Forty to sixty minute interviews with accomplished authors, publishers, and others connected with the book, conducted by an excitable bibliophile.
Don Stewart is the proprietor of MacLeod’s Books at 455 West Pender Street in downtown Vancouver, a shop famed for its magnificent piles of books, wide selection and narrow aisles. Stewart bought MacLeod's Books in 1973 from Van Andruss who'd bought it from Don MacLeod a few years after it opened in 1964. He moved the business into larger premises in 1981 only to see the place burn down the next year - so he had to start again from scratch. Ironically, for the past ten years he's had to contend with Vancouver Fire Department regulations in order just to keep his doors open. Instructed to reduce the number of books in his shop, his only options have been to stuff things in storage and sell as much as he can. Recent zealousness exhibited by the VFD may well be connected in part to the rapaciousness of area developers. Contrary to current rumours the shop will not be closing. I met with Don in the stacks of his shop to talk about his career in bookselling, about homelessness, British Columbia as rich terrain for all manner of book culture, legendary West Coast booksellers Stephen McIntyre and Bill Hoffer, socialism, and anarchy, among other things.
49 min 4 sec
Dr Falk Eisermann is head of the Incunabula Division at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and is considered a world expert in the field. He also heads the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Union catalogue of incunabula), GW for short. Founded in 1904 it's objective is to list all 15th-century items printed from movable type. Today the job is reportedly about fifty percent complete. Lots of work remains. I met with Falk in his green-carpeted office at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin to talk about his role as a rare books librarian, about incunabula, and about his quest to find and catalogue it all.
1 hr 12 min
Dan Morgan is the proprietor of an antiquarian bookstore in Prague 6 that replicates the feel and function of a living room. Back in the 1990s Dan was invited by his future wife to visit Prague. He never left. In 2008 he 'got into' books thanks to a woman who sold them in his neighbourhood and who introduced him to Czech modernism and Samizdat. Coming full circle, by good fortune he was able recently to buy the entire stock of her original bookstore. I met with Dan at his shop. We talk about the cultural evenings he hosts, about the unheard stories that people tell of Prague's past; the important role Cubism played in moving Czech book design from Art Nouveau to Modernism; book designers Josef Casek, Ladislav Sutnar and Jaroslav Svab; the huge influence of renaissance man Karel Teige ('Captain of the Avant-Garde') and his ABC book; Jindřich Toman's amazing monographs on Czech modernist book design, notably the one on photo montage; Toyen; visually striking books; a collector's intuition; and the quality, but inexpensive, books produced by state-run publishing house Dru stevní Práce.
1 hr 6 min
Library exhibition catalogues, just like Bookseller catalogues, constitute a damned fine collecting area if you ask me. Beautiful, informative, and cheap - especially when you consider how much money and time, care and attention goes into producing them - they're well worth acquiring, despite not being particularly rare. What better service can I provide the collector to get a grip on this under-appreciated field than to talk to someone who evaluates them if not exactly for a full-time living, then certainly for a good time? Emma Sarconi is a librarian and book historian who seeks "to facilitate conversations around the impact of special collections in our lives by providing quality reference services, instruction design, project management and event planning." She currently works as the Reference Professional for Special Collections in Firestone Library at Princeton University, and chairs the RBMS Leab Exhibition Awards Committee. The Leab Awards are given annually in recognition of excellence in the publication of catalogues and brochures that accompany exhibitions of library and archival materials. They are administered by the Exhibition Awards Committee of the ALA/ACRL Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS), whose operating expenses are covered by a generous endowment from Katharine Kyes Leab and Daniel J. Leab, editors of American Book Prices Current. I spoke with Emma via Zoom about the criteria used by the committee to judge the catalogues.
55 min 31 sec
Jordi Nadal was born in Barcelona in 1962 and holds a degree in Germanic Studies from the University of Barcelona. In 1998 he took the Stanford Professional Publishing Course and then began his career at Vicens Vives, later moving to Herder (Germany). He has been director of EDHASA, editorial and publications director of Círculo de Lectores, consultant at Random House in New York, general director of corporate development for Spain and America at Grupo Plaza & Janés and assistant director at Ediciones Paidós, as well as Deputy General Manager at Planeta Agostini Profesional and Formación. In 2007 he founded Plataforma Editorial. He is the co-author of Meditating Management… and Life (Plataforma Editorial, 2012) and author of, among other books, Libroterapia (Plataforma Editorial, 2017, 2020) and The Invention of the Bicycle (Plataforma Editorial, 2020). We met via Zoom to discuss his book Book Therapy: Reading Is Life (Mensch Publishing, 2021). Our conversation covers, among other things: how actions and inactions characterize reading; whether or not reading 'betters' a person; Camus and being kind to others in an unhappy world; why we're motivated to share treasures and enthusiasms with friends, and how reading and writing is so very human. It's a lively, colourful encounter with a passionate reader, writer, publisher and white-shirt enthusiast.
