Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pillage Report: Fall Book Sales

Ah, fall book sales, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Just as garage sale season ends, the University of Toronto holds its annual book sales. Here's my summation of the line-up.

Peter and I swung by the annual September Woodsworth College book sale on the last day this year and didn't pick up too much, but the Woodsworth sale is usually pretty good for Toronto poetry, popular paperback fiction (including genre novels set in Toronto) and signed first editions. While books are sorted into sections (philosophy, literature, etc.), they are not alphabetized and many good books never make it out of the boxes crammed in under the tables. A related problem is that not much effort is made to separate really good books from the chaff, meaning that browsing can be fatiguing and a little frustrating. A third problem is that the auditorium is not quite large enough to hold the bounty of books included in the sale. More diligent book sorting would solve all of these problems and would probably ultimately mean less work during the sale itself for Woodsworth's wonderful volunteers. I would also like to see more effort to separate Canadian literature and poetry, which deserves its own section(s).

I biked to the Victoria College Book Sale the day before Word on the Street and bought so many books the box barely fit onto my rack. The Vic sale is very well organized; while not really alphabetized, Canadian literature has its own section, and Canadian poetry is further categorized, making it easier to find Toronto titles. Prices are good (although not as good as at Woodsworth) and the halls are large enough to alleviate claustrophobia even among the crowds. Saturday morning seems to be the best time to hit this sale, as the opening night crowds have dispersed and the afternoon browsers are still having brunch somewhere else. A few of many special finds at the Vic sale:
  • Stuart Ross' Wooden Rooster (Proper Tales Press, 1986).
  • I am Watching (Anansi, 1973), a collection of poems by Shirley Gibson, apparently about the end of her marriage to Graeme Gibson. One might be forgiven for reading this collection alongside some of the stories in Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder (2006).
  • The Story So Far 3 (ed. David Young; Coach House, 1974), including a detective story of sorts by bpNichol, a picture of George Bowering looking suspiciously like Boy George and (among numerous other contributions) work by Matt Cohen and ... William S. Burroughs. A letter from Buckingham Palace rejecting a requested submission is included. Overall, a snapshot of Coach House (and local writing) circa 1974 which joins a bookshelf-length row of similar volumes I've picked up over the years. Neat stuff.
  • Plush, selected poems by Sky Gilbert, Courtnay McFarlane, Jeffrey Conway, R.M. Vaughan and David Trinidad (Coach House, 1995; ed. Lynn Crosbie and Michael Holmes). An anthology I've wanted for quite a while but have never managed to pick up.
  • Grammar of Dissent: Poetry and prose by Claire Harris, M. Nourbese Philip and Dionne Brand (Goose Lane Editions, 1994; ed. Carol Morrell). Interesting as a retrospective of these women's work on identity and exile.
  • Kim Moritsugu's Old Flames (Porcupine's Quill, 1999), a Toronto novel and, if it's like Mortsugu's other work, a great fun read.
  • Sylvia Fraser's The Candy Factory (McClelland & Stewart, 1975; my copy a mass market paperback reprinted by New American Library), a salacious novel set in what appears to be a fictional Hamilton.
  • Sketches of Old Toronto (Frank N. Walker; Longmans, 1965).
  • And at last, a hardcover copy of Hugh Garner's autobiography, One Damn Thing After Another (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973)
Yesterday I visited the University College book sale (which runs until Tuesday). Again a meticulously curated book sale with sections clearly distinguished and, in some cases, alphabetized. Prices are good here, too. The selection of poetry is quite limited (or was by the time I got there), but there was plenty of good Canadian literature, including new and old hardcover first editions, almost all priced under five dollars. Again I biked home in a high wind with a huge box acting as a sail. Some of yesterday's good finds:
  • Raymond Souster's Selected Poems (Oberon, 1972). Okay, so I paid $8 for this in the 'special books' section. It's a great anthology concentrating (for a change) some of Souster's best work, and is highly evocative of Toronto represented across the decades referenced in the book. There's also a thoughtful essay by editor Michael Macklem, making this a good introduction to Souster's work up to the 1970s.
  • Graeme Gibson's Communion (Anansi, 1971). I don't care for Gibson's work especially (Five Legs perplexed me so deeply in high school -- when I sought it out specifically because it was referenced in Atwood's Survival -- that I never went back to it), but this appears both interesting and strongly written. It's set in Toronto, and so goes onto the subway reading pile.
  • A nice first edition copy of Morley Callaghan's Our Lady of the Snows (Macmillan, 1985)
  • Barry Callaghan's Black Queen Stories (Lester & Orpen Dennys), likewise a nice hardcover (apparent) first edition.
  • Poetry Toronto (Number 46, February 1988), a neat little photocopied magazine (an early zine, really, or a precursor to Word) including work by Rosemary Aubert (well-known author of Toronto-based thrillers) and a bunch of other people I've never heard of.
  • Variable Cloudiness: New Poems by John Robert Colombo (Houndslow Press, 1977)
  • Alana Wilcox's A Grammar of Endings (Mercury, 2000). A beautiful and haunting novel, but perhaps with a surfeit of metaphors. A good book to read alongside Stephen Marche's Raymond and Hannah.
And some neat other finds.
  • I went through a large pile of the journal Canadian Literature and was pleased to find no. 22, with Louis Dudek's essay on Raymond Souster (one I've put off photocopying at the university library) and no. 35, a special edition on Wyndham Lewis.
  • I also picked up an astonishing volume called The Urban Experience, part of a 'Themes in Canadian Literature' series (including other volumes such as The Maritime Experience and The Frontier Experience) published by Macmillan in 1975. The Urban Experience is an anthology of Canadian city writing, including Earle Birney's 'I Think You Are a Whole City' and Miriam Waddington's 'Toronto the Golden-Vaulted City' , as well as Toronto-focused work by Margaret Atwood, Hugh Garner and others. Other Canadian cities are represented here, too, but the unusual thing about this book is that it appeared at a time when Canadian writers were not widely acknowledged to write about cities. Indeed, neither Hal Niedviecki's Concrete Forest (1998) nor Downtown Canada: Writing Canadian Cities (2005) (both excellent books) references this much earlier anthology.
I also picked up Double Exposures (Coach House, 1984) a book of images and texts by one of my favourite non-Toronto-centric writers, Diane Schoemperlen; Patrick J. Kearney's A History of Erotic Literature (Macmillan London, 1982); artist Ronald Woodall's Magnificent Derelicts (J.J. Douglas, 1975), paintings of abandoned rural buildings; and Heather Robinson's A Terrible Beauty: The Art of Canada at War (James Lorimer, 1977). All in beautiful editions.

This coming weekend I'll be checking out the Trinity College book sale (October 19 to 23) which, if last year was any indication, will have a very good selection of Canadian poetry and literature. Last year I went on a very busy and crowded Sunday, but this year I think I'll go earlier. Right after that I'll visit the St. Michaels' College book sale (October 23 to 27), which I've never been to before.

After that it's a long wait until the Vanier College book sale at York University.

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