Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Genuine Holiday

I've decided to give myself a genuine holiday this summer. So not only will I not be going into the office, I also won't be doing the additional bits of work that cling to the fringes of my days. This means, alas, that the blog will be quiet over the next couple of weeks.

Perhaps you can check out some of the other fine blogs that I'm linking to next door....

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Dummitt on Engler on Pearson

The Literary Review of Canada has decided to put up on their website the full text of my review of Yves Engler's The Truth May Hurt: Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping.

Even if you don't want to read my article, there are some other good ones here too.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Off the Shelf

Behind the Scenes: The Life and Work of William Clifford Clark

Aside from being a compulsive book-buyer, I am also an unrepentant book-starter. This means that I invariably have many books 'on-the-go'.

At the moment, it's not too bad, I'm only trawling through:

Robert Wardhaugh, Behind the Scenes: the Life and Work of William Clifford Clark (Toronto, 2010) (see here)

P B Waite, In Search of R B Bennett (McGill-Queen's, 2012) (see here)

and, to keep me human, and because I so much enjoyed hearing her speak at the Congress in Waterloo:

Margaret Atwood, Edible Woman. What a funny, ironic debut this was.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Blogs to Read

Some great blog posts over the last few days that I've enjoyed:

Ian Mosby exposes and enjoys the history of Joe Beef's Tavern, past and present, over at Active History

Slightly Bookist has a great, wry comment on functional (il)literacy on that great wordsmith blog here. If you're literary-inclined, also check out the newish series of interviews she has with contemporary Canadian, British and American novelists.

You can get a link to a new ebook about the imagined boyhood of Arthur Meighen (and info on a new edition of Meighen's superb Unrevised and Unrepented) over at Roderick Benns blog here

And finally Christopher Moore gives a witty summing up of the seeming surfeit of prime ministerial bios on his blog here

On the latter, I do hope there will be a lull before my own sort of but not really biographical biography of the afterlife of Mackenzie King comes out in a few years. If only I could stop having children, I might finish it...

* * * CORRECTION * * *

I was wrong about the above - the book mentioned on Roderick Benns blog is actually not part of his series of invented prime ministerial boyhoods. It is simply a non-fiction life of Meighen aimed at young readers. You can get the ebook of Arthur Meighen: A Way with Words now.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Crown in Canada

Under the heading, 'too bad so few will attend', I see that there is a conference on the Crown in Canada, to be hosted at the University of Saskatchewan, marking the Diamond Jubilee.

I am no monarchist but I do live in this strange country we call Canada which, despite much evidence to the contrary, and despite the delusions of many in (oddly) the Conservative party, is still a parliamentary democracy. So the more we think about, understand and critique the system of government as it currently exists, the better.

See the details here

* * * UPDATE * * *

Christopher Moore rightly points out that the conference is sponsored by The Friends of the Canadian Crown. (See his post here) He also notes that the conference isn't exactly inclusive in its views on the Crown in Canada - ie the republican option isn't on the menu. Good points, both. I had noticed that, alongside the solid scholars (Jim Miller, David E Smith, Peter Russell), there were also some that looked more than a little 'ornamental'.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

LRC Highlights

There are some great articles in this month's edition of the Literary Review of Canada.

There is Suanne Kelman's masterful review of the memoir of Peter Stursberg, former head of English programming for CBC. Kelman lands perhaps the best literary KO ending I've seen in a long time: '... if you want to create a network with mass appeal, you really need some yourself.' Ouch!

An excerpt from John Price's book Orienting Canada: Race, Empire and the Transpacific, makes for horrific and compelling reading, telling of the way Canadian soldiers who fought in Korea and committed atrocious crimes, essentially got off lightly because of the endemic racism in National Defence in the era. If the rest of the book is written as well as the excerpt, it should be an excellent read.

Andrew Potter continues his thoughtful critique of the power of 'authenticity' in the 20th century in a review of Modris Eksteins's Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age.

Former Speaker of the House of Commons gives a positive review of Helen Forsey's book on her father, Eugene Forsey: Canada's Maverick Sage.

And Christopher Moore is always good to read, especially here as he takes on one of my (and Forsey's) favourite topics, parliamentary democracy.

Only some of the reviews are online, but the LRC subscription isn't too much.

And if you subscribe, you can even read my review of Yves Engler's unbalanced, megaphone-like book on Lester Pearson which is also in this issue.

See the LRC website here

Academic Regalia

I spent several house yesterday morning suffering under the weight of academic tradition. It was convocation. I did my duty, donned the heavy robes and joined the procession of academic 'dignitaries' as we marched across Trent's campus, all to the soundtrack of overly loud classical music. Then we sat in the sun, hot and smiling, through a ceremony, that was probably meaningful for those who came to get degrees.

As the faculty strolled in our wandering way through the crowds of parents and friends, I couldn't help wondering what they thought of the bizarre scene in front of them. Was it a bit of colourful pageantry? Did they try to pick out who had given their sons and daughter As or Ds or, more likely, C+s and B-s?

Or did it all seem like some bizarre relic of an ancient hierarchical system that is now so out of touch with the egalitarian, no-one-knows-better-than-me, or anyone else for that matter, world in which we live? How dare we set ourselves apart, the learned, by our dress and our traditions? And why is this taking so long?

At least it was soon over, and the ceremony began, everyone waiting as each took their turn to receive degrees 'at the hands' of the chancellor. To be photographed, to be cheered, to be deemed worthy. What a mixture of the medieval Christian and the modern. What a bizarre institution the modern, and not so modern, university is.

Monday, 4 June 2012

War of 1812 (plus 200)

The War of 1812 is coming online for the duration.

A team of students led by Canadian historian Andrew Smith (who teaches at Coventry University in the UK, and who blogs at The Past Speaks,  here) is going to bring us the War of 1812 day by day as it happened, but two hundred years later. (see here for details about the twitter feed @Warof1812Live)

The technique has been done to much success elsewhere, notably for the Second World War (see here).

The series of tweets will not only take us through the key events and personalities of the war but will also direct us to the digitized primary documents of the war so that we can follow the work in as detailed a fashion as we want.

So first read Alan Taylor's recent history of the war (and go back to Pierre Berton's two volumes if you want) then read on and on... and enjoy.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Phillip Buckner puts Gwyn's Macdonald in his place

If you've been following the journalistic gravy train that has trailed behind Richard Gwyn's much talked about two volume biography of John A Macdonald, then you should read a great new review of the books.

I say 'great' but I doubt Gwyn would see it this way. In his exquisitely precise review, Phillip Buckner explains exactly why Gwyn's volume is really not, as the publicity people have it, a volume for our times. It's a painful but delicious read,the kind of review that doesn't just criticize; it teaches.

See it here.