51 min 22 sec
For years Paul Delaney was professor of English at the University of Moncton; prior to this he taught at various institutions in London, England. During his lifetime he has had an ongoing interest in Acadian genealogy, a topic upon which he continues to publish and conduct research. His biography of Charles de Sousy Ricketts (1866-1931), published in 1990, was the first major study of a man whose "spirited career encompassed many aspects of late Victorian and Edwardian culture," including fine press book design and production, stage design, typography, painting, sculpture, art criticism, and art collecting. Friends included W.B. Yeats, Thomas Moore, A. E. Housman, Oscar Wilde and many other luminaries of the period. Drawing upon a wide range of material, much of it unpublished and/or newly discovered at the time, Delaney "reveals a man of strong opinions and artistic convictions" who despite a fierce opposition to Post Impressionism and Modernism, was noted for his love and deep knowledge of art, as well as his wit, conviviality, generosity and artistic versatility. Delaney's biography illuminates cultural and artistic life in England during the 1890s and early decades of the 20th century, and provides a detailed portrait of one of the period's great personalities. Ricketts, during his lifetime, established a reputation as a great art connoisseur. In 1915 he turned down an offer to become director of the National Gallery, a decision he later regretted. He did however serve "disastrously" as adviser to the National Gallery of Canada from 1924 until his death in 1931. He also wrote three books of art criticism, two volumes of short stories and a memoir of Oscar Wilde. Selections from his letters and diaries were published posthumously. I met with Paul Delaney at his home in Moncton, New Brunswick, where we talked about, among other things, his nom de plume (J. G. P. Delaney), about Ricketts of course, and his adventurous mother; about Ricketts' long time companion artist Charles Shannon; about publisher and editor Rupert Hart Davis, and about Paul's experience writing the biography of artist Glyn Philpot.
1 hr 1 min
Andrew Coyne needs little introduction to Canadian audiences. He writes a weekly column for the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper and is a member of the At Issue panel on CBC TV's The National newscast. He has previously been national editor of Maclean's magazine and a columnist for the National Post newspaper. James Elliott Coyne (1910-2012) was a scholar, lawyer, public servant, family man, and "practicing eccentric." A Rhodes scholar, and captain of the Oxford University hockey team, he practiced law with his father in Winnipeg during the 1930s before joining the Bank of Canada's research bureau in 1938. He became deputy governor in 1950, and governor in 1955, succeeding Graham Towers. During his tenure he was embroiled in a much publicized conflict with Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, known as the Coyne Affair, which led to his resignation and a clarification in the role required of the governor of the Bank of Canada. I met with Andrew Coyne via Zoom to discuss his extraordinary father. Our conversation includes a response to my assertion that understanding James Coyne requires an appreciation of how deeply he felt about Canadian independence, and economic nationalism.
1 hr 8 min
Canada has an impressive tradition of producing great printer/trade-publishers. Three of our best are Stan Bevington, Tim Inkster, and Andrew Steeves. Ancient interviews with all three can be found here on The Biblio File website. The one with Andrew took place a dozen years ago, so I figured it was time to clock another. I drove down to Kentville, Nova Scotia last month, where Andrew lives and works, and sat down with him again, just inside the place where the wall cordoning off his office used to sit (it came down about a decade ago). Andrew bills himself as a writer, editor, typographer, letterpress printer and literary publisher. I know him as the co-founder (with Gary Dunfield) of Gaspereau Press. Over the past two decades he's won more than 50 citations for excellence in book design from Canada's Alcuin Society. His essay collection Smoke Proofs: Essays on Literary Publishing, Printing and Typography appeared in 2014. We talk here mostly about the specifics of book design and how Andrew makes books that very beautifully and aptly express their contents; plus "best" title selection, pilcrows, and the importance in life of paying attention.
1 hr 31 min
Michele K. Troy is professor of English at Hillyer College at the University of Hartford. She studies Anglo-American literary modernism in continental Europe and is the author of Strange Bird: The Albatross Press and the Third Reich, the first book to be written about the Albatross Press, a Penguin precursor, that entered into an uneasy relationship with the Nazi regime to keep Anglo-American literature alive under fascism. The press was, from its beginnings in 1932, a “strange bird”: a cultural outsider to the Third Reich but an economic insider. It was funded by British-Jewish interests. Its director was rumored to work for British intelligence. It distributed fiction in English by both mainstream and edgier modernist authors such as D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway to eager continental readers. Yet Albatross printed and sold its paperbacks from the heart of Hitler’s Reich. Michele and I talk about how weird this is, among other things.
1 hr 15 min
Since 1972, Dr. Steven Lomazow has been building a collection of important American periodicals; it's now considered to be the most extensive in private hands. "The Steven Lomazow Collection of American Periodicals has been curated for the purpose of demonstrating the role of magazines as a reflection of all aspects American popular culture from pre-revolutionary times to the present day." Highlights of the collection were featured in an exhibition at The Grolier Club in New York this Spring called Magazines and the American Experience. A celebration of this vitally important American medium, the exhibition illustrated, among other things, how magazines fostered the development of distinct communities of Americans by creating networks of communication. The accompanying catalogue expands upon the exhibition with a series of essays by leading media historians. It's enhanced by more than four hundred illustrations. Steven has been a consultant to the Newseum in Washington, D.C and is presently a member of the American Antiquarian Society. He is a board-certified neurologist with a practice in Belleville, New Jersey. We met via Zoom to discuss why collecting magazines is so pleasurable, American magazines in particular. The discussion references Vogue, Life, Look, Harper's, Leslie's, Hearst's and many more iconic publications.
1 hr 3 min
On this episode of The Biblio File Book Club Heather O'Neill and I discuss one of her favourite novels, Agota Kristof's The Notebook. This dark, fractured fairy tale of a story, told in simple, striking, visual language, describes the devastating impact of war on children and their families. Set in an unknown country during wartime it follows the lives of twin boys coping with life after they've been left by their mother to live with their dirty old grandmother. A dangerous weirdness ensues. We met at Le Figaro, a popular restaurant located in the Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal to talk about this disturbing, memorable work. Heather is a Canadian novelist, poet, short story writer, screenwriter and journalist, who published her debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, in 2006. It won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and the 2007 Canada Reads Competition. Other novels include The Girl Who Was Saturday Night and The Lonely Hearts Hotel. Her latest, When We Lost Our Heads, will be available on Feb. 1, 2022. Listen to the two of us as we compete for your attention with birds, trucks, screaming babies, and a tree full of cicadas.
