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To the Editor
Did Robertson Davies Write to You?

I am collecting Robertson Davies's correspondence for a volume to be published next year. If you have any letters (or know of someone who has) would you please contact me, Judith Skelton Grant, 17 Admiral Road, Toronto M5R 2L4 or by e-mail to john.grant@utoronto.ca.

Judith Skelton Grant


Old Misinformation

James Morton's review of Richard Rhodes's Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (February) contains a number of serious inaccuracies with regard to the Canadian connection to the development of the atomic bomb.

First of all, he treats the Igor Gouzenko spy affair in 1945-46 as if it were an element of what he chooses to call the "almost miraculously competent" Soviet atomic spy network. In the entire network revealed by Gouzenko there was only one connection to atomic research, and that was a British scientist, Nunn May, arrested in London, who had worked in Canada on a minor aspect of the project. Even General Leslie Groves, the security-conscious head of the Manhattan Project had no specific information on the construction of the bomb. At the time, sensational journalists painted a picture of "atom spies" in Canada that bore no relation to reality; fifty years later, Morton passes on the same misinformation.

Nor is it true that Gouzenko's attempts at defection were first "refused" by Mackenzie King, who thought stories of Soviet spying "beyond belief." This old canard has been fully laid to rest in a book I published last year with Gary Marcuse, Cold War Canada (University of Toronto Press), which Morton might have consulted to his profit.

There are other errors. The U.S. did not restrict information going to Canadian labs at the end of the war "because of concerns that Canada could (or would) build its own atomic weapons." They might have had some concern about our close allies, the British, who did later build their bomb, but certainly not about the Canadians striking out on their own, a perfectly silly idea.

Finally, the worst for the last: Morton claims that "Canadian consent" was a "requirement" for the use of the bomb on Japan. He even refers to a "Canadian veto". As a courtesy, Canada was told in advance, but the idea that Mackenzie King could have vetoed Truman's decision to drop the bomb is absurd.

Reg Whitaker

York University



I have been a subscriber to Books in Canada since mid-1991, when I first found out it existed. This time, I did hesitate before renewing. I find the new format cumbersome, both to read and to store-for surely what you print is worth retaining, for re-reading and reference much longer than, say, yesterday's Toronto Star. In addition, I found, or thought I found, the articles verbose. Too much talk, too spread out, and short on plain specifics as to what's in what book and why I should buy it and read it.

However, the February issue seemed better again somehow; perhaps your writers are getting more used to the new set-up. And BiC's good points, which have always been there, continue: a sensible and balanced viewpoint, broad and inclusive, respecting merit and rejecting foolishness on both the "left" and the "right" of the political-moral spectrum, unlike so much of the Canadian arts community, which automatically idolizes the former and scorns the latter.

Welcome back, Michael Coren! You're a treat and a tonic.

Enclosed in my renewal cheque for two years. Keep those mags coming, and best wishes to BiC.

Paul R. Sheppard

Brockville, Ont.

More for the Teeth

Just when I think I'll never ever renew my sub to Books in Canada I come across George Elliott Clarke's piece on African-Canadian literature (March). For once I can be educated, not subjected to opinions ad nauseam. I've known George for some time and benefited from his poetry and exuberance and wisdom and intelligence, so I especially appreciate this scholarly article and George's "cultural assertiveness" and his response to "uninformed commentaries" on African-Canadian literature. Takes me back to the old days when culturally asserting Canadian Lit was a life-threatening academic act.

Now if only you would return to a handy, curl-up-in-a-chair format of standard magazine size, and if only you'd design your reviews so they didn't look as if you were reviewing two books, and if only you could move out of central Canada, and if only you would refuse to review Stuart MacLean's trivia (after all, we all subsidize his sales through CBC's Morningside), if only.

So, thanks for something one could get one's teeth into-maybe one can look forward to another G.E.C. article with more information, more education.

K. Tudor

Lockeport, N.S.

Noble, Welcome

Soon after your makeover, Stephen Henighan wrote in, furious about his inability to make it all the way through challenging "review-article style" pieces (February). Reaching for the thesaurus, he denounced the magazine's "verbosity", "pomposity", "vulgarity", and other shortcomings.

Now Kenneth Harvey (March) fumes, from the wonderfully named Burnt Head, Newfoundland, about the journal being a "copy of an American publication," blowing the whistle on your dark plot to undermine the nation by quoting Plato, George Eliot, and other non-Canadians.

