THE BIBLIO FILE is a podcast about "the book," and an inquiry into the wider world of book culture. Hosted by Nigel Beale it features wide ranging, long-form conversations with authors, poets, book publishers, booksellers, book editors, book collectors, book makers, book scholars, book critics, book designers, book publicists, literary agents and many others inside the book trade and out - from writer to reader.
Gerry Butts and John Duffy on How Canada Works
Last year when John Duffy, a Canadian political strategist and writer, died at the age of 58, I noticed an outpouring of genuine love, and sadness, on Twitter, along with frequent references to his book Fights of our Lives. It was called one the best ever written on Canadian politics. So I picked up a copy. It's filled with dozens of old photographs, and images of period posters, and flyers, buttons, correspondence, and other fascinating bits and pieces of ephemera and memorabilia: the 'confetti of history' as Walter Benjamin liked to put it, plus it features these great 'diagrams' of game plans, 'playbooks,' that John came up with to explain the strategies and tactics used in what he considered to be the five most consequential elections in Canadian history. It was visually captivating, and a fun informative read, so I decided to feature it on The Biblio File Book Club. But who to engage with?
Several people suggested Justin Trudeau's close friend and advisor, Gerry Butts. After a bit of toing and froing, and my prematurely and, as it turns out, quite erroneously, dismissing him as a typical political bounder, it all came together. Gerry agreed to play ball. We met in person several days ago at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa.
Gerry is currently Vice Chairman of The Eurasia Group, a risk management firm with offices around the world. We talk here about John Duffy's optimism, about whether or not elections matter; about cynicism, championship debating, Canada's business elite, the PBO's report on income inequality, the urban-rural divide, 1300 Dollarama stores, lifting children out of poverty, the King-Bing Affair, SNC Lavalin, the Manitoba School crisis, Wilfrid Laurier and Justin Trudeau's 'Sunny Ways,' kicking the can down the road; Lament for a Nation, and Mel Hurtig. There's a James Joyce quote. Gerry tells a joke about Franz Kafka on the way out the door, and I recommend that he reads Nora Krug's illustrated edition of On Tyranny.
Plus another thing: we're both convinced that John Duffy's Fights of our Lives (egregiously it's both out of print and published by an American multi-national) should be made into a TV Series as soon as possible.
Michael Geist on the pathetic argument for extending copyright in Canada
I booked a room at the Intercontinental Hotel in Montreal through Hotwire a couple of days ago. When I arrived at the hotel the receptionist asked me for a $250 deposit for incidentals. Next morning, without my permission (sure, okay, it's likely buried in the small print) they charged my card an additional $200. I subsequently learned that this was because I'd booked a couple of massages at their spa. When I checked out they charged me for the massages and told me that I should see the $450 back on my card in 2-3 business days.
Of course, this scam earns the hotel money at my expense. A tiny expense, but, when combined with all of the other visitors' tiny expenses, not tiny. This scam is similar to the one operated by the oil companies when they insist that you punch in the amount you think you'll need to spend filling your tank at their pumps. It's your money and time they're stealing. Peanuts per person, big coconuts together.
Where's the government on this? The same place government is on poor banking services, the highest mobile phone rates in the world, and sky-high dairy prices. Nowhere. Canadian governments have abandoned Canadian consumers. Valets to the rich and big business they are; to an alarming degree.
Which brings us to copyright legislation.
Cravenly hidden in an omnibus Budget Bill (a tactic Trudeau swore he'd never use), Bill C-32 received royal assent on December 31, 2022. It extends copyright protection in Canada for writers and other creators from fifty to seventy years after they die. How does this benefit the public? It doesn't. Not at all. Does it provide added incentive for these authors to create and innovate? None. Does it help readers and researchers and teachers? No, it does the opposite.
Lobbyists convinced the Trudeau government to extend copyright with one pathetic argument: that it brings Canada into compliance with other jurisdictions. Greed won out in other words. Now, no new works will come into the public domain in Canada for another twenty years. How does this affect books and readers, writers and publishers? I ask Michael Geist. He's a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law and is a member of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society. He has obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees from Cambridge University in the UK and Columbia Law School in New York, and a Doctorate in Law (J.S.D.) from Columbia Law School - so he should know.
Director Lizzie Gottlieb on her documentary Turn Every Page. And Books, Writers, and Editors
My GP took off on me last year. Landed some big gig in Geneva I think. He's a bright one. Not that I knew him very well. Only met him twice in six years. Anyhow, I went in for my tri-annual (once every three) check-up the other day. The nurse was pleasant. Told me he'd been working in the same clinic for 30 years. Adventurous, I thought. Then a student comes in. Also pleasant. Bit bland, but hey, I thought, it takes years to spice up character. Finally the resident/doctor arrives. Must've been in her mid-thirties. She was absolutely delightful. Smiling, smart, funny. What a difference she made. She lit up the room.
Same can be said of Lizzie Gottlieb when she appeared on the screen. My screen that is, on Zoom. It was a delight to talk with her about Turn Every Page her new documentary (released December 30th, 2022 by Sony Classics). It features the 50-year relationship between writer Bob Caro, 87, and his editor Bob Gottlieb, 91.
