Lament for an Ocean: The Collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery: A True Crime Story|
by Michael Harris
My Canada: What Happened?
by Laurier L. Lapierre
Chilton's Repair Manual Colt Challenger Conquest-Vista 1971-88: All U.S. and Canadian Models, Including Turbocharged Engines and 4-Wheel Drive (Chilton Book C)
by Kerry A. Freeman (Editor)
Canada and the United States: The Politics of Partnership (Twayne International History, Series No 10)
by Robert Bothwell
The Un-Canadians : true stories of the Blacklist Era
by Len Scher
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|Best Of The Rest
by Brian Fawcett
A better-late-than-never look at some notable 1992 titles
LAST YEAR`S grab-bag worthy but unreviewed books contained what I thought, and still think, as the most important book published in Canada in 1991 - Linda McQuaig`s The Quick and the Dead: Brian Mulroney, Big Business, and the Seduction of Canada (Penguin). There are some fine books in the bag this year, but none of them quite matches up to McQuaig`s remarkable volume. I guess that means, among other things, that we did a better editorial job in 1992. But perhaps it just means that the publishers got the books to us in time, BiCs editors took a shorter vacation, and fewer reviewers had their dogs run over at deadline time. Last year I awarded a prize for the best book on my list, but I`m still waiting for the winner to collect it. As with last year`s winner, I`m again offering lunch, and my editor is still refusing to pay for it. Ah, the pleasures of a recession....
In the era before Patrick Watson started breathing the same political helium our federal governments have been on, Laurier LaPierre was a respected and fairly sensible journalist - or at least that`s what people on the West Coast believed when he moved out to Vancouver. There, he became (in no particular order) a nationalist cheerleader, television bon vivant, restaurateur, and freelance bilingual Bert Parks for whoever wanted his services. Most recently, he has been host of a New Age openmouth show on CBC television that had a lot of people trying to figure out whether LaPierre was again stretching the limits of openmindedness or if he`d just misplaced his mind.
Canada, My Canada: What Happened? (McClelland & Stewart, 256 pages, $14.99 paper) isn`t going to convince many people one way or the other. The first 200 pages are a warp-speed primer on Canadian history filled with grand metaphors and mind-boggling historical simplifications - the sort of thing one imagines the CBC issuing to fledgling journalists. Parts of it are admirably written and remarkably concise, and I`m sure it will be quite helpful to anyone born after, say, last Tuesday. Most of the other 50 pages in the book are an explanation of what LaPierre thought he was doing as the executive administer/chief facilitator of the federal government`s Citizens` Forum on Canada`s Future, which was chaired by Keith Spicer and ran during the first part of 1991 as an antidote to the Meech Lake constitutional fiasco. just to prove you can never quite dismiss this guy, he also offers a surprisingly helpful and perspicacious analysis of Quebec`s anti-federalist hierarchy.
The limitations of Canada, My Canada are pretty much the same as those exhibited in LaPierre`s previous work. He`s a popularizer who never delves too deep beneath the populist metaphors he lives
by and thinks with, but he means well, and is always careful not to offend. Such an approach has its limits, but it`s safe to suggest that Canada would be a better country if we had more people like LaPierre - like about three or four more.
Winging It: The Making of the Canadian Challenger (Macmillan, 288 pages, $34.95 paper), by the Canadian Business writer Stuart Logie, is a carefully written and researched study of how Canadair`s Challenger jet program cost Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars and landed up as a corporate success story. One could, of course, just as easily reverse things and say that it`s a business and technological success story that incidentally happened to cost taxpayers a lot of money. That`s certainly closer to Logie`s view of it. He`s a master of not coming to the obvious outraged conclusion, and for that readers ought to be thankful. It allows him to reveal just how schizoid and waste" the current privatization process has been, how intertwined government/corporate relations actually are in a mixed capitalist economy such as ours, and what little relationship exists between ideology and actuality. Readers will close this book - probably after reading it through to the end - and shake their heads in resignation. Logie has given us an object lesson in just how complicated economic life has become, and 1, for one, am grateful for the experience.
Len Scher`s The Un-Canadians: True Stories of the Blacklist Era (Lester, 288 pages, $18.95 paper) is a series of oral-history interviews taken from Canadian victims of the McCarthy era, and an analysis of the degree of spillover from that disgraceful episode in US history into Canadian life. Scher`s parents were Polish Jews who escaped the Holocaust and emigrated to Canada in 195 1. Scher grew up in Montreal amid what must have been an exhilarating brew of Communist party members and sympathizers and Zionists, and the book is a homage to his blacklisted father.
What the 69 Canadians he interviewed have to say about the spinelessness and cupidity of the Canadian government and its police is often uplifting, frequently funny, and - more frequently -depressingly familiar. But the effect of reading all the interviews together is strangely unsatisfying. Part of the reason is that Scher`s introductory explanations are too brief, and his analyses stay laconically close to the subject matter, as if it`s enough just to point out the stupid banality of the RCMP, the government, and those who succumbed to the McCarthyite miasma seeping across the border. He takes no more than a cursory peek at the present or future, and neither do the interviewees. In the interviews that concerned the CBC and other cultural and journalistic issues, especially, I`d have liked to see some attempt to bridge the gap
between what happened then and what is currently happening with libel chill and the CBCs slithering around over The Valour and the Horror. Still, The Un-Canadians is a fine book; it just should have been 100 pages longer.
