Memoirs, or literary vicarious living.

I know, I’ve been a really bad porcupette these last weeks and have been neglecting the blog in favour of other PQL tasks – grant applications, worldcat campaigns, tipsheets for our exciting 2012 list! (You’ll hear all about our 2012 books in an upcoming post, don’t fret.)

Everyone was all a-twitter this past weekend about their Summer Reads! Summertime is the perfect time to get some escapist reading done, and my favourite summer reads are memoirs – you get to “try on” someone else’s life for a few hundred pages, completely risk-free! As you might have guessed, as an intern in the publishing industry, I love reading about the lives of other bookish types, and the Quill has published some great literary memoirs over the years!

Laurie Lewis’ Little Comrades launched in Kingston two weeks ago, and let me tell you, Laurie’s life is definitely memoir-worthy. She’s worked in publishing for many years as the Head of Design at University of Toronto Press and now her own company, Artful Codger Press. Merilyn Simonds wrote in the Kingston Whig-Standard that “the stories in this collection are affecting and beautifully crafted. . . My personal favourite is ‘My Father and Lillian Gish,’ a disturbing portrait of an abusive, troubled man. In describing the family he came from, she writes, ‘He was the smartest of the lot too, which he interpreted darkly, wondering where his sharp mind had come from. He suspected his mother of everything but that. Adultery, yes, but not intelligence, never that.’ Little Comrades may be Laurie’s first book, but it won’t be her last.” Little Comrades follows Laurie’s life as the daughter of two Alberta Communist Party members in the Canadian west, to her exciting teenage years in New York City. Laurie Lewis is fascinating – I can’t wait to delve into this one!

Drawing on Type, by Frank Newfeld, is “the life-story of one of Canada’s more colourful book-world characters”, according to our website. Newfeld was the VP of Publishing at McClelland & Stewart, a co-founder of the Society of Typographic Designers of Canada (Now the Graphic Designers of Canada) and ran the illustration program at Sheridan college.  Drawing on Type was also a runner up for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year award in 2009. Charlotte Ashley reviewed Drawing on Type over on her blog Inklings and said “Newfeld has a lot to offer the reader in wisdom, anecdote and experience […] Newfeld is, however, at his very best when he is describing a project or a process rather than a person or an event.  This, I imagine, is the result of his being (by his account – and I have no reason to doubt him) an excellent teacher who ultimately wound up as head of the illustration program at Sheridan College.  The art of design, typography and illustration comes brilliantly to life under his instruction, and his commentary on each discipline is insightful, measured and utterly authoritative.” For all you design fiends out there, this would be a great one to dive into!

Poetry fans, don’t feel left out! Margaret Avison’s I Am Here and Not Not-There was a runner up for the 2010 IPPY Awards and is a thoughtful, provacative posthumous autobiography of one of Canada’s most revered poets. Edited by Stan Dragland and Joan Eichner, the book is “a fascinating journey through the allusive prose of a strong and private poet.[…] Reading between and below the lines, we encounter Avison as a woman whose life was extraordinary, not because she traveled to far-distant places or had heroic adventures, but because she identified with the lives of the poor and disadvantaged in her own city, lived in extreme simplicity, and delved deeply into the wellsprings of her faith and her poetry.” (Deborah C. Bowen, Canadian Literature)

Last but certainly not least in this little tour of literary memoirs is David Helwig’s The Names of Things. A compelling look into the life of a writer who was part of what some call the “Golden Age” of CanLit, this earnest, engaging book takes you into the life of a man who’s done it all. Agnes Ecsedy says “It’s hard to give an accurate description of a book that still haunts you weeks after you’ve finished the last page. The Names of Things leaves readers with the sense that they have received a deeper, subtler message than could be expected from a standard autobiography. Although the label “memoir” is firmed stamped on both the cover and title page, I would sum up this book with the author’s own words: ‘a rich brew of daily experience’ .” I can’t really follow that up with anything better!

Will you be living vicariously through memoirs this summer? Tell me what you’re reading in the comments!

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.