Aimee Peake has been active in the antiquarian book business in Winnipeg for more than 20 years. She got her start as an apprentice to Michael Park, proprietor Greenfield Books. In 2000 she took over as manager of the newly-opened Bison Books, assuming sole proprietorship in 2010. In 2018 she purchased Greenfield and amalgamated it with Bison. You'll usually find Aimee in her bookshop on weekdays attending to customer needs and working on acquisitions, collections development and appraisals. Over the years she has exhibited books at fairs throughout North America, and in 2018 she participated in the ILAB Congress in Pasadena. Aimee is President of the Winnipeg Association of Secondhand Bookstores, and a board member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Canada. In addition to her work with Bison Books she also manages Dominion Auctions, a long-established Winnipeg-based art and antique auction house I visited her at her shop in downtown Winnipeg last month to find out what it was like to sell antiquarian books on the Prairies.
43 min 4 sec
Jack David launched the publishing house ECW in 1974 as the journal Essays on Canadian Writing - from which came the E, the C, and the W. For the next ten years the company focused on scholarly projects and occasionally dabbled in more accessible trade books and biographies. The breakthrough came when it decided in the early 90s to publish books about non-literary folk, the key title being a biography of country singer k.d. lang. The book broke out in the American market and illustrated to ECW that it could be successful publishing trade titles with universal appeal. ECW has followed this literary/commercial path ever since. "I love to be surprised," says Jack, "and I love to find myself reading something that I would never pick up in a bookstore (if any remain). In fact, I enjoy reading unsolicited proposals; I live in hope. I sometimes find myself reading a line or a passage to anyone who happens to be within earshot. I do this spontaneously because I like to share what I’m enjoying; and then I observe myself and register the fact that I want others to take pleasure in what I’m reading. That’s the impetus for signing up a book." Ken Whyte knows magazine and newspaper publishing. He was editor-in-chief of Saturday Night Magazine, founding editor-in-chief of the National Post newspaper, editor-in-chief and publisher at Maclean's Magazine, and President of Rogers Publishing Company. He's an accomplished author having written The Uncrowned King: the Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst, a Washington Post, LA Times, and Globe & Mail book of the year; a groundbreaking biography of Herbert Hoover; and most recently, The Sack of Detroit: General Motors and the End of American Enterprise, a book which is currently creating quite a stir across North America. Additional interesting things about Ken: he's chairman of the board of the Donner Canada Foundation, one of Canada's leading philanthropic organizations. He sits on the board of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the National NewsMedia Council, the Digital Policy Forum, and the Frontier Institute. He is a member of the advisory committee of the Cundill Prize, the world's richest prize for historical non-fiction, and a governor of the Aurea Foundation, which funds public policy research in Canada. Several years ago he launched Sutherland House Books, a publishing house based in Toronto, Canada which has world dominating aspirations, plus he writes Shush, a weekly newsletter on the publishing business. I invited these two gentlemen to join me for a Zoom conversation about Canadian book publishing and the lessons it might offer the world.
56 min 29 sec
Dr. Stephen Enniss is Director of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He has held previous appointments at the Folger Shakespeare Library and at Emory University’s Rare Book Library. His research interests are in 20th century poetry, and he has written on Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Seamus Heaney, among others. He is the author of After the Titanic: A Life of Derek Mahon (Gill and Macmillan, 2014). The Harry Ransom Center is one of the great rare book libraries of the world. Not only does it possess many of the greatest books and manuscripts ever written, it also has an outstanding record of promoting and exhibiting them, and making them available to researchers and the public. I invited Stephen to participate with me, and a group of Canadian book collectors I've recently helped assemble (working title for the club: Bibliophiles North), in a discussion about how collectors can best go about establishing relationships with rare book libraries in hopes of selling or donating their collections
Meghan Constantinou has been Head Librarian at The Grolier Club since 2011 and a Club member since 2013. Her research interests include the history of private collecting, women’s book ownership, and provenance studies. The Club Library collects, preserves, and makes accessible materials dedicated to the history and art of the book. Strengths of its collection include bibliographies, histories of printing and graphic processes, type specimens, fine and historic examples of printing, bookbinding, illustration, and, in particular, the literature of antiquarian book collecting and the book trade. I spoke with Meghan via Zoom about the Grolier's collection of private library catalogues, and asked her for advice, based on her lengthy study of the topic, on how collectors might best go about producing their own catalogues.
50 min 41 sec
One of the best ways to become a successful, fulfilled antiquarian bookseller is to establish close, long-lasting relationships with enthusiastic, committed, ideally well-heeled, collectors. Justin Schiller is a pioneer in the field of rare, collectible children's books. During his career he has developed extraordinary bonds with many passionate book lovers. His efforts over the years with several of them have resulted in some of the world's best known children's book collections. We talk about how he and these treasured customers scaled mountains together.
