“It was sadly fitting that entrepreneur Harold Fenn announced the failure of his once-thriving family business, Canada’s largest independently owned book distributor, on the same day Bay Street cheered news that the bankruptcy rate in Canada had hit an all-time low. Whatever other opportunities might arise in a suddenly buoyant new economy, it seems clear that the business of making and selling paper books in Canada will not be among them.”
So begins the Globe and Mail article detailing Harper’s latest blow to Canadian publishing. I find the systematic attack on the production of print culture in Canada vexing to say the least.
Part of my vexation is certainly connected to the fact that I work in a literature department. My work focuses on Canadian women’s cultural production, predominantly poetry that crosses and complicates genre boundaries. In short, I need publishers who are willing and able to publish the work of women I study.
And of course there’s love. I love books. I love them in print form, I love them in digital form. I love them in forms I didn’t even know could exist (thanks, Bruce Peel Special Collections!) As an only child I spent such a huge amount of time reading that my mom had to sign me up for sports* so that I would put down my books from time to time. OK, maybe she was also trying to encourage me to socialize… But the point is simple. My relationship with books is the longest of my life. I doubt we’ll break up any time soon.
My love of small and independent publishers developed later. Simply put I didn’t really know they existed until well into my undergraduate degree. I’ve found myself talking about the import of Canadian publishing in almost all of my courses in the past few years. This comes up naturally, from the surveys of Canadian literature to the introduction to literature courses: students want to know about their reading material. Where does it come from? How does publishing work? What does the publishing industry tell us about our so-called national values?
There are dedicated bloggers out there who have been calling attention to Canadian publishing for a good long while now. Lemon Hound, (begun as/by poet critic and public intellectual Sina Queyras in 2005 as a venture for discussing literature, art, politics, and women and now run by a collective of bright young things) recently posted about related and equally as worrying point: According to Amy King and the fine folks at Vida, women are publishing into a critical vacuum. Still.
So rather than blaming ebooks or speculate on when my country people are going to wake up and demand an election I’m making a list. A list of amazing small presses and less small presses in Canada. Please add ones I’ve missed. The idea here is first to gather a critical mass–there are bound to be presses we’ve yet heard about–and then, if possible, to make concerted efforts to support these presses in any way we can. Here goes (in no particular order):
*Factoid: I spent several years of my youth as a competitive synchronized swimmer…!