Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

THE DRY SWIMMING POOL

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As an inveterate sponger, I once read with admiration a magazine’s account of a professional gatecrasher in New York. The man, a consummate pro, would get up in the morning and consult a list he’d compiled of corporate and professional events happening that day. He’d shave and put on a plausible-looking business suit, then set off on a busy round of coordinated activities, steadily guzzling and munching his way through a long series of receptions and product launches — likely causing more than one promotional budget to be blown.

If this man had attempted to mooch for a living at Toronto book launches, he would have starved, or died of dehydration.

For example, my first nonfiction book was published by the now extinct firm Clarke, Irwin. The owners, the Clarke family, had teetotaler tendencies: their publishing house was notorious for launching books sans alcohol. One wag said a dry launch party was the equivalent of a dry swimming pool.

At least Clarke, Irwin did throw launch parties, which has come to be an increasingly rare event for false-economy trade publishers. Authors are often humiliatingly reduced to throwing their own parties at the back of a pub, rather as if they had to wrap their own birthday presents. When a press, usually a small one, actually ponies up for a launch party, often the best an invited guest can expect to eat is a plastic plate of cheese cubes. I can only guess that the prevalence of mediocre cheese at launch parties is based on the assumption that anyone who goes to one must be a rat.

Dried cherries go with better-quality cheeses when a launch occurs in Massey College’s Common Room, sometimes with John Fraser, Massey’s affable Master, in attendance. A launch there is always an elegant affair, though I often feel as if I should be sipping a dry sherry in memory of Robertson Davies, its first Master. When the launch takes place among nicely displayed books on polished hardwood shelves, as in the fine independent shops Nicholas Hoare and Ben McNally Books, I live in fear that I will spill a glass of Château Plonk on their priciest offerings.

To me at least, the quality of the eats is a measure of how seriously a publisher takes a launch. Any launch organized by Halli Villegas of Tightrope Books is guaranteed to supply savoury nibbles, including a cake. When Guernica Editions launched its books at the Bar Italia in Little Italy, the bar was cash-only and the acoustics were atrocious in a long narrow upstairs room. But redemption came at the breaks with the arrival of platters laden with fresh, free panini.

Although the launch locations for my books have not been as bizarre as those for some of my public readings, the site of one poetry collection’s launch was certainly unusual. My publisher, BookLand Press, last year floated The Philosophy of As If in One King Street West Hotel & Residence, a former bank building—complete with vault. The launch proper happened, not in the vault, but in what appeared to be a ballroom. BookLand is inventive in its choice of launch venues. The one for Anthony Dalton’s Adventures with Camera and Pen took place at the foot of Yonge Street aboard Captain John’s Harbour Boat Restaurant, a former Adriatic cruise ship.

I don’t understand why other trade presses, even at their most parsimonious, can’t ante up for a halfway decent launch. After all, the economics of a launch can be advantageous. If every launched author brings along a bevy, covey, or coven of friends, partners, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins — and he or she likely will — a reasonable quantity of full-price merchandise can be unloaded. Aiding the cause, the authors can sign their books though, as used to be said about Irving Layton’s works, unsigned books may be more valuable — because they’re rarer.

3 comments

Rent the movie, Wedding Crashers. The opening sequences will make you laugh.

Glad to have the benefit of your experience, Rasa. The incivility of the diplomats and politicians at the reception was simply due to the competition for scarce resources.

Hey, I was at that Philosophy of As If launch, and the food was good! Ditto launch of John Pepall's book "Against Reform". Could the common link be that both were held in surroundings redolent of past imperial-era grandeur? Or maybe I'm just grateful to get anything that's not chicken or vegan, the inevitable choice for safety.

Just once I was at a reception where among the vegetables and healthy fare there was a plate of bacon-wrapped Vienna mini-sausages, 1950s style. Injuries resulted as diplomats and politicians elbowed and kneed each other out of the way for these...

Rasa

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Fraser Sutherland

At last count, Fraser Sutherland has published fifteen books: one of them short fiction, four nonfiction and ten poetry, His most recent poetry collection is The Philosophy of As If. A freelance editor, he may be the only Canadian poet who is also a lexicographer. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, he lives in Toronto.

Go to Fraser Sutherland’s Author Page