1 hr 2 min
Walter Lockhart Gordon (1906 – 1987) was a Canadian accountant, businessman, politician, and economic nationalist. Born in Toronto, he was educated at Upper Canada College and the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. Upon graduation he joined the family accounting firm of Clarkson, Gordon and Company. During World War II he served in the Bank of Canada and the federal Ministry of Finance. In 1946, he chaired the Royal Commission on Administrative Classifications in the Public Service. From 1955 to 1957 he chaired the Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prospects. The Commission's reports expressed concern about growing foreign ownership in the Canadian economy, particularly in the resource sector, and made recommendations to redress the problem. These were revisited by Gordon during his government career, notably in his poorly received budget of 1963. Gordon was Minister of Finance from 1963 to 1965 during Lester Pearson's first minority government. He quit in 1965, returned, and left for good in 1968. During his time in office he was responsible for the introduction of some of Canada's most important social programs. After leaving politics he returned to business but continued to argue, successfully, for economic nationalist causes. He published his political memoirs in 1977 and died in 1987. Stephen Azzi is one of the original core faculty members of the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management at Carleton University. Prior to academia he worked as aide to four different members of Parliament. From 2005 to 2011 he was associate professor at Laurentian University where he taught US history and foreign policy. At Carleton he has taught in the Political Management program, the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, the School of Canadian Studies, and the Departments of History, and Political Science. His research specialties are prime ministerial leadership in Canada, Canada–US relations, and Canadian economic and cultural nationalism. We met via Zoom, to talk Gordon, and to riff off Steve's book Walter Gordon and the Rise of Canadian Nationalism (MQUP, 1999)
Don Lindgren established Rabelais Books in 2006. The bookshop now operates out of Biddeford, Maine and specializes in Artists’ Books, Cocktails, Cookbooks, Farm and Garden, Gastronomy, History of Food, Rare Periodicals, and Wine. We met years ago when I sought him out in Portland to talk about collecting cookbooks (Listen here). As we parted Don handed me a copy of his first Rabelais catalogue with the big salami on its cover. I've been intrigued with them (bookseller catalogues) ever since. Don has a sizeable collection, and whenever we get together we talk about them. Several months ago we decided to make it formal by devoting an episode of The Biblio File podcast to discussing the design and content of these great and various sales vehicles. I reached out to several booksellers, including Simon Beattie, Heather O'Donnell, Jonathan Hill, Glenn Horowitz, Mark Funke, Biblioctopus and Brian Cassidy, all of whom kindly send me examples of their outstanding work. Then Don and I got down to business.
1 hr 48 min
According to his website, "In 1995, Bruce Batchelor rocked the publishing industry when he invented print-on-demand (POD) publishing and triggered a landslide of new books from every country in the world." Did he invent it? You'll have to listen to the podcast to find out. Since 1995, more than 1,000,000 writers, says Bruce, "have seized the opportunity to be published through services such as Agio (his small publishing consultancy firm), Author Services, Kindle Direct Publishing and many other publishing houses." Bruce was CEO of Trafford Publishing for11 years, and is now owner/publisher at Agio Publishing House in Victoria, BC, Canada. He's a "bestselling" author and management consultant, and speaks at various writer and academic conferences. We talk here about the explosion in self-publishing that occurred during the 1990s, and the role that he and Trafford Publishing played in it.
1 hr 5 min
"Ursula Nordstrom (1910 - 1988) was publisher and editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row from 1940 to 1973. She is credited with presiding over a transformation in children's literature in which morality tales written for adult approval gave way to works that instead appealed to children's imaginations and emotions." She authored the 1960 children's book The Secret Language, and a collection of her correspondence, edited by Leonard Marcus, entitled Dear Genius: the Letters of Ursula Nordstrom was published in 1998. Harper's received three Newbery Medals and two Caldecott Medals during Nordstom's tenure. She edited some of the milestones of children's literature, including E. B. White's Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte's Web (1952), Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon (1947), Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), and Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur (1958). Other authors she edited included Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ruth Krauss, and Charlotte Zolotow. I talk to Leonard Marcus here about everything Ursula. Photo credit: Sonya Sones.
1 hr 3 min
Marion Sinclair has been Chief Executive of Publishing Scotland since 2008, with responsibility for program management, funding bids, policy, the International Publishing Fellowship program, publishing practice issues and reporting to Creative Scotland. She has worked in the book publishing sector for more than 30 years, at Polygon from 1988-97 (awarded Sunday Times UK Small Publisher of the Year in 1993) then as a university lecturer in publishing, before joining PS in 2003. Marion is also a board member of the Gaelic Books Council (ex-officio), of the book distributor BookSource, and Literature Alliance Scotland, she's also a committee member of the Sabhal Mor Ostaig Library Advisory Group, and Saltire Society Publisher of the Year panel. We met via Zoom to talk about what Publishing Scotland does to help Scottish publishers. Towards the end of our conversation I try to wheedle some advice out of Marion for Canada.
59 min 46 sec
Conrad Black - in full, Conrad Moffat Black, Lord Black of Crossharbour - was born in 1944, in Montreal. He is an author, columnist, historian, and businessman who built the third largest newspaper group in the world during the 1980s and 1990s. At its height the organization controlled nearly 250 newspapers including the London Daily Telegraph, the Fairfax Group in Australia, The Jerusalem Post, Southam Press in Canada, and the Chicago Sun-Times. Black studied history and political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, earned a law degree from Laval University in 1970, and a Masters degree in history from McGill University in 1973. For his thesis he wrote a biography of former Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis; published in 1977, it came to be considered a definitive work. He entered the newspaper business in 1967 as part owner of two small Quebec weeklies, on the way to establishing his media empire. He currently lives in Toronto with his wife Barbara Amiel. We met via Zoom to talk about his various book and model ship collections, Napoleon, Roosevelt, his collecting habits, and his long-term fulfilling relationship with books. First off however he vigorously defends himself against charges that were successfully levelled against him by U.S. federal prosecutors in the mid-2000s.
John Brookshire Thompson is a British sociologist, a professor at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of Jesus College. His work over the past two decades has focused particularly on the publishing industry. Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States (Polity, 2005) presents an analysis of higher education publishing from 1980 to 2005. Much of the analysis is based on industry interviews made on condition of anonymity. His Merchants of Culture (Polity, 2009) covers in a similar way, the entire publishing and bookselling industry from the 1960s to 2008. We talk here about his latest book Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing (Polity, 2021) which tells the story of book publishing's wild ride over the past decade - the surge of e-books, the self-publishing explosion and the growing popularity of audiobooks - plus successful and failed attempts to create new businesses in this space. It's a comprehensive, dense (in a good way) human read; and, if you love books as I do, an extremely entertaining way to spend 15 hours or so.
