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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Blog About Town column #3

Yours Truly:
Autograph Hound or saviour of Canadian Literature? You be the judge

You can usually tell much about an author by the way he or she signs books to fans. Sometimes it's with a plain and straight-forward signature. Sometimes it's something more quirky. Mostly the inscription is just illegible.

Book buyers often use signings to pick up an autographed book they will later give as a birthday or Christmas gift.

When circumstances allow, I seize the opportunity and collect signatures from people associated with a title. For example, at one book launch at Library and Archives Canada, I asked a number or people to sign Gordon Sheppard's HA! A Self-Murder Mystery. Ottawa author Brian Nolan autographed my copy - his blurb appears on the dust jacket of HA! So did Mikhail Alantchev, the book's designer. But the most precious inscription was provided by Sheppard's daughter, who appears in the novel in various forms. Genuinely surprised to be asked for an autograph, she signed: "The Post-It Notes rival my Dad's!" and added a smiley-face. I guess went overboard on the sticky-notes in my copy.

I would love to own a signed copy of Peter C. Newman's The Secret Mulroney Tapes: The Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister. Not just any copy, but the one Newman personalized and sent to Mulroney: "For Brian - At last Canadians will see you for the warm, funny and human person that you are."Newman insists the inscription was not intended to soften the blow, but rather written out of genuine conviction that Canadians never got to know the real man. Then there's the special edition of Michel Basiliere's 2003 novel, Black Bird, available at a Montreal bookstore. Not only is it signed, it comes with a locket of his hair. Not for me, but I am similarly intrigued with a poetry book by Ottawa writer jwcurry. The 1999 book - more of an Orgami-like work of art - is an intricately sewn and folded collection of concrete poems by the late bp Nichol titled, Holiday. During the production of the book, which involved binding tediously folded pages, jwcurry accidentally poked his fingers with a needle, leaving a drop or two of blood on the cover. I can imagine the dialogue:
"Dude, did ya get the book signed?"
"Yeah! I also got his DNA!"
Ask him about it at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair on Oct. 15 at the Jack Purcell Community Centre.

In most cases, a signing is a simple affair requiring little more than a pen.
In the case of Margaret Atwood, however, it may involve the Unotouchit, an invention that is not to be confused with the autopen, a machine that spits out the same mechanically reproduced identical autograph over and over till it's turned off or runs out of things to sign. Atwood's invention allows an author to personalize a book from anywhere in the world - the book and the author never have to be in the same room. I think it is more like a fax than anything else. The publisher's website reports, cryptically, that Atwood will be in Ottawa "Reading at the Unotouchit at Chapters" on Nov. 23 from her new book, The Penelopiad. I have no idea what this means or even if she'll be there in person.
Unotouchit? Menobuyit - though, in all likelihood, I probably will attend to see what the fuss is about.

Last week at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, I bought two copies of Susan Musgrave's You're in Canada Now (insert expletive). I bought the copy she used during her reading, which she inscribed as such. The second copy is what collectors call a "brag." Musgrave inscribed the book to me, mentioning that the copy was, "the Bowdlerized edition. The first one ever! A practise run for my mother." Bowdlerize is a term derived from Thomas Bowdler, an editor who in 1818 published a notorious expurgated Shakespeare, "in which those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." Musgrave creatively placed stickers of the Canadian flag atop the offending words on the jacket cover and on the title pages. How thoughtful.

When Toronto author Stuart Ross was in Ottawa this summer, I was impressed with the way he inscribed my copy of his Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer: "This one to John - The Saviour of Canadian Literature! Best, Stu." After some reflection of this immodest inscription, I realized I am not a "saviour" just because I read and buy Canadian-authored books. In fact, I don't know why Stuart signed the book this way. Perhaps it's how he signs all his books. In the end, it doesn't really matter: It is the best thing any author could say to a reader.

John W. MacDonald works in Ottawa and can usually be seen, but not heard, where authors congregate. Read his weblog at


Blogger Amanda Earl said...

Bah on the Ottawa Citizen. The new Art & Books section was a tepid read.

Monday, October 24, 2005 8:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So that's what happened - I finally remember to buy the Citizen on the right day, but couldn't find ya.

Unteresting signature chase. I read somewhere authors prefer to sign their books because people tend to not resell autographed ones so the used book market doesn't get them and the authors sell more new.

Monday, October 24, 2005 2:25:00 PM  
Blogger John MacDonald said...

Nice neologism you invented: "Unteresting". Is this like a cross between interesting and uninteresting? hehehe Just kidding.

I rarely...practically never, sell books that were inscribed to me. That's why I sometimes have doubles, triples of just the author's sig that I may consider re-selling down the road. But this gets real expensive - real fast.

Monday, October 24, 2005 4:22:00 PM  

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