Archive for May, 2008

Ben Viccari’s Canscene

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Vol 8 No 5
May, 2008

In my book…

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

(Canscene) — there’s still nothing like a good book. Each time I open a new volume I get the same sort of thrill I did when at six years, I was able to make my own first purchase.

Sixpence in pocket money was burning a hole in my pocket and I yearned for something a little broader in scope than the kid’s books I’d been given as presents. Due to the diligence of parents and grandparents I’d learned to read two years earlier.


I took myself down to a large bookstore near our home in Balham. The new hard cover Readers Library series was being displayed at sixpence a volume. This eclectic enterprise which flourished for several years until the advent of Penguin paperbacks carried mostly reprints of books authored by writers as widely different as Victor Hugo and Edgar Wallace.

I’d just seen Douglas Fairbanks in the Thief of Baghdad and after leafing through a number of Readers Library volumes, I turned back to a novelization of the film by Achmed Abdullah (actually the Russian-born Alexander Nicolayevitch Romanoff.) Although he didn’t write the screenplay for the film, it is said he gave the producers the original story line.

There was Duggie on the dust cover, complete with bandana and roguish grin. I couldn’t wait until I got home, but found that Achmed/Alexander’s prose was a little too dense for me. I can’t remember now whether I ever returned to the Thief of Baghdad but I’ll always have the memory of that first purchase (of many thousands).

Small wonder this issue is mostly about books all of which I’ve received for review within the past month. And the good news is that all are by Canadian authors.–30–

The risk takers

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Extraordinary Canadians Series,
Penguin Canada, $26.00 each

(Canscene) — Away with the belief that Canadians are timid and unadventurous, shy of taking risks to support their beliefs, Here come 20 Extraordinary Canadians in a series of biographical books, each authored by an acclaimed Canadian author.

Announced last month was an ambitious new Canadian publishing venture that by completion will have embraced 18 books and documentary films, the latter to be funded and aired by OMNI Television. Produced by PMA Productions of Montreal the series will be aired in Cantonese , Hindi and Italian in addition to English versions. In addition Maclean’s will publish excerpts from each book.


Author John Ralston Saul, arguably Canada’s best-known living intellectual (and certainly the most active) has been responsible for the selection of 20 Canadians. Each has been allocated a separate volume written by an acclaimed Canadian author and with a cover illustration by a well-known artist. There are only eighteen books because two deal with persons whose lives are inextricably linked: Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine; Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont.

Although the chosen extraordinary Canadians number only 19 to date,the 20th name will be revealed in due course, say the project’s principals with an eye to maintaining publicizeable value of the series for the three years it will take to bring the whole collection into print. (more…)

Emily Carr

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

by Lewis De Soto,
Penguin Canada,
Extraordinary Canadians Series
176 pages, $26.00

Had I never before seen a painting by Emily Carr, I believe that after reading Lewis De Soto’s book I would have instantly recognized it as the artist’s work.

By now the British Columbia painter’s legacy to Canadian art belongs in a Pantheon of those who dared : The Group of Seven, Tom Thomson, Paul-Emile Borduas, Louis Riopelle.But even in this distinguished company she stands alone as a depicter of Canada as forest and Canada as Aboriginal.

In 176 pages, De Soto, Man Booker nominee and a painter himself explains how, having lost his way in a deep Vancouver Island forest he first realized the significance of the spiritual experience Emily Carr had undergone when she began the forest and totem pole paintings which are her signature.

Beneath a deceptively modest exterior dwelt a great obsession to paint as an individual when so much of the Canadian art acceptable in her early days belonged to the “genteel” school growingly derided by impressionists, post-impressionists and cubists.

Carr’s art came to full expression beginning in 1927 when, at the age of 56 she met and befriended Lawren Harris and his fellow members of the Group of Seven. Though her works were never derivative of the Group’s adoption of theCanadian Ourdoors they strengthened her convictions and inspired her writings as well as her paintings.

De Soto shows us in this compact biography the manner in which a shining spirit and the courage to seek its fulfillment can lead to lasting renown–30–

Nellie McClung

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

By Charlotte Gray
Penguin Canada Extraordinary Canadians series
204 pages, $26.00

( Canscene) — I must confess that, until I read Charlotte Gray’s captivating account of the life of an exceptional Canadian, the very name Nellie McClung chilled me. I expected to find a square-jawed woman of unpleasantly asserted opinions and above all, as an implacable prohibitionist, a killjoy.

How wrong I was! Historian Gray reveals, certainly, a woman of great determination, but also of of imagination with a sense of adventure and humour in addition to her courage, a woman who made a difference in our lives that can be felt today. (more…)

Immigrant series gets prestigious imprimatur

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Arrival Survival Canada
by Nick and Sabrina Noorani
Oxford University Press,
328 Pages

(Canscene) — The Oxford University Press has launched its Canadian Newcomer Series, the first of which is reviewed in this issue.