1 hr 28 min
Ruth Panofsky is Professor of English at Ryerson University in Toronto. She is a leading scholar of the history of publishing and authorship in Canada and Canadian Jewish literature, an award-winning poet and a Fellow of the Royal Society. We met via Zoom to discuss her most recent book Toronto Trailblazers: Women in Canadian Publishing (2019, U of T Press) which explores the influence of seven women who helped advance a modern literary culture in Canada. "Publisher Irene Clarke, scholarly editors Eleanor Harman and Francess Halpenny, trade editors Sybil Hutchinson, Claire Pratt, and Anna Porter, and literary agent Bella Pomer made the most of their vocational prospects, first by securing their respective positions and then by refining their professional methods. Individually, each woman asserted her agency by adapting orthodox ways of working within Canadian publishing. Collectively, their overarching approach emerged as a feminist practice. Through their vision and method these trailblazing women disrupted the dominant masculine paradigm and helped transform publishing practice in Canada." We talk about writing these women back into the history of Canadian publishing, and end off with a look at the challenges that face Canada's current book publishing industry.
Dwight Garner is an American journalist and a longtime writer and editor for the New York Times. In 2008, he was named a book critic for the newspaper. Garner's previous post at The New York Times was as senior editor of The New York Times Book Review, where he worked from 1999 to 2008. He was a founding editor of Salon.com where he worked from 1995 to 1998. Garner now lives, or will shortly live, in New Orleans. He is married to Cree LeFavour, author of the memoir Lights On, Rats Out and several acclaimed cookbooks. His most recent book is called Garner's Quotations: A Modern Miscellany. We met via Zoom to talk about his book Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements.
Mark Samuels Lasner is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Delaware Library, and one of the world's great book collectors. The Mark Samuels Lasner Collection focuses on British literature and art from 1850 to 1900, with an emphasis on the Pre-Raphaelites and writers and illustrators of the 1890s. It comprises more than 9,500 books, letters, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, and artworks, including many items signed by such figures as Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Max Beerbohm, William Morris, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Aubrey Beardsley. In 2016 Mark donated his collection, worth more than $10 million, to the University of Delaware. It's the largest and most valuable gift in the Library’s history. We connected via Zoom to talk about Mark's childhood and his incipient interest in England and the late Victorian period, his early book collecting - the how and why of it - the extraordinarily talented and well dressed essayist, caricaturist, and critic Max Beerbohm; fun, friendships, favourite booksellers, fashion and much more.
1 hr 26 min
David Frum is a Canadian-American political commentator and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is the author of ten books, most recently TRUMPOCALYPSE: Restoring American Democracy (HarperCollins, 2020). His first book, Dead Right, won praise from William F. Buckley as “the most refreshing intellectual experience in a generation” and from Frank Rich in the New York Times as “the smartest book written from the inside about the American conservative movement.” He is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and authored the first book about Bush's presidency written by a former member of the administration. As a young man he was enamored with C.S. Forester's Hornblower stories. Together we examined two of them for The Biblio File Book Club. Listen as we talk about rice, morals, codes, lying, punishment, being true to yourself, normal lives, leadership, and the Mafia, among other things.
45 min 34 sec
Odette Drapeau is a leader, educator and innovator in the practice of fine bookbinding. She founded her bookbinding workshop The Headband in Montreal in 1979. For more than 50 years she has refined her work though the innovative use of materials including fish leathers, high-tech fibres and LED lights. Through her creative use of stunning textures and colours she has achieved a level of excellence that has been widely heralded, including, most recently by The Alcuin Society which bestowed its Robert R. Reid Award for lifetime achievement in the book arts in Canada upon her. Odette is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art, and was head of the Association of Quebec Bookbinders between 1988-91. She has exhibited at solo and group shows more than fifty times at venues in Europe, Canada and the United States. We talk here about her long, accomplished career, her thoughts about "the book," and her work philosophy.
1 hr 3 min
Only seventeen women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature since it started in 1901. That's 17 out of 119 winners. In order to rectify this imbalance, an important new prize has been established. The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction is "the first English-language literary award to celebrate creativity and excellence in fiction by women writers in the United States and Canada." I wanted to learn more about Carol Shields, so I read Startle and Illuminate, Carol Shields on Writing and interviewed one of its editors, Anne Giardini, who also happens to be Carol's daughter in addition to being a writer, and Chancellor of Simon Fraser University. Startle and Illuminate is culled from decades worth of Carol's correspondence, essays, notes, comments, criticism and lectures, and drawn together by Anne and her son Nicholas. Anne and I talk here about, among other things, Carol's thoughts and advice on the craft of writing; redemption; Carol's voice on the page and in the air; the existence of ordinary, boring people; the invisibility of women's lives; group courage; rootedness; and candles matching housecoats.
52 min 38 sec
Dan Mozersky enjoyed a long and fruitful career in Canada's retail book industry. As a founding member of Indigo Books & Music's executive team he was instrumental in turning the company's vision into reality. During the 1990s he served as manager of U.S. Operations for Classic Books in New York. Prior to this he founded and owned a chain of retail bookstores in Ottawa and Montreal. Active in the Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA), he served as director, vice president, and chair of various industry committees. In 1985 he was recognized by the Canadian Book Publishers' Professional Association as bookseller of the year. We talk here in Part ll of our conversation about Dan's work with the CBA, and how he helped establish Indigo Books, Canada's largest chain of big box bookstores.
