Jo-Marie Powers and I wish to thank Ted Whittaker for the great review of Northern Bounty: A Celebration of Canadian Cuisine (February). Personally, I believe his comments were accurate and his observations astute. It is very difficult to pull together a group of non-writers, have them speak, and then publish the results. It didn't always work. But when it did, it was a monumental exhibition of the commitment that Canadian culinary professionals have towards this nation.
I am particularly pleased with his attention to the paper of Eleanor Kane, "Taste, Quality, and Mass Culture". She and her partner at the Stratford Chefs' School, Jim Morris, deserve a great deal of credit for the quality of culinary education that they are providing for their students. Few have their dedication. Eleanor was recently chosen chair of the board of Cuisine Canada, the organization that sprang forth from that first conference. She was elected by her peers, the regional directors from across Canada who met in Toronto in early December.
(Dr. Nancy Turner was the author of the paper that bears her name, "Traditional Native Plant Foods in Contemporary Cuisine in British Columbia".the other two fellows, Sinclair Philip and Robert Turner, did a great job of reading it and fielding questions at Stratford. Dr. Turner is the living, breathing expert of the ethnobotany of B.C.'s coastal peoples.)
Jim Christy's review of Vagabond of Verse: Robert Service-A Biography (February) is very nice but it reveals a weakness common to most readers-he appears never to have read anything of Service except the poems.
A review of a new biography of Service is an opportunity to bring to the attention of the reading public that he was much more than a poet, or, as he called himself, a versifier.
Service's novels disclose an author/observer who possesses a talent that the late Robertson Davies admired and claimed for himself, namely, a watcher who "keeps his eyes peeled."
Perhaps the time has come for re-issue of these excellent novels.
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Wrong Syndrome Cure
This is in regards to the excellent review by Scott Disher of Robert Timberg's book, The Nightingale's Song (February).
What navel-gazers those Americans are! I've read a couple of books on the Vietnam War, including A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. The tragedy of American losses is heart-rending, for noble ideals were sacrificed for political expediency and that macho Cold War need to prove who was the toughest and "baddest" on the block. Of course the Vietnamese people were the pawns in this deadly game.
Reading even a little history of that beautiful country, it's obvious that if Americans believed in the ideals the words of their constitution attest to, they would have been fighting for North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh had appealed to President Wilson after World War I for American assistance in Vietnam's struggle for independence. He was rebuffed and never forgot it. American cynicism is often matched by hypocrisy.
Timberg asserts that the "Vietnam syndrome will be gone when we've all passed from the scene or we get in a war with a draft-when the sons of middle-class white people are called up-and go." My God; in other words, when morally bankrupt leaders can order young people off to war in order to cover their failures and vanity-again-then all will be forgiven?
No. The Vietnam syndrome will continue to fester as long as the United States fails to recognize the carnage inflicted on Vietnam, the destruction of the country and two million of its people. The U.S. is now unmatched in military strength, the world dominated by American corporatism, which leaves the rest of the world nearly hostage to this lumbering giant on the world stage with something to prove. Scary. Maybe that's what David Halberstam meant when he said that "the real consequences of the war have not even begun to be felt." The whole world community may have to deal with the consequences if the U.S. doesn't come to terms with the guilt and angst over its involvement in the Vietnam War.
Nevertheless, The Nightingale's Song is a must-read book.
Early and Available
I'm writing in response to Bruce Meyer's review of The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English (December). I thought I should point out that he was incorrect to state that "there is a need for a good anthology of early Canadian short fiction.." He'll pleased to hear that there has been one available since 1966-Canadian Short Stories (series 1), selected by Robert Weaver and published by Oxford University Press. This book is still in print and selling well.
Trade Publicity Manager
Oxford University Press
To Speak Ill of the Dead
Jeez, enough already about Robertson Davies. Sure, he was a crafty old coot, but he was also-as even Michael Peterman's tribute (February) makes resoundingly clear-an unctuous, conceited old fart. His novels do show a craft that ranks him among the world's best-of the nineteenth century. I keep him on my bookshelf right next to Jude the Obscure.
I mean, for heaven's sake, just reread the tribute: Davies claiming his "rightful" place as Canada's most "SERIOUS" writer! Davies making insipid apologies for attending chapel as master of a college! (Worried about his image?) Davies waiting for Canada to become less "provincial" so that it could finally embrace all facets of his genius! Surely Peterman is joking when he declares that Davies's experience of Ontario was more "diverse" than any other Ontario writer! This, about a man who "despised sports," and "disdained the riff-raff of lower, commonplace interests," and received "special opportunities" because of his father's wealth and influence!
Davies was an entertaining writer, and a clever stylist. But his stories are guided by an antiquated view of the universe, and-worse-an antiquated view of how we should respond to it. It's been a long time since predestination, social class, and Victorian propriety really mattered to the rest of us, and Jung was passť by the mid-1970s. And Davies must seem "Canadian" only to those who believe that the only worthwhile literature in Canada is that which reads most like British literature. What in heaven's name do we, as Canadians, owe Davies for his contribution to a festival of 350-year-old English plays? I say, hip, hip, let's just run the old Union Jack up the flagpole, shall we? We gain a far better understanding of the nature of life in Canada in the twentieth century from, say, Duddy Kravitz than from Dunstan Ramsay. We learn more about our social landscape from Munro and Laurence. And we gain a far better understanding of our place in the spiritual cosmos from The English Patient, which at least takes into account a reality that includes nuclear fission.
Well, gosh, let's give the man a little tribute for having written well and for having cultivated a distinguished-looking beard. Then let's put away the crumpets and tea-and the iconography-and get on with literature that matters today.
Bill Van Dyk
Selvadurai in Grenoble
I greatly enjoy reading Books in Canada and keeping up to date on Canadian literature despite the distance and the difficulty in obtaining English-Canadian books in France. I belong to an English-language book club here in Grenoble, and it is a pleasure to be able to recommend our writers to the group whose membership consists largely of British, American, and French women. In fact, the next book we are discussing is Shyam Selvadurai's Funny Boy for which I was able to provide your First Novel Award from April 1995. Your articles are stimulating, thought-provoking, and intelligently written, and effectively what I believe to be an equally important but perhaps un(der)stated goal, that of encouraging the reading of Canadian writers. Bravo, et bonne continuation!
St. Vincent de Mercure, France
Psychologists or Squatters?
I have to tell you, your magazine no longer offers anything to me.
When I look through it, I feel as though I've pulled a book from a shelf of psychologists or avant-garde Greenwich Village squatters.
If you care to know the kind of writing that I can understand and relate to, read my profile of Budge Wilson in Canadian Author's winter 1995 issue.
The new format is much more to my taste, with the absorbing essay-reviews. Your opening editorial (November) was a gem! And I'm glad to know a little about the reviewers, too, as added to the articles.
Less Rarefied, Please
I used to really enjoy receiving my copy of Books in Canada because the issues covered a broad spectrum of writers in Canada. In the last two issues you seem to be catering only to intellectuals and I feel left out! There are few articles that really grab my attention. I think they appeal only to a rarefied breed.
I hope you are not going to lose half your audience with this new concept.
I also do not like the format as it is harder to carry with me while travelling-a terribly awkward size!
Salt Spring Island, B.C.