Writing a book on any aspect of Canadian history that contains just three women (Barbra Streisand, Rachel Carson, and Elizabeth 11) in the index and makes no mention of Louis Riel is distinctly unfashionable and perhaps unwise thing to do, but Robert Bothwell, a history professor at the University of Toronto, has done just that with Canada and the United States: The Politics of Partnership (University of Toronto, 208 pages, $35 cloth, $16.95 paper). If this transgression of current intellectual protocol had been deliberate, it might have been almost exciting Unfortunately, it isn`t. Bothwell seems to have no idea what he`s done, which is to describe the history of Canada-US relationships as an ongoing negotiation between guys dressed in business suits and military uniforms. Not to question his historiographic method or anything, but will people 100 years from now - the audience his solemnly disembodied voice seems to be addressing - have any idea what he`s talking about?
If you want the goods on what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement (Lester, 265 pages, $26.95 cloth) has its research outline right in the title. The author, Timothy Brook, is a colleague of Robert Bothwell at the University of Toronto, and it`s tempting to speculate on whether or not they understand each other when they meet in the hallways. A comparison of the two texts is probably unfair to Bothwell, whose frame of reference is so broad that he`d probably cram China`s recent dissident democracy initiatives into about two paragraphs if he were writing about the country.
Brook`s text is anything but distant and laconic. It reads like a symphony, and the author`s interweaving of in-depth analysis and eyeball- to-tank-turret narrative is masterly. Personally, I happen to think his historiographic method has more range and penetration than Bothwell`s, and that the differences have nothing to do with intellectual fashion. Brook is a very fine writer, and the risks he takes with his research bear larger and more palatable fruit than that of his colleague.
A different kettle of fish again (so to speak) is Michael Harris`s Rare Ambition: The Crosbies of Newfoundland (Penguin, 224 pages, $27.99 cloth). It`s a lot more than a political biography of the Tory cabinet minister John Crosbie, which is what one might expect as another election year approaches. That`s because there`s a lot more to Crosbie than meets the eye - which in recent years has mostly involved watching a loose cannon rolling around the deck of the federal Tory ship, firing salvoes at anything and everything but Brian Mulroney. Crosbie, it turns out, is just one of a long line of loose cannons - fascinating ones, but loose cannons just the same.
Harris`s book is well researched, witty, and well worth the read. He`s aware that what he`s depicting is a very complicated low comedy with epic proportions, and he rarely misses either the fun or the ironies with which political life in Newfoundland is rife. Well, maybe he misses one. At the end of the book there is a rather lyrical tableau in which Joey Smallwood`s great-grandson
arrives at an elementary school to be greeted by John Crosbie IV, the son of the cabinet minister`s first Cousin. One of the boy`s parents remarks that history seems to be repeating itself, and Harris concludes with a sentence about ancient apple trees in blossom, children`s voices, and the ocean`s thunder. It`s a beautiful sentence, but given Newfoundland`s fate as a part of Canada, Ind its current conditions, a more apt conclusion might have been "God help Newfoundland."
Likewise pretty funny is the second collection of the Toronto Star writer Joey Slinger`s columns, If It`s a jungle Out There, Why Do I Have to Mow the Lawn? (Key Porter, I 187 pages $18.95 paper). Slinger`s first book, No Axe Too Small to Grind (McClelland & Stewart), won a Leacock Award for humour in 1986, and I`d be surprised if this one doesn`t end upon the short list too. Strung together, the columns sometimes seem a little too light and breezy, but their author is a lot less full of himself than Allan Fotheringham, appears to he at least 500 years younger, and isn`t labouring under the delusion that the press gallery in Ottawa is the centre of the universe. He`s got my vote.
Of interest to the Ottawa press gallery will be Mark My Words: The Memoirs of a Very Political Reporter (Douglas & McIntyre), by Marjorie Nichols, who died of lung cancer in 1991 at the age of 48. Written with the former Vancouver Maclcan`s bureau chief Jane O`Hara in the last few months of Nichols`,, life, it is remarkably politic given the circumstances, revealing a lot about what it`s like to be a reporter - occasionally without intending to - and very little about the world that the rest of LIS live in. Nichols was a good journalist, but he pent 2 5 of her 48 years hanging around press ,alleric.,, and without wanting to seem disrespectful, I think it Shows. Personally, I wasn`t exactly impressed that a testimonial from Brian Mulroney appear, on the jacket cover telling Lis that Nichols gave us "the straight unvarnished goods." Is anyone`
Joyce Nelson has been my favourite media interpreter for a long time now, and this year`s prize winner, bv a nose over Timothy Brook`s Quelling the People, is Sign Crimes/Road Kill: From Mediascape to Landscape (Between the Lines, 244 pages, $ 16.95 paper). I highly recommend all of Nelson`, books. Her work IS filled with brilliant insights about just how nutty _,eof,olitic, and modern media are making the world, and she`s about the only writer I know who can fall overboard head-first in the middle of a stormy argument she`s making and then reappear on deck, unscathed and ready to go, in the next sentence. She`s an intellectual extremist, so be prepared for it, and be prepared to disagree with her and read on. If you`re curious but unconvinced by my enthusiasm, have a took at the essay entitled "The Saga of Space Dorks: Lost Boys in Orbit," which appears toward, the end of the volume. If you read it in a bookstore, you`ll probably get kicked out for laughing, so remember to buy the book On your way out. Sign Crimes/Road Kill I,, at) anthology of Nelson`s wotkince 1980 or so, and it marks a gradual shift in her focus from Media analysis to ecology. The selection is an intelligent one, and Between the Lines is to he congratulated for it out - and smacked gently across the side of the bead for not Including an index.
This is one author I`d like to know better. Lunch?