To offend tiny minds, frustrate anti-intellectuals, and expose the pretentious is noble, welcome work. Thank you, Books in Canada. Enclosed is a cheque for my subscription.

Andy Lamey


Henighan Redux

I was pleased to see that the new editorial team had adopted some of my suggestions. Eliminating the editorials, diversifying the regional provenance of your contributors, and moderating the right-wing slant are all positive steps. The last three issues represent an improvement on the two that prompted me to complain, though I would still prefer a less stodgy format and more reviews of fiction.

What, though, inspired Gordon Phinn (Letters, March), to accuse me of "stubbornly refus[ing] to realize that the future for CanLit lies in the literate neighbourhoods of the world, and not the backbiting regionalism of `back home' "? I cannot see how such a position can be inferred from my letter. I've spent nearly half my life outside Canada, living in some of those "literate neighbourhoods"; I don't regard myself as parochial simply because I also respect the integrity, and demand good coverage, of writers "back home".

I would like to believe, like Mr. Phinn, that "the international success of Atwood, Munro, Davies, Richler, et al., has ensured us a place at the table in the foreseeable future." Alas, two days before I read Mr. Phinn's letter, an influential London literary agent explained to me that Canada's senior literary stars established their international reputations in a time now past. Any Canadian writer hoping to break the big-time in the era of free trade and globalized taste, I was told, must "move his fiction outside Canada," because "Canada is too boring.you can't sell a novel set in Canada in today's international market." I was told the same thing last year by an agent in New York. International dialogue is to be pursued and cherished, but it's naive to imagine that Canadian writers are still being invited to the table of world conversation on equal terms.

Stephen Henighan



Your new format, and in-depth reviews that now have a critical slant, have prompted me to renew.

Kirk Dale


Justice in 450 words?

Again, I'm reminded to renew and again I'm rattling my brain for a message that tells me I should support your crafts. Here's my beefs:

Your new format, though I'm not crazy about reading BiC as a tabloid, I can live with. I look forward to "Letters to the Editor", however it should be at the front, not hidden in the back.

There's way too much blank space. Since lack of space is one reason why more books don't get profiled, shorten the reviews to one column. If a reviewer can't do justice to a book in 450 words, maybe they better take a journalism course! K.I.S.S.! I am not the least bit impressed with a reviewer who takes one-third of a column to jabber on about their insecurities in life (like I'm doing now), equates the book they are reviewing to other books, and gives the reader little reason to buy it. Example: February 1996-Lorna Jackson's "Take the More Tangled Route". Who was she profiling? Daphne Marlatt or her, Jackson's, live-in boyfriend, or Jackson herself? Jackson quotes Marlatt, "And she writes about `what matters' (to lift a phrase from another of her books)." Give me a break, guys! Is this worthy of a quote? Don't you edit this crap? And what is the meaning of "everyone and their dog barks post-modernist faux-chic insights"? You gave this reviewer a full page, 1,450 words. The first column should have been axed! And most of the third! And the second-for sure!

In the December 1995 issue, the editor took a full page to show off his reading background. Was his editor asleep when "liberal democracy" was used three times in forty-two words? Given a bad case of verbal diarrhea, what the hell was he trying to say-second to last paragraph, page 2. I'm glad someone shut him up in the February issue!

Best of luck in the new year.

Jennie Choban

Aurora, Ont.


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.

Mildred Martin

Wolfville, N.S.

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!

Carol Tabbers

Salt Spring Island, B.C.

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 article 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!

Jane Carson

St. Vincent de Mercure, France

Rashid Unjustly Reviewed

I am writing to say both how much I enjoy your new format and also to voice my strong disagreement with a review printed in your February issue: "Sabu and Taboo", a review of Ian Iqbal Rashid's collection of poetry, The Heat Yesterday.

I felt that Cary Fagan's review did an injustice to one of Canada's most exciting young writers. Fagan's accusation of "melancholic self-pity" seems incredibly harsh in the review of a book concerned with mourning and loss: poems that serve as elegies for loved ones as well as for more innocent ways to love, and for simpler ways of thinking about identity, home, and just living in the world.

Rashid's accomplished fusing of his own voice with fictional selves showed the "verve" and daring found in his first book, Black Markets, White Boyfriends (a boldness Fagan felt was missing in this volume), but with the addition of maturity and confidence, and an often deeply poignant sense of self-awareness. (His long poem "The Memory of Fingertips" is one of the most moving poems I've read in a long while.)

