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Growing Up Jung
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I hated to see this book end. I loved every person in it... Growing Up Jung is a gem." [more...]
Friends & Influences
Partying with Farley Mowat at Anna Porter’s Rosedale padQuill and Quire, January 2005
By Micah Toub
In mid-November, a well-dressed segment of Toronto’s intelligentsia packed into Key Porter publisher Anna Porter’s Moore Park home for the launch of Farley Mowat’s new book, No Man’s River. As guests made their way into the warmly lit living room and over to the wine table, they found themselves squeezing past some very notable folks, including, among others, the oldest living former prime minister, John Turner, and – sporting a black leather jacket and sizable sideburns – folk-music legend Gordon Lightfoot.
Of course, Mowat is not always so celebrated; he’s been criticized, originally in a 1996 Saturday Night article, for fabricating facts in some of his most popular books, a claim to which he famously responded, “I never let the facts get in the way of the truth!” Key Porter editor Meg Taylor, who worked on the later stages of No Man’s River, sees a logic in Mowat’s motto. “More people will read the book because of how he has crafted it,” she said. “The criticisms come from academic philistines, people who are very rigid and don’t understand what he’s trying to do.”
Susan Renouf, who has edited many of Mowat’s books, and who started work on No Man’s River before she moved to McClelland & Stewart last year, put it this way: “He demands that you care, and if cynicism, trendiness, or any number of other factors make you uncomfortable with his demand, then you’ll find reasons to go away from the book.”
“He’s a national treasure,” said publisher Anna Porter, “and generally speaking, Canadians have a great desire to wreck national treasures.” Despite the questions the allegations raised about Mowat’s status in the CanLit canon, the debate likely influenced only a tiny fraction of his large readership. According to Porter, his nearly 40 books have been published in 50 languages and he’s sold over 20 million copies worldwide. “People seem to find him irresistible,” said Porter, “from Korea to Siberia, all the way to Sarnia.”
When asked why he was so popular, the guests at Mowat’s party answered unanimously – he’s accessible. “He writes to the people,” said Book City owner Frans Donker, “and he can spin a good yarn.”
“I think he’s going to forever be known,” said author Joseph Boyden. “For a long time, he was pigeonholed as an ecological writer, a left-leaning protector of certain peoples, but I think he’s going to go down as being one of our greats.”
As usual, even on his big night, Mowat didn’t shy away from speaking to his critics. With a television crew’s lights shining on him, he addressed the party, and proudly declared himself “a literary liar who is able to out-produce his competitors.”
Later, as Mowat signed books for his friends and fans, the 83-year-old said he was unconcerned with how he’ll be remembered. “The idea that writers want some kind of immortality is absolute bullshit as far as I’m concerned. I write because it’s my function. If your function ends, you die instantly. You turn into a little puff of smoke and blow away into the suburbs. I don’t want to do that. I want to die with a bang.”
He turned back to the young woman waiting with her book. “You’re beautiful,” he said to her. She requested that he do something special to her inscription, so he drew a heart next to his signature. Then she asked if he’d put both their initials inside the heart. He raised an eyebrow to the others waiting, let out a vigorous laugh, and dutifully obliged.