Telephone calls cannot be bundled and tied with ribbon and stored for decades in a bottom drawer. E-mails can’t take us back to our ancestors’ ways of behaving and thinking and viewing the world. Letters - fresh and enduring, each one unique - tell us things about ourselves and our past that television documentaries and history books can only hint at.
This is the first English-language collection of Canadian letters, dating back to the days before Confederation. Carefully selected from personal collections, archives, and museums, succinctly introduced to establish context, the letters in this collection range from heart-rending accounts of toil to the impassioned grandiloquence of premiers, from an escaped slave’s chastising of his former master to an ardent nationalist’s excoriation of a prime minister enamoured of free trade, from the atrocities of war to the sweet delights of young love. Stephen Leacock entertains his father. Marshall McLuhan educates Pierre Trudeau. Frederick Banting’s jilted lover says a bittersweet farewell. And countless unheralded Canadians open their hearts, share their thoughts, and tell their secrets.
Reading other people’s letters is much more than voyeurism. In The Book of Letters, Paul and Audrey Grescoe perform a kind of literary archaeology, systematically disclosing layers of the past to reveal who we were and how we came to be who we are. Like the best oral history, like the most illuminating narratives of our past, it’s destined to become a classic addition to our understanding of what makes Canada and its people unique.
The Book of Letters is the first in a series. Readers are invited to submit copies of letters written by Canadians, or covering Canadian topics, for possible inclusion in two forthcoming volumes. The Book of War Letters: Two Centuries of Private Canadian Correspondence, to be published in 2003, will cover conflicts in which Canadians served - from the War of 1812 through the North-West Rebellion, the Boer War, and the Spanish Civil War, to the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. The Book of Love Letters, scheduled for 2004, will contain correspondence of romance and friendship. If you have such letters or know of any that seem suitable, please send copies (which cannot be returned), along with background material and contact information, including a mailing address, an e-mail addres, an/or a daytime telphone number. If a letter you submit is chosen for inclusion in either book, the editors will contact you for formal permission to publish it.
Letters can be sent to: Paul and Audrey Grescoe, R.R. 1, I-33, Bowen Island, BC, V0N 1G0.
From the Hardcover edition.
About Paul Grescoe
Paul Grescoe has contributed to most of the major Canadian magazines and has also written books, including detective novels and The Merchants of Venus, about the Harlequin publishing empire. They live on Bowen Island, near Vancouver, B.C.
About Audrey Grescoe
Audrey Grescoe has been a freelance journalist and a newspaper and magazine editor; more recently she has written books on travel and nature.
“Letters are history on the fly, captured, often unwittingly, by unselfconscious witnesses and brought gloriously to life. The Book of Letters is a little treasure box of Canadian history… it is the voice of the past, ringing clear and fine across the years.”
–Globe and Mail (selected by the Globe as one of 2002’s 100 best books)
“Plenty to admire, inform, surprise, amuse, and keep the pages turning.”
“[A] treasure trove of Canadian letters carefully selected from personal collections, archives and museums, some of them dating back to the days before Confederation.… Collectively they form an archaeological dig of sorts that paints a wonderful and revealing portrait of who we are as Canadians.… A most acceptable form of eavesdropping.”
“Audrey and Paul Grescoe are turning a great idea into books of letters about war, love, and, among other things, exploding cows.…The hardships experienced by early pioneers, the bravery of soldiers in wartime, the FLQ crisis, witticisms from the country's cultural icons – all are represented here.”
“[A] pleasurable entry into a treasure trove of beguiling incidents, portentous events and unfamiliar landscapes.”
“These letters, even though they are all by Canadians and about Canadians, have a universality of appeal, because there is no human condition that is not touched in them in one way or another.… [The Book of Letters] has so carefully and tastefully … represented virtually all of them, from the extremes of happiness to the extremes of despair.”
–John Bentley Mays, The Arts Tonight, CBC Radio
“I’m grateful to Paul and Audrey Grescoe for having done us all an enormous favour by gathering this intriguing collection of private correspondence, for nothing matches a letter in its ability to seize a moment in time.”
“A broad and absorbing collection.”
–Quill & Quire
From the Hardcover edition.