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Letters to Editor

In Praise of Anodizing

IS IT JUST ME, or is 1. M. Owens attitude toward language a bit misguided? He acknowledges in his letter (April) that meanings and usage change, but then states (incredibly) that "there's much to be said for retarding the process where we can." It is just this sort of reactionary prescriptiveness, this presumption that change is synonymous with deterioration and therefore should be inhibited, that is objectionable. Retard the process? Linguistic change is not rust, it does not weaken the metal, it is not unattractive. Think of it as anodizing.

Wayne Jones




Humble Pie

IT WAS with disbelief that I read David Homel's review of Wilma Riley's Pies ("Read It Yourself, Dad!," April).

Quoting Mr. Homel: "Citified Elena, quite German, hates her clodhopping neighbour Mary, who is very Ukrainian." 1, for one, would call that regressive and redneck writing!

There is more! "Mary and Elena quarrel. Elena devises her revenge, which is to serve Mary a pie made with her own cow's manure." Not yet revolted? Wait! "In the end, a contrite Elena prays to the Holy Mother to swallow this pie of bovine faeces.... And down it goes."

Wilma Riley and Coteau should be shamed into eating humble pie for serving up this perverse, tasteless, and unseemly concoction!

Gloria Kupchenko Frolick



David Homel replies:

If Gloria Kupchenko Frolick does not care for Wilma Riley's Pies, that's her right, but there's no use complaining about the reviewer who happens to discuss the book's plot line and characterizations. Like it or not, Elena and Mary, the quarrelling women of the story, are portrayed exactly as I described them.

I've reviewed quite a number of books, but this is the first time I've been blamed for what the author wrote. Unless, of course, Ms. Kupchenko Frolick would prefer that we not review (that is, censor through silence) those books she would deem politically offensive.

Besides, Ms. Kupchenko Frolick, half my family comes from Dnepropetrovsk, so no accusations of anti-Ukrainian feeling, please.



Faction's Faction

AFTER READING Helen Fogwill Porter's lament concerning the lack of a "strong, positive word" to describe writers of non-fiction

--"Who wants to write non-anything?" she asks in "Truth and Consequences" (April) --

I came up with a few suggestions. How about fiction's euphonic opposite, "faction"? (hence "factional writers," or "writers of faction"); or, if that sounds pejorative, why not "factual"? ("Factual writer" doesn't sound too bad, does it?)

If all else fails, I suppose they could employ the double negative and simply call themselves "writers of non-fiction.''

Helena Malton

Wolfville, N.S.




Preachy and Moralistic

AS AN AUTHOR, educator, and seasoned children's book reviewer myself (though 1 might add, I've never reviewed a book that hasn't been published yet, and all three of the Atlantic Canada books mentioned in the article I'm about to discuss were in the pre-publication stage), 1 was, to say the least, not a little dismayed to see a review of my as yet to be released children's book Jeremy Jeckles Hates Freckles in 'Trills and Thrills" (March).

One has to wonder if Janet McNaughton really read, or absorbed, the text of the story, so narrow and constrained is her viewpoint. Or maybe she just has trouble with the art of subtlety in children's writing. Rather than "pandering to prejudices," which she rather lamely expostulates in her critique (I wonder which phrase book she garnered that from), the book is simply reacting to reality; the author's humour is based, not on the "prejudices of her audience," but on the reality of children's behaviour. There's a lot of fun in this book, and a loud message, subtly delivered. (Gone are the days of the preachy and moralistic.) The boy Jeremy returns from his adventure a much happier, well-rounded individual, having learned the value in being himself freckles or no freckles.

Unfortunately, Ms. McNaughton misses, or chooses to miss, this positive interpretation, in the same way that she misses, or chooses to miss, the vehicles employed in showing, not the "prejudice" of disliking "unusual foods," but the positive, great things that happen to children when they indulge in those crazy-sounding, awesome-looking health concoctions! The book teaches as it entertains, which is what true literacy is all about. It's time for some children's book reviewers to get off their pseudo-scholarly high horses (which in many cases has no basis in true academe) and spend some time in the real world, with real kids. It may temper their judgement with a little more intelligence the next time around.

Geraldine Ryan-Lush

Mt. Pearl, Nfld.




Calling a Halt

WHEN AN EXCHANGE of letters descends to the level of "I'm right, you're wrong" as simple unsupported assertions, it is perhaps time to call a halt. I cannot, however, help expressing astonishment at John Oliphant's statement (Letters, March) that the quality of a writer's research can be measured by the page, and that therefore his Brother Twelve, at 3 7 1 pages, is indubitably more fully researched than The Brother XII of Maclsaac, Clark, and Lillard, at 129. 1 am also surprised that the writer of a book that does not identify its sources in either footnotes or bibliography should have the gall to accuse others who do provide this information of inadequate research. Indeed, it was the thorough research of the Brother XII team that led them to discount much of the material accepted as factual by Oliphant. The main difference here is between a writer who happily accepts shaky evidence in order to make up a "damned exciting" narrative, and one who suspects the validity of unsupported rumour and explores thoroughly the relationship between provable fact and attractive fantasy in order to give us what amounts to a fascinating and, yes, "exciting" account of the creation of a legend and the falsification of history.