1 hr 13 min
Bill Waiser is a western Canadian historian. He has published more than a dozen books– many of them prize-winning. A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, for example, won the 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. Bill has been appointed to the Order of Canada, awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, named a distinguished university professor, and granted a D.Litt. He was the 2018 recipient of the Royal Society of Canada J.B. Tyrrell medal, presented for “outstanding work” in Canadian history, as well as the 2018 Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media: The Pierre Berton Award. We talk about his most recent book In Search of Almighty Voice, Resistance and Reconciliation (Fifth House, 2020), about the life of Almighty Voice - a member of the One Arrow Willow Cree who died violently at the hands of Canada's North-West Mounted Police in 1897 - and how his violent death spawned a succession of conflicting stories — in newspapers, magazines, pulp fiction, plays and film; about how history is written and re-written, and why an 'accurate' depiction of the life and death of Almighty Voice matters. Clarification: According to Statscan indigenous people make up 4.9% of Canada's population, 16.3% of Saskatchewan's population.
53 min 13 sec
Matt Dorfman is an internationally recognized designer and illustrator. He is the art director of the New York Times Book Review and former art director of the New York Times Op-Ed page. Additionally, he maintains a one-person office specializing in work for publishers, film, theater and various cultural institutions. I talked with Matt recently about his selection of the best book covers of 2020 for the New York Times Book Review - dissecting his decision-making process and judgement calls. Among other things we discuss the differences between designing the book review and op-ed sections, the delays between creating a jacket design and it appearing in public, dust jackets capturing zeitgeists, the tension between commerce and art, the power of jealousy, gateway drugs John Gall, David Pearson, and Roy Kuhlman, being haunted by Barbara de Wilde, Carin Goldberg, and Louise Fili, collecting dust jackets, how much our wives hate books, and visual literacy.
49 min 46 sec
Richard Nash is a coach, strategist, and serial entrepreneur. He led partnerships and content at the culture discovery start-up Small Demons and the new media app Byliner. Previously he ran independent publishers Soft Skull Press and Red Lemonade where he published Maggie Nelson, Lynne Tillman, Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen, Alain Mabanckou, and many others. He was awarded the Association of American Publishers’ Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing in 2005. We met via Zoom (as I'm sure you'll be able to tell) to talk more about his article 'What is the Business of Literature?', about where publishing has been, technology and "the shock of the old," repurposing technology, essential reading, the influence of capitalism on publishing, copyright, great books not seeing the light of day, dance floors, reading, and the richness of book history.
49 min 28 sec
Will Schwalbe has spent most of his life in publishing: at William Morrow, and then at Hyperion, where he was Editor in Chief. In January 2008 he left Hyperion to found a startup called Cookstr.com and ran that for six years. It’s now part of Macmillan Publishers, where he has worked since 2014. His books include Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do it Better with his friend David Shipley. The End of Your Life Book Club, about the books he read with his mother when she was dying. And Books For Living, about the role books can play in our lives and how they can show us how to live each day more fully and with more meaning. He lives in New York City with his husband David Cheng In addition to Books for Living, we talk about Faber, Sonny Mehta, Rohinton Mistry, reasons for reading, adults reading to children - and their conversations, greater powers, book clubs, cook books, Christopher Isherwood, giving and sharing conversations about books for birthdays, tyranny, and my new venture, Literary Retreats.
1 hr 8 min
Since 2012, Jason Rovito has been working with institutional and private collectors to grow the documentary value of their collections "because the Cloud forgets." Subject strengths include: the avant-garde, design, the human sciences, and visual culture across the full spectrum of Special Collections formats: rare books, ephemera, manuscripts, photographs, prints, audio/visual materials, and archives. Jason is a member of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of Canada (ABAC), and the Ephemera Society of America (ESA), and is committed to their codes of ethics. Based in Toronto, he regularly exhibits at fairs in New York, Toronto, and London. Jason has been touted by many as one of the talented "new antiquarians" who are discerning value in all sorts of interesting and unusual places. We talk about this entrepreneurial tradition among successful bookseller down the ages; about Italy, and prisons, and virtual book fairs, and much more.
1 hr 1 min
Marc Côté is President of Cormorant Books, a literary publishing house noted for its discovery and development of Canadian writing talent and the publishing of Quebecois fiction translated into English. He has won Canada's Libris Award for editor of the year twice, and Cormorant has won the Libris Award for small presses three times. At Cormorant Marc has acquired and edited many award-nominated books. The Great Gatsby is a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published by Scribner's in 1925. Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island it depicts narrator Nick Carraway's relationship with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, and Gatsby's obsessive desire to reunite with his former lover Daisy Buchanan. The Biblio File Book Club is series of book discussions with smart people about books that they believe are important; books they would recommend to loved ones...books they consider to be essential reading. Zoom wasn't behaving very well during our conversation, so apologies for the irritating distortions, etc.
35 min 54 sec
Richard Ovenden has been Bodley’s Librarian (the senior executive position of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford) since 2014. He is a Fellow at the Society of Antiquaries and Royal Society of Arts; a member of the American Philosophical Society; Treasurer, at the Consortium of European Research Libraries; and President of the Digital Preservation Coalition. He was awarded the OBE by The Queen in 2019. And almost as big a deal, he joined me recently on Zoom to talk about his new book, Burning the Books, a history of the deliberate destruction of knowledge; about the threats to libraries past and present; about fire, war, violence, obsolescence, complacency and underfunding. And about the fragility of libraries, and their fundamental importance to democracy, to truth and facts, to the rule of law, in short, to our treasured Western way of life.
