Book Review: The Handover

When I read Elaine Dewar’s The Handover:  How Bigwigs and Bureaucrats Transferred Canada’s Best Publisher and the Best Part of our Literary Heritage to a Foreign Multinational, I immediately wanted to figure out a way to publish some thoughts about this book on my own website.  So, I created a new menu tab which I’ve called “Persuasion”.  I had been toying with starting up a section for rhetoric or polemics, but I wasn’t exactly sure that I wanted my site to become that kind of place.  I’ve settled on the word persuasion largely as a result of the happenstance “p” at the beginning of the word (it fits my menu theme – how handy is that!) and the word’s definition as iterated on

Process aimed at changing a person’s (or a group’s) attitude or behavior toward some event, idea, object, or other person(s), by using written or spoken words to convey information, feelings, or reasoning, or a combination of them.

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That just about sums up my intentions for the essays I intend to post in this section. So now, I have my opportunity to comment in what I hope to be a persuasive way on those subjects which seem important to me.

So why start with Dewar’s 2017 book about the Canadian publishing industry? I want to echo the Dewar’s closing words from the book…because it matters; because I’m Canadian.

The book’s title sums up most of what you need to know to understand the book.  It doesn’t need to be boiled down much more than that. Here’s what I posted on my Goodreads review:

Reading this book in 2017, I find it to be an important investigation of Canadian culture, publishing and identity. The money-grubbing side of business (whether Canadian or otherwise) shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – even exposing the methods of how business-people sneak around regulations to get what they want (usually, but not exclusively, money) is pretty standard fare. More interesting and important than how people line their pockets, and unfortunately only hinted in the book, is the deep re-direction of Canadian culture that has occurred in the last 10-15 years

I want to restate this: boiling the events of the sale of McClelland & Stewart down isn’t needed on this site (read the book, everything you really need is there).  What’s now needed is amplification of the implications of the sale….details that Dewar started to explore only in the final pages of the book.  In other words, who gives a rat’s-ass about the nuances of some shady business deals….Canadian literary culture and Canadian identity is the (much) more important consideration.

Most of my website focuses on my own extremely modest writing pursuits and explorations –  primarily poetry.  I’d love my little business to become something larger but I’m also happy to scribble and share my nonsense for anyone who cares to read it.  I published one book in 2017 and hope to get at least two out in 2018.  Even in small numbers, it is wonderful to see someone holding a book with my name on it. I’m realistic enough to understand that the big business publishing world is unlikely to have an interest in my scribbling.

I also have a deep affection for Canadian literature and arts.  My genuine engagement of Canadian literature began at Carleton University in the late 1980s…a time when people still felt clever asking “Canadian literature?  Does that really exist?”   I despised the slur then and I despise it now.  Greatness does not only develop elsewhere.

I also want a shot at a spot in Canadian literature…an opportunity to put my thought and creativity out for examination.  To be a part reflecting Canada and Canadian experience back to itself.

In The Handover, Dewar implies that Canadian literature (and culture?) is rapidly heading back to a status that it occupied a few decades back.  A status of being dismissed or diluted into what others may arrogantly claim to be more important or more interesting.  Dewar says that

According to the Prime Minister, Canadians do not have a national identity and do not need one.  Yet there is a need, a hunger, in most of us that globalism can never fulfill, a longing that ethnic nationalism or tribalism or religious fundamentalism or racism or criminal gangsterism is sometimes able to satisfy.  Humans must, by necessity, belong to groups (Dewar, pg. 311)

There are plenty of stories on the internet examining Justin Trudeau’s comments – read them and think about what these sentiments mean. They are important comments because they represent an attitude which is guiding Canadian policy relative to Canadian culture.  Canadian history and heritage is not spotless.  In addition to the wonderful things about Canada, there are also shames and shams.  Those shames and shams do not imply that there isn’t a Canadian identity nor that we don’t need one.

Again, I need to quote Dewar:

I don’t know if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is right when he asserts that Canada has arrived at a place no country has even tried to get to before, a place beyond nationhood.  I don’t know if Canadian literature has actually become a literature of the world.  I do know that we didn’t create a protectionist publishing policy in order to make a literature of the world!  We did it to reflect ourselves to ourselves.  And the need to see ourselves so we can govern ourselves will not disappear.  (Dewar, pg. 319)

I am not, and do not wish to be, a “post national” citizen of the world.  I am a Canadian –  it matters.


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