Robin Skelton





Discretionary Powers

I HOPE Richard Sanger carries out his threat (in his April letter) not to buy a copy of my book, Looking for Livingstone. His ability to misread makes me fear for his interpretation of my work. He might have me making a hero out of Livingstone, yet.

However, in the interest of clarity, let me reiterate my position: Books in Canada presents itself as a literary magazine; as such I do not expect to see letters that more rightly belong in the pages of the Toronto Sun. Editors customarily have some discretionary power, and an editor can point out to a letter writer that a letter does not really raise any issues and suggest that the writer make a substantive point. For example, some time ago I wrote a letter in response to an article that appeared in Fuse magazine concerning the exhibit Into the Heart of Africa. The article contained many inaccuracies, including a grossly misquoted title of a work by V. S. Naipaul. I wrote a brief letter enquiring if V. S. Naipaul had written another work with the misquoted title. The editors of Fuse asked me to include something that actually critiqued the article. I did, and incorporated my point about the title. Is this practice unique to Fuse, or is it not indicative of the discretionary power of editors? I don't expect the Toronto Sun to do what Fuse did, since it thrives on the scurrilous. But I had hoped that BiC would exercise its editorial power to encourage letters dealing with issues in a substantive manner. After all, what connection could there be between my possible life and career choices --which Ms. Parkes was impertinent enough to outline publicly--and an interview with me concerning issues of colonialism and, particularly, the role of David Livingstone in that project? Except to suggest that I ought to be grateful--I suppose to both Canada and Livingstone--and be silenced by that gratitude.

For Mr. Sanger to describe Ms. Parkes's offensive suggestions as a "succinct summary of the many rights and opportunities that well-educated Canadians ... enjoy" is as grossly inaccurate as to suggest I called for the suppression of her letter by BiC. Please don't buy my book, Mr. Sanger.

M. Nourbese Philip



Received Wisdom

WE WERE intrigued to read Douglas Glover's paternalistic theories about Mohawk culture and traditions. In his review of our book, People of the Pines ("Behind the Barricades," February), Glover displays an astonishing degree of self-confidence in his opinions about the Mohawks. He informs your readers that the Mohawks are lacking "a deep and accurate knowledge of their own culture." He criticizes our book for emphasizing their "cultural trivialities" and for failing to question their traditional beliefs. And how does he know that the Mohawks are wrong about their own culture? Because he has studied a few books by white anthropologists with names such as Hewitt and Foster. Apparently it is these anthropologists, not the Mohawks themselves, who are the ultimate source of wisdom about Mohawk culture.

Glover seems to belong to the school of armchair experts who cling to a sanitized National Geographic view of the world. He rejects anything documented by journalists such as ourselves, who have interviewed hundreds of Mohawks, including clan mothers and Longhouse chiefs. Instead he prefers the received wisdom of academic studies by white anthropologists. Never mind what the clan mothers and the chiefs may have learned from their parents and grandparents. Never mind the traditions of the Longhouse in Kahnawake and Kanesatake. These beliefs, he informs us, are lacking in "depth" and "accuracy."

Glover fails to understand that aboriginal cultures are not trapped in a glass jar on an anthropologist's shelf. They are living, breathing, evolving sets of beliefs, sustained by a melding of traditional beliefs and the practices and rituals of today. The Mohawks of Kahnawake and Kanesatake are the guardians of their own culture even if their practices may not always coincide with the conclusions of dusty volumes in university libraries. Indeed, there can be no single ultimate authority on Mohawk culture. As we noted in our book, there are disagreements among the Mohawks themselves on the correct interpretation of their traditional laws and practices.

A few specific corrections to Glover's review. Contrary to his assertions, Iroquois faithkeepers believe that false-face masks must be carved from living trees. Glover also misrepresents our section on the different interpretations of the Great Law of Peace. We did not "swallow" the Arthur Parker version of the Great Law; we simply explained the conflicting versions, including those of Parker and the followers of Handsome Lake. The Parker version is interesting mostly because it is one of the earliest translations of the Great Law, and because it conforms so closely to the beliefs of the warriors today. Glover implies that Parker had contempt for the Iroquois, but he neglects to mention one significant fact: Parker was an Iroquois himself, and his works are full of praise for Iroquois culture.

Finally, Glover alleges that we "studiously refused" to ask who shot Corporal Marcel Lemay on July 11, 1990. Perhaps, as a writer of fiction, he assumes that every mystery can be solved by a couple of questions from a dimestore detective. In the real world, killings are harder to solve. We interviewed scores of witnesses, obtained information that nobody else had found, and presented the most detailed account of the events of July 11 ever published in Canada. There are probably only two or three people alive who know exactly how Marcel Lemay died, and they're not talking about it--to us or anyone else.

Geoffrey York

Loreen Pindera

Ottawa and Montreal

Letters may be edited for length or to delete potentially libellious statements. Except in extraordinary circumstances, letters of more than 500 words will not be accepted for publication.


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