The Perilous Trade
Book Publishing in Canada, 1946-2006
By Roy MacSkimming
McClelland & Stewart, Paperback, 9780771054945, 486pp.
Publication Date: January 2, 2007
List Price: $21.95*
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A book that will fascinate and inform readers who love Canadian writing
“Publishing Canadian books has always been an experiment. Like the great experiments of building a transcontinental railway and a national broadcasting system, it constitutes one of the nation’s defining acts. Publishing, after all, is a people’s way of telling its story to itself.”
–from the Introduction
Part cultural history, part personal memoir, this accomplished, sweeping, yet intimate book demonstrates that the story of Canadian publishing is one of the cornerstones of our literary history.
In The Perilous Trade, former publisher, literary journalist, and industry insider Roy MacSkimming chronicles the extraordinary journey of English-language publishing from the Second World War to the present. During a period of unparalleled transformation, Canada grew from a cultural colony fed on the literary offerings of London and New York to a mature nation whose writers are celebrated around the world. Crucial to that evolution were three generations of book publishers – mavericks, gamblers, entrepreneurs, political activists, and true believers – sharing a conviction that Canadians need books of their own.
Canadian publishing has long made headlines -be it Jack McClelland’s outrageous publicity stunts, American takeovers, the collapse of venerable imprints, or bold political moves to ensure the industry’s survival. Roy MacSkimming takes us behind the headlines to draw memorable portraits of the men and women who built Canada’s literary renaissance. With a novelist’s eye for character and incident, he weaves their tangled relationships with authors, agents, booksellers and each other into a lively narrative rich in anecdote and revealing personal recollection. Canadian publishers large and small have nurtured a literature of extraordinary diversity and breadth, MacSkimming argues, giving us English Canada’s greatest cultural achievement.
“Masterful.…This book should be compulsory reading for anyone entering the book trade, toiling in it now or in an occupation, such as politics, constantly brushing against the business.… The Perilous Trade unobtrusively, quite fetchingly, conveys a massive amount of research, yet also manages to be a brilliantly seductive cultural history of Canada.”
–Greg Gatenby, The Globe and Mail
"[MacSkimming] has given us a history driven by an engaging narrative and a cast of remarkable characters."
–Christopher Moore, The Beaver
“A truly marvellous book for all those interested in Canadian authors and publishers and the books they create.”
— Mel Hurtig