Douglas Gibson on being Hugh MacLennan

The National Post books blog, The Afterword, featured a piece by Doug on his experience being Hugh MacLennan for Canada Reads this year.

It all began with a very tentative email from a nice woman at CBC Radio in November. She explained that the five books that would be finalists for Canada Reads had been selected. The publicity leading up to the week of on-air debates in February would begin soon, involving not only the advocate for the book on the jury, but also the author.

But they had a problem. One of the books was Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan. And Hugh had passed away in 1990 (a sad fact that I knew all too well, since I had spoken at his funeral). Would I, just possibly, she wondered, be willing to step in to speak on Hugh’s behalf, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble?

Read the rest on The Afterword.


Canada reads Hugh MacLennan

CBC’s annual Battle of the Books Canada Reads announced their 2013 selections and panelists today at a reception in the broadcaster’s atrium. The books and champions are

  • February by Lisa Moore, championed by comedian Trent McClellan
  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, championed by Olympic wrestler Carol Huynh
  • Away by Jane Urquhart,  championed by author Charlotte Gray
  • Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan, championed by actor Jay Baruchel
  • The Age of Hope by David Bergen, championed by broadcaster Ron MacLean

Since Hugh isn’t around anymore to represent his book as author, CBC has asked Doug to stand-in for Hugh and lend his special insight into Hugh’s work and Two Solitudes. Follow along at CBC Books!

Doug’s thoughts on the “Turf Wars” of Canada Reads

The theme this year for Canada Reads is “Turf Wars,” pitting one region of Canada against another. The CBC designated five regions, and readers across the country voted on which books should represent each region. Recently CBC Books announced the top 10 books for each region, and asked Doug to comment on those selections. You can read this thoughts on the top 10 list at CBC Books.


Stories About Storytellers Companion Reading (#6)

Many early readers of Stories About Storytellers have remarked that they finish reading it only to rush to pick up one of the other books Doug has so lovingly described. So to make it easier, this recurring feature revisits some of those books and reminds you why they’re worth a read. Last time, we revisited Paddle to the Amazon by Don Starkell, and this we’re featuring . . .

The Game by Ken Dryden (1983)

The CBC Canada Reads competition was won last year by my friend Terry Fallis and his political satire The Best Laid Plans. (Try to catch up with it and its successor, The High Road. Terry has a gift for easy, funny writing with distinct and memorable characters who make the events of the plot fly by, with the good guys winning in the end. Yay! And this fall there will be a new Terry Fallis book, Up and Down, also edited by yours truly.)

This year I had hopes that books edited by me would win Canada Reads two years in a row, since Ken Dryden’s The Game was a hot contender. My emotions were split, because I was the publisher (although not the editor) of my good friend Dave Bidini’s book On a Cold Road. But when Dave’s book fell by the wayside in the harsh voting, I was able to root wholeheartedly for the book that Ken and I worked on way back in 1983.

Looking at my copy today, I’m impressed by the confidence that led me to write on the book’s back cover, “You are about to read one of the best books ever written about any sport.” I still believe that to be true. And I remember that the late Trent Frayne wrote in the Globe that it was “the sports book of the year, and of the decade, and even of the century!”

Ken and I (as readers of my book know) are such good friends that I was able to play a practical joke on him, involving a Preston Manning imitation. I am still touched by what he wrote in my copy of The Game: “For Doug . . . We have gone through a lot for a long time. I hope you’re as satisfied with the end result as I am. Thank you for all your help and patience.”

I’m delighted that Canada Reads (and Ken’s book lost narrowly in the last round, although it won the popular vote) has brought The Game to the attention of a whole new generation of readers.

For Doug’s tales of Ken Dryden (including his Preston Manning prank) see 311-314 of Stories About Storytellers.

CBC Stuff

January was a big Scottish month for me, but it was for the CBC, too, and I found myself as “a prominent Canadian Scot” playing two unexpected roles.

First, on Michael Enright’s excellent CBC radio show The Sunday Edition on Jan. 22 I was part of a discussion involving me, a Canadian born in Scotland, and Luke Skipper, a Canadian raised in Alice Munro country (Kincardine) who now works in London for the Scottish Government as they try to arrange a referendum on Scottish Independence. On a recent visit to Scotland I roamed around doing an informal survey of opinion on the matter and found a wide range of responses.

Our discussion was interesting, but I was so busy answering Michael’s last question (if Scottish expatriates were allowed to vote on this, how would you vote) by explaining that I was an outsider and had no fixed opinion, that I failed to make the general point that I do not believe that Canadians should vote in any foreign election.

I’m glad to be able to state that now.

Second, an email on Saturday, January 21 from George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight said that they needed someone to do a funny stand-up talk about Scottish words that might baffle a Canadian visitor.

These Strombo guys work fast! By Monday at 1 p.m. I was standing outside the CBC studio (wearing a tartan shirt . . . the man has no shame) talking into a camera, beginning with the words “Hi, George,” though I never saw him at any point. The two guys running the shoot, Fraser and Andrew, did a great job of spinning straw into gold, producing a passable clip that was apparently seen by every living Canadian between the ages of 20 and 40. You can find it on this blog.