Sunday, June 8, 2008

Trolling the aisles of the ivory bookfair. . .

For the last eight days I've been working a bookfair at the Congress - Canada' s largest academic conference - this year held at the University of British Columbia. Apart from getting a bout of food poisoning (I was trying to eat healthy, only to be felled by an organic fruit smoothie - what are the chances?), the conference went extremely well and I had many interesting conversations with professors and students from across Canada and around the world. One of the perks about working this gig is that I essentially get to live in a huge academic bookstore for a week and it's fun to troll the aisles and examine books you don't normally see on the shelves of your local independent.

Books published by academic presses (and small presses too - many of which were also on hand) are certainly not just for readers with multiple degrees. Yes, there are still a lot of books published on esoteric topics with titles and prose that are migraine-inducing, but university presses are also acquiring and marketing many of their books towards a general audience of inquisitive and intelligent readers and are just as likely to publish a book on graphic novels or innovative garden design as they are about the theories of Foucault. And these presses also have some of the best book and jacket designers in the industry - even some of their catalogues feel like works of art. It's worth checking them out if you like to read odd and quirky books. If you live in a city with a good university bookstore - browse their shelves. Or check out the websites of academic presses - many of them have regular e-mail newsletters that you can sign up for to learn about new books in the areas you are interested in. As a small example of the many treasures that are available, here's what I picked up this week:

My first stop at the Congress is always to Broadview Press. They publish very good scholarly editions of classics with great supplementary essays and historical appendixes. They are also terrific at finding long-lost gems, particularly of women's writing. I will always be grateful to them for bringing Francis Marion Beynon's First World War novel, Aleta Dey, back into print. This year I picked up a new edition of Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies, edited by Richard Kelly. I've long wanted to read this Victorian children's book, which according to one of the book's blurbers is for, "everyone who has an interest in the exuberant, eclectic, ecological and erotic aspects of Victorian literature". I also bought Suffragette Sally, a 1911 novel written by Gertrude Colmore and edited by Alison Lee. The novel follows three British women, each from a different class, as they fight for the right to vote.

Over to Playwrights Canada Press where I added to my obsessive collection of literature about the First World War with a new anthology of Canadian war plays. Canada and the Theatre of War: Volume 1 edited by Donna Coates and Sherrill Grace contains the full text of five contemporary plays about the Great War (The Lost Boys by R. H. Thompson, Soldier's Heart by David French, Mary's Wedding by Stephen Massicotte, Dancock's Dance by Guy Vanderhaeghe - my favourite - and Vimy by Vern Thiessen) and three contemporary plays about World War II (Ever Loving by Margaret Hollingsworth, None is Too Many by Jason Sherman and Burning Vision by Marie Clements). I'm not familiar with any of the WWII plays and it will be interesting to compare them with the others. At the time of writing this, Playwrights Canada Press hadn't yet updated their website - but keep checking back and I'm sure they will post information about this book soon; it's hot off the press. I spoke to one of the editors of this collection and she told me a second volume is in the works which will showcase Canadian plays tackling more recent wars.

I am a fan of the prolific academic writer Marjorie Garber who seems to be published by everyone. I've enjoyed dipping into her previous book Shakespeare After All, which is an engaging examination of each of the plays. So over at the Routledge booth, I picked up her latest, Profiling Shakespeare, a collection of essays that explores how previous scholars and biographers have pieced together what they think they know about Shakespeare. It's hard to resist a book with chapters such as, "Shakespeare as Fetish" and "Shakespeare's Laundry List". This should keep me going until we publish yet another new Garber book, Shakespeare and Modern Culture, in December. Also on the lit-crit front, I am always looking to add to my extensive collection of books about Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and Palgrave has helpfully complied with Virginia Woolf Studies, edited by Anna Snaith. This collection of essays is a guide to all the different critical approaches one can use when thinking about Woolf's work; it should help me navigate all the other scholarly books on her that are crowding my shelves.

The book I'll be taking on the plane with me tomorrow is from McGill-Queen's University Press. Mr Charlotte Brontë: The Life of Arthur Bell Nicholls by Alan H. Adamson (a Concordia professor but also a descendent of Nicholls) promises not only interesting biographical detail, but also a look at Arthur's protection of Charlotte's literary reputation after she died.
And finally, the book I was most excited to find was one I actually picked up at the university bookstore. Published by Verso, Red Velvet Seat: Women's Writing on the First Fifty Years of Cinema, edited by Antonia Lant and Ingrid Periz, is a thick, meaty anthology covering every aspect of going to the movies and includes pieces by some of my favourite writers - Virginia Woolf, Rose Macaulay, Elizabeth Bowen, Janet Flanner, H.D., Rebecca West, Winifred Holtby, Katherine Mansfield and so on. There are pieces from women as diverse as Emily Post, Colette and Marie Stopes, and also articles written by women screenwriters, actresses (Lillian Gish), directors, cinematographers and film critics. There is a whole section on women, film and war. I literally squealed with delight when I came across this book - all nine hundred pages of it.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to somehow get all of these books plus the pile of novels (used and new) I bought in Seattle and Vancouver into my two bags and hope they don't exceed the airline weight restrictions. Oh yeah, and I also have to shove in the three new pairs of shoes, some new clothes, a new bag, a box of deluxe tea, a pound of coffee beans, several balls of yarn, the metres of amazing fabric I found at a quilting store today . . .

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