52 min 52 sec
Dan Mozersky enjoyed a long and fruitful career in the retail book industry. As a founding member of Indigo Books & Music's executive team he was instrumental in turning the company's vision into reality ( we talk about this in Part ll of our conversation). During the 1990s he served as manager of U.S. Operations for Classic Books in New York. Prior to this he founded and owned a chain of retail bookstores in Ottawa and Montreal. Active in the Canadian Booksellers Association, he served as director, vice president, and chair of various industry committees. In 1985 he was recognized by the Canadian Book Publishers' Professional Association as bookseller of the year. We talk here in Part l of our conversation about how Dan built his successful chain of bricks and mortar bookstores.
1 hr 19 min
Mary Newberry is a Toronto-based freelance editor, indexer, and teacher. Her early passion was dancing. The self-discipline she learned from it is today one of her greatest assets. She works mostly with humanities-related texts: academic, government, literary, creative arts and general interest, and lately, in memoir. She has a long-term relationship with social justice and diversity, and enjoys working in these areas. Scholarly editing is one of her specialties. She enjoys complex materials, helping to bring clarity and concision to emerging ideas. She often works with scholars for whom English is an additional language, and teaches indexing in a course she developed for Ryerson University's Publishing Program. In 2016, she won the Ewart-Daveluy Award for excellence in indexing. We talk here about the history and practice of indexing, looking specifically at her notable work on Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, in addition to several of her award-winning books.
The son of prominent book collector Kenneth E. Hill, Jonathan A. Hill grew up in a house filled with old books. After graduating from university in 1974 he served a classic apprenticeship, working for four leading antiquarian booksellers in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. In 1978 he started his own company and has specialized in science, medicine, natural history, bibliography and the history of book collecting, and early printed books. For the past 20 years he has, partnering with his wife Megumi, also sold antiquarian Japanese, Chinese, and Korean illustrated books, manuscripts, and scrolls. During the past 43 years the company has issued more than 230 catalogues devoted to these various subjects. It is thanks to them that I contacted Jonathan. We talk here about his (and Jerry Kelly's) impressive work, and about bookseller catalogues in general.
46 min 18 sec
Miriam Borden, a teacher of Yiddish and PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto, is winner of the 2020 Honey and Wax Book Collecting Prize for “Building a Nation of Little Readers: Twentieth-Century Yiddish Primers and Workbooks for Children.” Borden collects twentieth-century Yiddish educational materials. Language primers form the core of her collection which also includes songbooks and workbooks, flash cards, and scripts from school plays. These artifacts testify to a once-thriving Yiddish school system across North America, a network that collapsed after World War II as Jewish immigrants assimilated and Hebrew emerged as the language of the State of Israel. As a teacher of Yiddish, Borden now uses these vintage materials to instruct adults hoping to reconnect with a lost part of their heritage. This from her winning essay: “There was no heirloom china in the house where I grew up, no silver from grandmother’s chest to be taken out and polished for holidays and family celebrations. That china had all been shattered, the silver stolen. . .The heirlooms, and most of the family, were lost. But that does not mean I am bereft of inheritance. I was raised with an heirloom language, a treasure that could be taken out and polished and used on those rare moments when no word in English or Polish or Hebrew would fit the occasion. I was raised to speak the language of the dead. But never for a moment did it ever dawn on me that it was a dead language.” Miriam’s collection represents "an impressive effort of historical preservation and an inspiring example of how a collection that began as something personal becomes a collective resource," said the Prize judges. You can read her winning essay and bibliography here.
51 min 12 sec
Martin Latham has been a bookseller for thirty-five years. He has a PhD in Indian history, and taught at Hertfordshire University before turning to bookselling. He is proud to be responsible for the biggest petty-cash claim in Waterstones' history, when he paid for the excavation of a Roman bath-house floor under his bookshop. Martin's books include Kent's Strangest Tales, Londonopolis, and most recently The Bookseller's Tale which we talk about in this episode. It's really a book full of tales about books of course, and bookstores, libraries, chapbooks, marginalia, women readers and collectors - chock full of fascinating biblio adventures. I highly recommend it.
1 hr 7 min
The Bookshelf bookshop in Guelph, Ontario was established in 1973 by Barb and Doug Minett. In 1980 it became The Bookshelf Cafe - Canada's first bookstore cafe/restaurant. Shortly thereafter an ambitious plan was conceived to add a cinema and bar to what was then the roof of the building. During implementation, University of Guelph physics professor and longtime customer, Jim Hunt, trained a team of 10 cafe servers and booksellers in the art & science of 35mm projection. In 1988 The Bookshelf Cinema showed its first film. Over 20,000 shows and 1,000,000 cinema goers later, the cinema continues to offer 14-15 shows a week with its fancy digital projection and great sound system. Shortly thereafter bookshelf.ca (Canada's first full-service online bookstore - sold to Indigo in the late 90s) was launched. The Bookshelf team also embarked on "the great leap sideways" expanding all aspects of the emporium by re-building the building next door and adding a music venue: the eBar. Many great Canadian musical talents have graced the eBar stage. The bar serves up great craft beers and dj's and dancing every Saturday night. Over the years The Bookshelf has operated a number of food and beverage operations - originally with its own staff and later in collaboration with others. In 2015 The Bookshelf welcomed Miijidaa ("Let's Eat") as its restaurant collaborator. My conversation with Doug Minett starts with him in Europe, with his future wife Barb, the year prior to their setting up shop, and ends with discussion of cibabooks.ca and Doug's role as acting Executive Director.
1 hr 14 min
It was on Twitter a couple of months ago that I noticed this tweet celebrating the work of one Bianca Gillam (@BinxGillam). 'You're the best special sales assistant ever', it said, or words to that effect. Hmm I thought. What, I wonder, does a special sales assistant do at a publishing house - I'd noticed that she worked at Simon & Schuster ( @simonschusterUK ). I wasn't sure. So I tweeted at Bianca, inviting her to appear on the podcast to explain just exactly what she does.
