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Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Saviour of Canadian Literature

You can usually tell much about the author on how they sign books to their fans. Sometimes it is a plain and straight-forward signature. Sometimes it is more quirky. Many times people use the occasion to get the author to sign it for a birthday or Christmas gift for the buyer's relative. Most times, however, the inscription is just illegible. In rare circumstances, I seize the opportunity to obtain other people's signatures who are, in some way, associated with the book.

For example, I asked a number or people to sign Gordon Sheppard's HA! A Self-Murder Mystery. I obtained Brian Nolan's signature at the book launch at the Library and Archives Canada. Nolan, who lives in Ottawa, is an author and former European producer of ABC Network News, and his book blurb appears on HA!'s dust jacket. I even have a signature of the book's designer, Mikhail Alantchev. But the most precious is an inscription from Sheppard's daughter.

She actually appears in the novel in various forms. A picture of her face was super-imposed to represent an actress (when copyright reasons prevented the original movie still from being used) and other time where she drew a one page comic drawing to illustrate a conversation that appeared in the book. Genuinely surprised that I asked her for a signature, she wrote more than her signature. She gave her thanks and ended her inscription with, "The Post-It Notes rival my dads!" with a smiley-face. Well, I guess went over-board on the sticky-notes in this book.

The book I won't buy but would love to own is one particular copy of Peter C. Newman's The Secret Mulroney Tapes: The Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister. The book is purported to be inscribed by Newman, "For Brian - At last Canadians will see you for the warm, funny and human person that you are." Newman claims, "Much has been made of the way I inscribed the copy of Secret Tapes that I couriered to Mulroney on publication day. This was no attempt to soften the blow, but was written out of my genuine conviction that he lost power partly because Canadians never got to know the real man. " (source) Now that is a collector's item!

However, for those more adventurous and like a little extra with their novels, from a Montreal bookstore you can purchase Michel Basiliere's 2003 novel, Black Bird. Not only is it signed, it comes with a locket of his hair included. Interested? Sorry, this is not my specialty of collecting. But I was almost similarly interested in buying a book of poetry from a local Ottawa poet, jwcurry. The 1999 book, - if you can call it that - is an intricately sewn and folded collection of concrete poems by the late bp Nichol titled, Holiday. It's more of a Origami-like work of art.

Given it was very difficult to produce due to the binding of the tediously folded pages, jwcurry had accidentally poked his fingers with the sewing needle leaving a tiny drop or two of blood on the cover. Now that's putting that little extra into one's book. I can imagine the dialogue:
"Dude, did 'ya get the book signed?"
"Yeah! I also got his DNA!"
However, I admit I bought a 'clean' copy. I can do without the DNA thank you very much. Ask him about it at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair this Saturday, October 15, 2005 in room 203 of the Jack Purcell Community Centre.

Perhaps the most utterly ridiculous idea, in my opinion, that has surfaced has come from the person who brought us the dystopian novel, Oryx and Crake. Margaret Atwood has recently 'invented' the concept of the unotouchit. This invention allows that author to sign a book from anywhere in the world, but the book and the author never have to be in the same room. It's not quite the same concept as the autopen. An autopen is a machine that spits out the same mechcanically reproduced identical autograph over and over till it's turned off or runs out of things to sign.

The difference is that Atwood's contraption provides a personalized signature, in a sense, to each reader at the signing event. I think it is more like a fax more than anything else. The publisher's randomhouse.ca website reports, cryptically, that Atwood will be in Ottawa "Reading at the Unotouchit at Chapters" this November 23rd from her new book, The Penelopiad. I have no idea what this really means, nor where to show up, nor 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.

The recent memoir of sorts by Susan Musgrave, You're In Canada Now...[insert explitive] is a book I am interested in reading in that the scandalous title tends to grab your attention. In fact, I bought two copies at the Ottawa International Writers Festival last week. One copy was purchased by the mere fact that it was her personal reading copy during her reading at the festival. She had inscribed it as such. A desireable copy in its own right. But the second copy is what book collectors refer to a 'brag'. You know, something that is quite a treasure and extra-special and deserves bragging rights.

She had inscribed the book to myself, mentioning that this copy was, "The Bowdlerized edition. The first one ever! A practise run for my mother." Bowdlerize is a term derived from Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), English 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 the Toronto Author, Stuart Ross, was in Ottawa this summer I was pretty impressed with the way inscribed my copy of his Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer: "This one to John - The Saviour of Canadian Literature! Best, Stu." But after some reflection of this immodest inscription, I realized that I am not a 'saviour' just because I read and buy Canadian-authored books. I believe everyone who buys a book, a broadsheet, a chapbook, and even a used book is just as much a saviour. I don't know why Stuart signed the book this way. Perhaps he did so in a similar manner to others. In the end it doesn't really matter. It is the best thing any author could say to a reader.

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