In spite of my grumbling, I very much look forward to your next issue. Keep up the good work.

Mary Weldon-Ali


Self-Styled Coren Fan

It grieves me deeply to note that attacking columnist Michael Coren continues to be the winter bored game of your "Letters to the Editor" writers. I implore you: do not give in to the subscription-cancellation threats of these hyperventilating bullies by dropping "At Large". Alas, their attacks merely reconfirm our incapacity to recognize a Canadian genius-in-residence.

I have just read his latest BiC column (March), in which he wisely escapes seasonal affective disorder by basking in the self-cast glow of being Mordecai Richler's first major biographer. Richler's "ability to make early sightings of long-term trends" proves that he has "access to the novelist's looking-glass." So did Alice, and look where it landed her. According to Coren, who, though no novelist, is yet a deft hand at fabricating fictions, that cunning Montreal psychic peered into his crystal balls and sighted the plague of feel-good liberalism, left-wing parents, ultra-liberal teachers, radical political causes, feminists and politically correct women that courses like a virus through the spent Canadian body politic.

My gratitude for this neo-seer's insight is profound. Among Richler's many literary virtues, I had not given primacy of place to his ability to divine the multitude of bigotries that claw at one another for space in that rat cage Coren mistakes for his own critical ability.

Do not mistake his methodology for deconstruction. It's dehydration. He targets a scribe from whom he can extract a few shreds of self-confirming ideology, extrapolates from that the notion that this writer is worthy because he prophesied the coming of Coren, then reduces the writer's complexity to the reductive frame that encloses his biographical looking-glass. When his Richler comes out, I plan to place my purloined copy in a large pot, add Scotch, and stir, in the hope that Richler's oeuvre will bloat from raisin to grape.

Please, do not mistake me for anything but a Coren fan, big-time. Indeed, this is a testimonial. These days, time for reading is as scarce a commodity as compassion for the dispossessed. I eagerly await his future columns and biographies, confident that each will spare me the necessity of actually having to read the victim's works. The man chooses his parasitic sites precisely because their thinking is encapsulated by his own.

One of his CFRB broadcasts warned me off reading non-auguritic books by women whose skin has more melanin than the WASP norm-and who wrap their heads in soiled rags. Come to think of it, much of my own precious time has been lost in that regard. Because so few of the women writers in question sport the tell-tale remnants in their promo photos, I felt compelled to write them and ask. To date, none have replied. Talk about a conspiracy, eh?

Mr. Coren should study an exemplary tale that exists beyond the parameters of his solipsistic viewfinder: James Marshall's George and Martha. Last week I read it to a very wee friend of mine. George, astute-though-hippopotamus, wearies of watching his friend look at herself in a mirror. He frightens Martha by pasting a silly picture of her onto the mirror. When she freaks out, he wisely admonishes, "That's what happens when you look at yourself too much in the mirror." Martha is not a literary biographer, not even a columnist. "Then I won't do it ever again," she says.

I pray that Mr. Coren's navel withstands the repeated blows of its occupant's gaze. I send him a wilted narcissus by way of garnish.

Liz Brady


A Promise to Work Hard

As I have been involved with Irving Layton and his work in a variety of fascinating ways over the past decade, I read with anticipation Nora Abercrombie's article "In Praise of an Older Poet" (March). At first I thought the author was indulging in a practical joke, a grossly overwritten parody of an encounter between the lecherous poet and the naive neophyte. But no, looks like she was serious.

Whether or not Ms. Abercrombie's nose or other parts of her body flare at the recollection of Layton may be of interest to some, although I can't imagine why. Layton is an extraordinarily sexual being-true enough, although at this point that's hardly news. And it's only one facet of his nature.

I don't think this mythologizing of Layton's sexual prowess, whether by him or his groupies, does any of them any good, especially as the reality is even better. Layton is a man of profound passion, an enormous energy for all aspects of life-sex, poetry, politics, food.

We are told at the end of the article author's blurb that "most of her writing is smutty." Perhaps that's meant to be praise, but if so, what that says about your criteria of literary judgement is depressing. While I wait for less self-indulgent emoting in your next issue, I'll work hard at becoming an older man who emits the "dark and musty" dour Ms. Abercrombie finds so stimulating.

Francis Mansbridge



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