I was afraid all the good books would be gone before I finally made it to this year’s Vanier College Book Sale at York University yesterday afternoon, but to my delight and pleasure (and possibly because my literary tastes are a little idiosyncratic) I managed to score about a dozen interesting books, all offered at half price because it was the second-last day of the sale!
Although none of my finds this year were as spectacular as the very rare true first edition of Al Purdy’s Poems for All the Annettes (Contact Press, 1962, complete with dust-wrapper) I bought for a dollar at the sale two or three years ago, or the dozens of great fifties-era science fiction pulp paperbacks Peter bought for fifty cents each the same year, this year’s haul wasn’t bad. Here are the titles:
Dan Yashinsky’s Tales for an Unknown City (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990), an anthology of spoken word stories curated from the long-running 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling series Dare I admit having passed over this book a dozen times at book sales, primarily because I have an irrational fear of storytelling, and of the 1001 Nights in particular? Years ago as a graduate student, one of my very dear colleagues invited a group of us to a 1001 Nights storytelling event held in downtown Toronto. I went out of politeness and collegiality and remember nothing at all of what was said, only the terrible ennui of waiting for it to be over. While I do not precisely have an auditory learning disability, I find it very difficult to process or remember things people say verbally: I’m wholly text focused. It’s made me a bit neurotic about attending public lectures and literary readings: unless I can have a text handy or take copious notes, whatever people say amounts to little more than noise. Still, fifteen years or so after my traumatic introduction to storytelling in Toronto, I’ve picked up this book and am glad to have done so. If I’m ever in the company of storytellers again I will clutch it as ballast against the verbal storm.
Wordhoard: Anglo-Saxon Stories for Young People (retold by Jill Paton Walsh and Kevin Crossley-Holland; Macmillan, 1969). No, there’s no irony in picking up another book representing another ages-old oral tradition: these ones are safely trapped in text, too. Also, I love the notion of ‘wordhoard’ and suspect my City Girl will enjoy the book when she’s a bit older.
Thomas King’s One Good Story, That One (1993). Stop laughing! I like oral narratives when they’re written down!
E.L. Konigsburg’s children’s classic From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Atheneum, 1975), a novel about a young girl who runs away to live in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. I cannot recall reading this in the past, although I have always been drawn to stories about people who found themselves dwelling in unusual urban spaces (e.g., Slake’s Limbo, The Prince of Central Park (I haven’t seen the film and think it cannot possibly manage to equal the wonderful book) and Help, I’m a Prisoner in the Library). Will give it a go.
Literary scholar Germaine Warkentin’s edited anthology Stories from Ontario (Macmillan of Canada, 1974). I’m an admirer of Warkentin’s work and bought this book not only for the stories but for her introduction.
David McFadden’s The Great Canadian Sonnet (compleat in one volume) (illustrated by Greg Curnoe; Coach House, 2001). I have no idea what to make of this book, but then I never know what to make of McFadden’s work. It isn’t a sonnet, of course. It measures approximately three by four inches square and is about half as thick. The version I have is a single-volume reissue of the original Sonnet, which appeared in various guises, most notably as a recreation of the ‘little big books’ once marketed to children. Poison my mind, McFadden; go ahead. I’ll like it — I’m a Canadian, after all.
The League of Canadian Poets’ membership catalogue (second edition, 1980). Although bound as a book, this is an interesting piece of Canadian literary ephemera. I bought it because it lists the published works of members, including many who have since died and whose work is not only long out of print, it is nearly lost to memory. I had no idea, for example, that Toronto poet Ted Plantos had published so extensively in the 1970s, mainly because the little presses he wrote for vanished decades ago.
Margaret Gibson’s Considering Her Condition (Gage, 1978). A follow-up to Gibson’s award-winning The Butterfly Ward only, this time, about the madness of pregnancy rather than merely madness itself.
Judith Fitzgerald’s Ultimate Midnight (Black Moss Press, 1992), a book I expect to find interesting in the same way as I find Gibson (and Firtzgerald’s) other work.
Mary Tilberg’s The Moon Knows No Boundary (Guernica, 2004). Poems about exile and displacement.
Olive Senior’s Gardening in the Tropics (McClelland & Stewart, 1994), mainly because someone recommended her post-colonial poetry recently and I was surprised never to have read a complete collection of her work. Also of interest because, as a Toronto writer of Jamaican heritage, her work is likely to differ from the Trinidadian-originating Toronto writers I usually read.
Zsuzsi Gartner’s All the Anxious Girls on Earth (Key Porter, 1999). Because it’s Zsuzsi Gartner.
And finally, The Way We Drive: Toronto’s Love Affair with the Automobile in Stories and Photographs (by Bill Sherk; Boston Mills Press, 1993). If this book were to be reissued today it would probably feature on its cover a photograph of a car with a cyclist trussed to the front fender.
Not bad, eh? The damage: a total of $16.50 (half price day, although the prices were low to begin with).