presentation was based the next time I had an opportunity.

It’s a browser of a book, and can be read in short bursts, so it has lived for most of the last six months or so in my bathroom, fairly often making it as far as the bed when I just couldn’t find a good place to leave the bookmark.

To recap Gibson’s career as an editor at Doubleday Canada (now owned by German media giant, Bertelsmann) , and eventually publisher at both Macmillan of Canada (which no longer exists) and McClelland & Stewart (also now owned by Bertelsmann), would take up most of the rest of the space I have here.

A life in books was a natural progression for a man who was moved to immigrate to Canada from Scotland after falling madly in literary love with the work of Stephen Leacock when he was a wee lad.

He never got to meet the great Canadian humorist, but did have the joy of editing what he considers to have been the definitive biography of the man written by David Legate.

Now, this book begins with Gibson’s reflections on Leacock, but quickly proves to be just as informative an article about Legate and the process of putting the book together. Gibson worked with hundreds of writers during his career, and when one of them has an opinion about the subject of a particular chapter, it is rare that he will not take a side trip to give us that, as well.

The subjects of this book begin with Leacock and then move on to Hugh MacLennan, R.D. Symons, Harold Horwood, Barry Broadfoot, Morley Callaghan, W.O. Mitchell, Robertson Davies, Jack Hodgins, James Houston, Charles Ritchie, Pierre Trudeau, Mavis Gallant, Peter C. Newman, Brian Mulroney, Robert Hunter, Alistair MacLeod, Paul Martin, Peter Gzowski, Val Ross, Terry Fallis and Alice Munro.

Typically, the chapters relate how he became involved with the author in question, and relate some serious and some humorous anecdotes about the publisher/editor – author interaction. As noted, he doesn’t always stick to the subject, although the digressions are of interest.

The chapter on Jack Hodgins, for example, contains diverting tales about Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden, Margaret Atwood, Don Harron, Farley Mowat, John Irving, and L.R Wright, all inspired by Hodgins’ dislike of promotional tours.

His chapter on Pierre Trudeau veers off into accounts of his work with the various other people who wrote biographies of the man. He refers to this activity as being part of “The Trudeau Industry”.

Gibson appears to have been fond of most of his clients and authors, spending time visiting them, attending them during illnesses and at their funerals (because several of them have passed on), shepherding them through the publication process and sometimes (as with Trudeau, and Mitchell) prodding them to do better work than what they had written at first.

Mitchell, a noted procrastinator, actually turned in a poor final chapter to one book just to shut Gibson up, and ended up rewriting it when he got caught out. Trudeau was persuaded to change the format and order of his narrative. MacLeod, who was notoriously slow to finish things, had to be bullied into completing his only novel. Each of these events is related with good humour and a sense of real affection.

I think it’s fair to say that he admired Peter C. Newman’s work ethic but did not like the man and found some of his other ethics questionable. He takes some delight in telling the story of how Newman’ trademark Greek fisherman’s hat caught on fire during a dinner at the Royal York Hotel.

He is immensely fond of Alice Munro, and has not a single harsh word in that chapter. In fact, as he is the editor who persuaded her to forget about writing novels, he says he is sure that convincing her to stick to writing short stories was probably the one thing in his life that would guarantee his entry into Heaven.

The main portion of the book concludes with a hilarious essay “What Happens After My Book is Published?” which is guaranteed to keep any writer from getting too full of him or her self. There follows a ten page section of thank yous and acknowledgements (which is worth reading for a change), and then, in this edition, a 40 page readers’ discussion guide to five of the major works touched upon in the main text. Whether the invitation to take up the questions and send off your responses to his website still stands, I could not say.

 

-30-

 

 

 

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