While specifically addressing the informational needs of new arrivals in Canada, this is as much a book for established Canadians as new immigrants. Because…..

…….If we are to acknowledge our responsibilities as citizens of a country that needs and welcomes immigrants we need to know how this country works and here it is in he first of a series of Oxford University Press books. Arrival Survival Canada can be of real assistance in helping answer new immigrants’ questions.

Arrival Survival Canada, outlines in clear English how to cope with situations from finding shelter to making temporary arrangements for health coverage until acceptance in Canada’s free health care system. Canadian laws and institutions such as levels of government and the courts are also explained clearly and succinctly.


Who’s to Blame?

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Enter the Babylon System
by Rodrigo Bascunan and Christian Pearce
Vintage Canada, 360 pages, $22.00

(Canscene) Here comes another rant about handgun ownership. Not again!


Oh yes, and there’ll be more because I for one believe that a government ban on handguns would at least be making a statement on the subject however much or how little it would do to stem the flow of illegal arms into Canada. Through the years, Canada has been all too reluctant to stick its neck out on situations like this and it’s time our leaders have us know where this country stands on such important issues.

In this year’s Donner Prize for Canadian books on public policy two of the five finalists centered around street gang violence Neither won the top award but I was highly impressed by Enter the Babylon System written by two young men who publish Pound, a magazine devoted to hip hop culture. The book echoes their distress at the the thought so much rap and hip hop music is handgun related.

Who’s to blame for this? Are the followers of hip hop inherently nihilistic, or are some of them influenced by forces beyond their control? In Enter the Babylon System , Rodrigo Bascunan and Christian Pearce attempt to answer questions like these.

It follows of course that the question of the right to bear arms (The U.S. 2nd Amendment) predates hip hop by more than two centuries and that the inspiration for maintaining it comes from a quarter typified by the lobbying and “educational” activities of such bodies as The National Rifle Association and the National Sports Shooting Foundation which are heavily supported by funding from the so-called defence industries

But what shocks Bascunan and Pearce is the cavalier way in which manufacturers in United States, Canada and elsewhere whose business is to provide arms for defense and police forces, show little interest in where some of their product is ending up. (more…)

What history should be teaching us

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Uses and Abuses of History
by Margaret MacMillan,
Viking Canada, 196 pages, $30.00

(Canscene) — I don’t know how many times I’ve been sickened by George W Bush’s insertion into one of his addresses of phrases like “history teaches us”: or “history shows us” or “there’s a lesson in history here.” We know, of course, that he’s off the mark, just like his pronunciation of “nuclear.”

Dubya is quoted in Margaret MacMillan’s latest book Uses and Abuses of History, a compact but searching examination of how historical inaccuracies and myths easily become acceptable to the most intelligent among us. This brilliant Canadian historian knows her subject well; as the author of the monumental Paris 1919 she detailed the many perversions of “history” that, at the Peace Treaty of Versailles led to wholesale giveaway of land belonging to Imperial Germany and its vanquished allies.

Now that he world knows no weapons of mass destruction existed in Saddam’s Iraq Bush she says, frequently refers to his perceived need to begin the invasion of Iraq as action against “appeasement”. The term first gained use among the more perceptive of political analysts when British PM Neville Chamberlain in 1938, led the democracies into the Munich agreement which avoided immediate conflict with Hitler and led to his grabbing of Czechoslovakia World War II was to begin a year later.

MacMillan points out the total dissimilarity between the two situations: primarily in 1938 Hitler was a real menace to the peace of Europe while in 2003, (more…)

Media help US presidents hoodwink us

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

(Canscene) — A documentary I received for review a few days after writing the above makes the perfect companion piece for Margaret MacMillan’s book.


Last year, activist – actor Sean Penn and syndicated columnist and author Norman Solomon completed War Made Easy, a feature-length documentary which became an official entry in the International Documentary Festival, the Montreal Film Festival and the Vancouver Film Festival.

Subtitled How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning us to Death, the film is based on Solomon’s book of the same name. Solomon frequently appears on screen and Penn narrates this riveting examination of the way in which successive American presidents have brought their country into armed conflict over the past 50 years. (more…)

The last word

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Canscene) — If ever there were an ill-timed flurry of publicity around a disaster scenario it’s now, with self-styled pundits citing evidence from an ancient Mayan calendar, that the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012 with the media reporting these beliefs extensively.

Let’s take a look a a worst case scenario this new prediction could exacerbate.

Fundamentalists could say “what the Hell, we saw it coming,” anti-environmentalists could say what’s the use of thinking and acting green? and fatalists and nihilists cold be prodded into total anarchy if they fail to see how so many predictions of this kind have been made through the centuries, a major one of which was that death and destruction would rain down on us in the year 2,000. Remember Y2K?

The 2012 prediction is the stuff of supermarket tabloids. This time, let’s try to confine it to them.