In the process of culling a lot of other possessions to make for a less cluttered home, I eventually ended up at the bookcases. Some years back, it seemed like sacrilege—me, professing to be a disciple of words and story—to discard books. Pass along so others can enjoy them, donate to book sales, pack away in boxes to be reconsidered “at another time.” Among my treasures, though, were lovely hard cover editions of the likes of Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, To the Lighthouse, The Prophet, The Velveteen Rabbit—you know the ones that are on a special shelf, and in my house, for the most part, gathering dust. Surely there were people to whom I could gift these treasures. When I opened them and turned the pages, they gave off the undeniable scent of “old”; musty dry pages, occasionally a crumbling flower pressed between them, cracked spines. Beloved stories all, but beloved editions? It’s a short walk to the blue bin in the back alley. I put all the musty old books—there were many paperbacks in that condition as well—into a large paper bag because I couldn’t bear to hear the thud of each one going in.
I was left with books acquired post-1960s. Fortunately, this wasn’t the first clean-out I’d done, and passing years have made me more frugal, more practical where books are concerned. I read a lot; on the average, twenty books a month. I buy the books written by friends and favourite authors—often both apply. I have kept almost all the books signed by good friends, and others that I’ve bought that are simply so good that they’re keepers. My strategy, though, when I hear about a book that intrigues or someone recommends, is to head first for the library. After all, we do know about public lending rights. If I read a book and love it, know that I will want to re-read, or that I feel certain family and friends must read, then a trip to one of our local indie bookstores.
In this latest culling, in the signed copies, I’ve found books that I hold in my hand and ponder. These are fine books, deserving of a place on the shelf, books that I want to bring to other people who may never have seen or heard of the title or the author. Books that had their season and then quietly—to quote the lovely Jean McKay who I met Sage Hill—“have gone to grass,” the title of one of her slim treasures that is on my shelf along with The page-turner’s sister, and The Dragonfly Fling. I have a collection of special books by other fine authors I’ve met at Sage Hill or The Banff Centre or in writing classes, or simply through our great Alberta community of writers. At the risk of missing many names, they include: Dave Margoshes, David Elias, Leona Theis, Rod Schumacher, Allison Kydd, Myrna Garanis, Audrey Whitson, Astrid Blodgett, David Carpenter, Lori Hahnel, Barb Howard, Lee Kvern, Bruce Hunter, Cecelia Frey, Bob Stallworthy and the rest of you who must surely know who you are. Some of you are among those Susan Toy is showcasing in her recent promotions of books and authors we should know.
Looking at all of these books from seasons past, I felt compelled to hold my own books in my hand, and contemplate the number of their seasons. Apart from The Boy which has a life all its own that astonishes me, they all seem like yesterday’s news. This is not something on which I dwell, lose sleep, or feel bitter. It just is the world of books and publishing.
Every year, marvellous new books, shortlists for awards from which to choose.
I met Susan Toy in 2009 when I was doing a reading from my latest book at the time, Delivery. Big smile on her face, she marched up to me, extended her hand, and said, “Hi. I’m Susan Toy, your book rep.” I had a book rep? Oh my, did I ever.
Most of Susan’s life’s work has involved books; bookseller, sales representative, literacy teacher, and promoter of fellow author and their books through her company, Alberta Books Canada. Meeting Susan was serendipitous; I’d been mulling over, shying away from, the very thought of promoting my own books. Modesty? Laziness? Expectations that my publisher would do the work? On that night at Pages when I met Susan, I knew after five short minutes of conversation that I’d just found the help I needed.
For almost five years, Susan promoted my books all over the province; arranged readings and speaking engagements in libraries and bookstores and at conferences. She was a constant source of affirmation and encouragement. Her enthusiasm and faith and commitment to what she was doing, and her many other skills and projects—she’s a marvellous cook! —have made her a special friend.
I have missed Susan in the years since she returned to Bequia and established a part-time home in Ontario, but was delighted that she turned her attention to her own writing and established her own press, Island Editions, to which I looked for advice on electronic publication of my first book, Running Toward Home. The advice led to the publication of the ebook by Island Editions, a good decision and one I will consider for future publications.
I set out to write this blog post to shine a light on Susan’s recent promotions, spotlighting both authors she represented while she was in Alberta and authors she has since published through Island Editions, but got lost in my contemplation of the few books that rise to the top of the pile of hundreds published in that same year. How to keep the also-rans alive.
I have felt some guilt, particularly because I believe so fervently that it is to authors to promote authors, for not sharing each of Susan’s promotional posts, but have chosen instead to celebrate Susan’s work, and to direct you to the Authors-Readers International list on her website, and encourage you to accept Susan’s invitation to meet all of these writers and their work. https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/authors-readers-international-list-of-authors/
If there is a way to dust off of a book, bring it back into the consciousness of readers, this is a good place to begin. I suspect as well, that your own bookcases could yield many books that deserve more than a short season.
Thank you, Susan. In what I know has not been an easy time, you’ve made a huge effort to send us back to the books that should not/need not be relegated to the has-been remainders bins.