56 min 40 sec
Last year at about this time David Gilmour and I sat down together to talk about "Mojave" one of Truman Capote's greatest short stories. We enjoyed ourselves so much we decided to do it again, this time with "Shut a Final Door." Capote wrote this story when he was only 23 years old. David contends that it strongly foreshadows how Truman's actual life would unfold - as a slow, messy descent into hell. Perfect fare for the holiday season. Merry Christmas everyone. Thanks for listening! Photo by Jack Mitchell
Virago is a London-based British publishing company committed to publishing women's writing and books on "feminist" topics. Established by women in the 1970s in tandem with the Women's Liberation Movement (WLM), Virago has done much to address inequitable gender dynamics in the publishing world, and, unlike anti-capitalist publishing ventures, has branded itself a commercial alternative in a male dominated publishing industry, seeking to compete with mainstream international presses. Initially known as Spare Rib Books, Virago was founded by Carmen Callil in 1973 primarily to publish books by women writers. From the get-go the company sought two sorts of books: original works, and out-of-print books by neglected female writers. The latter were reissued under the "Modern Classics" label, which launched in 1978 In 1982, Virago became a wholly owned subsidiary Random House, USA, but in 1987 Callil, Lennie Goodings and others put together a management buy-out. After a downturn in the market, the board decided to sell Virago to Little, Brown, of which Virago became an imprint in 1996 (with Lennie as Publisher). In 2006, Virago became part of the Hachette publishing group with Lennie acting as editor and publisher. She is now Chair of Virago. Today the company's stated mission is to "champion women’s voices and bring them to the widest possible readership around the world. From fiction and politics to history and classic children’s stories, its writers continue to win acclaim, break new ground and enrich the lives of readers." I met Lennie via Zoom to talk about her life with Virago, as described in her new memoir A Bite of the Apple, published by OUP around the world, and by mighty Biblioasis in Canada.
59 min 17 sec
Martin Amis was born in Oxford in 1949 and is a British novelist, essayist, and memoirist - all of whom show up to contribute to his latest novel, Inside Story. As it happens I read Lolita in tandem with Inside Story, so the front-end of our conversation is laden with nasty Nabokovian-related questions. Since Vladimir, along with Saul Bellow, has heavily influenced Martin's writing over the years, I decided this was fair game. Amis is best known for his novels Money (1984) and London Fields (1989). He received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his memoir Experience and has been nominated for the Booker Prize twice (shortlist for Time's Arrow and longlist for Yellow Dog). He served as Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Manchester until 2011, and is considered one of the most influential novelists of our times. We met via Zoom to talk about everything he throws into this novel, plus the way he frames it. Nabokov looms large, as I say, as does Christopher Hitchens, and, towards the end, ketchup and relish. Like many of Amis's other works, Inside Story contains plenty of very good laughs - one pretty well every 3-4 pages (in between, I frequently caught myself wearing a wide smirk). There's a lot to be said for this, and for some genuinely beautiful writing in the novel, particularly about Israel; plus there's a fair amount of engaging literary criticism. In short, it's well worth spending time with this excellent hybrid; as, I hope you'll agree, it is with this interview... It starts mid-sentence, with the two of us talking about Chip Kidd's dust jacket design.
48 min 40 sec
"Martin Parr's celebrated photographs bridge the divide between art and documentary photography. His studies of the idiosyncrasies of mass culture and consumerism around the world, his innovative imagery, and his prolific output have placed him firmly at the forefront of contemporary art. He is an avid collector and maker of photobooks. His own photobooks include The Last Resort (1986), Common Sense (iggg) and Boring Postcards (Phaidon Press, 1999), and he is the subject of the monograph Martin Parr by Val Williams (Phaidon Press, 2002)." Together with Gerry Badger he is the co-author of The Photobook: A History, a beautiful three-volume set of books that offer an engrossing, admittedly subjective survey of the "best" photography books ever published, beginning with early experiments in the medium in mid-19yh-century England and ending with "raucous Japanese photo-diaries of the 1990s." I question Martin about his collection criteria - how he arrived at "best," and how various artistic and social movements influenced the look and content of photobooks over the decades.
55 min 54 sec
...in which I posit that raising funds is a primary motivator explaining why scientists write, and Lawrence disagrees; and the two of us argue over the similarities and differences between art and science... The combatants tend to confuse human-made with nature-made art, and possibly don't even actually disagree, if we're talking big picture. Anyway, the conversation is lively, if nothing else. Throughout the episode we reference Lawrence's entertaining, readable book The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far. It "deals with the current scientific understanding of the creation of the Universe and gives a history of how scientists have formulated the Standard Model of Particle Physics. Lawrence Krauss is a writer and an American-Canadian theoretical physicist and cosmologist who has over the years taught at Arizona State University, Yale University, and Case Western Reserve University. He founded ASU's Origins Project, now called ASU Interplanetary Initiative, to investigate fundamental questions about the universe, and served as it's director. He retired in May 2019 and is currently President of The Origins Project Foundation and host of The Origins Podcast with Lawrence Krauss.
37 min 58 sec
Patrick McGahern has been operating an antiquarian bookshop in Ottawa, Canada's capital, since 1969. Today it continues to thrive under the management of Patrick's son Liam. The store specializes in Used and Rare Books, Canadiana, Americana, Arctic, Antarctic, Travel, Natural History & Voyages, Illustrated & Plate Books, Rare Books, Irish and Scottish History and Literature. I met Patrick via Zoom to celebrate his 51 years in business, to try to learn some of what he's learned over the years, and to talk about some of the more colourful bookseller colleagues in the trade, including Grant Woolmer, Jerry Sherlock and Bernard Amtmann
1 hr 8 min