Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Review: The Perilous Trade by Roy MacSkimming

A fascinating exploration of the past sixty years in Canadian book publishing, with lots of anecdotes and detail. In the past sixty years, Canadian writing and publishing has come of age. This fascinating story, subtitled ‘Publishing Canada’s Writers’, is well told by Roy MacSkimming, a former publisher and author himself, through numerous anecdotes and profiles of the major players involved. This literary who’s who focuses on key luminaries such as the gentlemanly John Gray of Macmillan, the forward thinking Marsh Jeanneret of University of Toronto Press, and Jack McClelland of McClelland & Stewart, perhaps the most renowned of all Canadian publishers. The author turns what could have been a dry history lesson into an often riveting read. For example, the delirious story of Canadian publishing in the sixties, a time when small presses seemed to bloom overnight, is told in a chapter titled ‘Printed in Canada by Mindless Acid Freaks’. MacSkimming researched his subject thoroughly, conducting 99 interviews with Canadian publishers and writers. The story of the astounding rise of children’s literature is a highlight of the book. Award-winning publishers such as Tundra and world famous authors such as Robert Munsch (his little book, Love You Forever, had sold an astounding 17 million copies as of 2002) have made kidlit a beacon of hope in the tough business of publishing. The book drags slightly near the end when the author discusses the endless financial problems of publishers and the devious machinations of government bureaucracies, but all in all, this is a fine and fair survey of what just might have been the golden age of Canadian publishing.

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