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.

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Book Writing Is Not an Easy Job

In response to Mark Medley’s July 13, 2012, Afterword piece, “Who Edits the Editors?”, Doug offered his experience of editors becoming authors in a letter to the editor, which was published July 17, 2012. Doug writes,

Mark Medley’s fine column catches most of the problems facing people who work in publishing, yet boldly decide to write fiction. The matter of divided loyalties — and divided imaginative time — is central, of course.
But I especially liked the account given by the distinguished British publisher and poet, Robin Robertson, of the depressing reality in publishing offices of what happens to most books: “All those ashen faces among the glossy displays; all those unsold, unsaleable books; all that crushed hope underfoot.”
In my days as a publisher, dealing with writers’ hopes and dreams, I would sometimes gloomily describe myself as being in the business of disappointing people — the authors we decided not to publish, and , in too many cases, the authors we did publish.
In this case, Mr. Medley does not extend his research to include non-fiction writing by people in publishing. I know something about this, and its pitfalls. My recent book of publishing memories, Stories About Storytellers, has produced a rueful confession, under the subtitle: “Harder Than I Thought — A Publisher Tries to Write a Book.”
Is it possible that many wise people in publishing shy away from writing books simply because they know how hard it is?
Douglas Gibson, Toronto.

Letters to the Editor

One week in January I wrote fierce Letters to the Editor of two very different newspapers. My targets were on both ends of the political spectrum: Conrad Black and Rick Salutin. Surely this establishes some kind of record.

In the National Post on Saturday, January 21, Conrad Black assailed a book that I recently published under my imprint: Trudeau Transformed, by Max and Monique Nemni. He made the mistake of mentioning that he had not actually read the second volume of the series he dismissed as “hagiographies” and was relying on the excerpts that he had read.

My letter, which the National Post featured prominently, pointed out that he had broken “the basic law for book reviewers, that it is impossible to review fairly and honestly a book that you have not read.” The letter went on with equal vigour.

In his next column, on Saturday, January 28, Conrad Black began, “I regret offending my cordial acquaintance Douglas Gibson. And I salute him for coming to the defence of his authors, Max and Monique Nemni, biographers of Pierre Trudeau. I think I can set his mind at ease on some points.”

What follows strikes me as coming as close to an apology as Mr. Black can manage. Watch this space to see if he goes on to read and review the disputed book.

By way of contrast, in his Friday, January 21, column in the Toronto Star, Rick Salutin took aim at the respect shown for storytelling skills. His provocative headline “Enough with the Storytelling” was enough to rouse me, the author of a book entitled Stories About Storytellers, to protest in print. In my response, I praised the central role of storytelling, not only in our fiction, but in our non-fiction writers, too, including our politicians. I suggested that history shows that success – in elections, in courtrooms, in contract bids, and in book sales – goes to the person who tells the best story.

I would even go so far as to say that storytelling, like the opposable thumb, is a basic human characteristic. And stories, which allow us to get inside the heads and hearts of other people, are perhaps the original “social media.”

— Douglas Gibson