Turn Every Page has a delightful (yes, I know, I'm using it too much, but I figure if Caro can overuse a mot juste - "loom" in his case, according to Bob G. - so can I) soundtrack. It deftly conducts the viewer, and the two Bobs, through the film towards the pressing goal of completing Caro's biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. We see the two at work on the fifth and final volume of the book and in the process, learn about what they're both after: uncompromised (uncompromising?) excellence. The two are by nature industrious, and both have egos. Combine all of the above and you have the makings of both a classic book, and a very watchable documentary, one that gives you a feel for the magic in this unique relationship and a sense of the great joy that can be experienced between writer and editor as they make a book together. What you get with this film is a whimsical, entertaining glimpse at a very special kind of quiet alchemy.
I had such fun with this project: watching the film, twice, re-reading parts of Bob Gottlieb's memoir Avid Reader, conducting the interview, editing it, and then right afterwards, going out for a walk and listening to it. I hope your experience with the listening part is as "delightful" as mine was.
Richard Charkin on how you too can set up a successful publishing business
A perceptive devotee of the podcast told me last week that he thought I was an ignoramus.
'You don't think it takes talent to be a photographer (referring to something said during this conversation with Michael Torosian, maker of fine press photography books, here)?'
'I do think it takes talent,' I responded. 'I just don't know how much. The case hasn't been made very well I don't think for photographers. Besides, true artistic genius is rare, regardless of what field you're talking about.'
'Why are you singling out photography then?'
'Well,' I averred, 'as Alexey Brodovitch, Conde Nast's great art director once put it: 'To learn yourself is more difficult than to listen to a teacher...Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. My way of guiding people is by irritation. I will try to irritate you, to explore you... the more disagreement the more we learn.'
The idea is that when you intentionally irritate someone they often respond with their best work. I like to try this on every now and again during an interview.'
In fact, I tried it on last week, albeit unintentionally, during a conversation with Richard Charkin when I suggested that the relative success of his new publishing experiment might be attributable, in part at least, to the fact that he, and most of his clients, have money.
Richard has achieved much over the years during a creditable, significant career. He got to the very top of the publishing world. Nothing more satisfying to him though, I'm guessing, than having launched and operated Mensch, his thriving little 'micro' publishing house.
I wanted to know how he was getting on after four years at the helm, what he'd learned, and, as it turns out, whether or not others could duplicate what he's done without the benefit of his special place both in the publishing constellation and in the world at large.
The conversation commences with a mission statement; then some meaningless platitudes about books, communicating and making the world a better place; then we talk about how much Richard invested up front in Mensch; about the criteria he uses for choosing which books to publish; about personality and commissioning books; about emails and what they mean; rejecting submissions; working with journalists, celebrities and non-celebrities; saving author proofs; growing backlists; hiring publicists; using print-on-demand; achieving diversity in the publishing industry; Rovers, Minis, and yes, fairness, plus much, much more.
I was left with the impression that money has far less to do with creating a thriving publishing enterprise than does prudence, personality and good, new technology. Yes, it helps to be wonderfully communicative and outgoing, like Richard is, and observant. But what's inspiring here I think, the lesson if you will, is that if you follow Richard's lead, pay attention to what's going on around you, let others know what you're up to, keep tabs on technology, the chances are pretty good you'll be able to do some decent damage, and do it without having to spend a whole lot of money
You may not get rich, but you can change the world, hopefully for the better, just as Richard's doing.
Michael Torosian (Part ll) on How to Interview an Artist for a Book
Here is Part ll of my conversation with Michael Torosian featuring his soon to be released memoir/bibliography Lumiere Press: Printer Savant and Other Stories (listen to Part l here).
This episode gets to the essence of Michael's book writing/publishing practice: the interview. We discuss a list of guidelines Michael has developed based on his experience interviewing some of greatest photographers of the 20th century. It can be found in Savant in a chapter entitled 'Residual Landscapes, The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky.' Here's a summary:
1. I educate myself to the fullest extent about the artist's life and work.
2. I make up a question list of at least two or three pages...The I throw the list away.
3. I begin the interview with something plucked from the uniqueness of the day, the inception of our new experience.
4. I listen. It's imperative to maintain situational awareness and stay in the moment.
5. I avoid leading questions
6. I probe for greater detail.
7. I re-ask questions
8. In the editing process I splice answers together from various "takes." There is no improvisation or invention
9. I strive to be self-effacing.
Michael Torosian on Photography & his life making Fine Press Photography Books
Michael Torosian has spent his life taking photographs, interviewing great photographers, and making fine press photography books. He's in the process of making another entitled Lumiere Press, Printer Savant and Other Stories to commemorate the establishment of the Lumiere Press Archive at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto. It's full of life lessons and back-stories illuminating each of the twenty-two books he's published over the past four decades.
We sat down in his workshop, behind his house in Toronto, to talk about the book. Topics covered in this first installment of a two part conversation include: photography, bookmaking, relentless exploration, 'general aesthetics,' cultivating aptitudes, the blossoming of the photography market, Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind, decoding visual language, composition, respect, paying homage, the Ninth Street Show, Gordon Parks, learning as the key to existence, making every word count, the Paris Review's Writers at Work series, capturing the voice of the artist, the book as the medium of photography, and more.
Thorough and entertaining glimpse into books
If you’re interested in great books, how they’re written, published, talked about, viewed through history, and their effect on culture today, this podcast is for you. Nigel’s curious mind and ability to ask thoughtful and poignant questions makes this podcast fascinating.