Fighting words from the literary trenches

Quote Ken quoting Ken? Why not? Most denizens of the Canadian Book World are avid readers of SHuSH, the weekly newsletter produced by Ken Whyte, author and publisher of Sutherland House. He observed recently, in an offering headlined Publishing Into the Void, that for authors, “reliance on mainstream media is increasingly untenable today because mainstream media is a shadow of its former self . . . .” That truth drove me to my keyboard. I mean, who’s been looking for trouble since at least 1991 and Canada’s Undeclared War: Fighting Words from the Literary Trenches?

Ken #1 invited readers to respond and of course Ken # 2 — that would be moi — couldn’t help himself. As Ken #1 put it, Ken #2 “wrote to confirm what’s happening in conventional media.” And, yes, to share my dismay.

“Publishing into the void? That just about sums it up. Back in the 1990s, when I handled books coverage for the Calgary Herald, I built the section up to two or three pages per weekend edition. I assigned and published ten or twelve reviews per week and maybe a roundup of some sort. Plus I wrote an article or two mid-week. Every year, I would report on the annual general meetings of The Writers Union of Canada and the Alberta Writers’ Guild. I traveled annually to Toronto (and occasionally to Vancouver) for the Canadian Booksellers’ Association and the International Authors’ Festival. I caught an international Kerouac festival in Quebec City.

“I thought I was planting a flag, helping establish Calgary as the Toronto-West of the Canadian book world. A few years after leaving the city, I visited and flipped open the Saturday book section and saw that of all I believed I had built, nothing remained. And I felt a new identification: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” A lesson in hubris. A similar story emerges, as you [Ken #1] suggest, at every city newspaper.”



  1. Vance Rodewalt on March 26, 2022 at 12:04 am

    Well, Ken, it was quite gallant or optimistic of you to carry a flag for Calgary. Literary or otherwise obsessed nothing exists for Toronto west of uh, well, Toronto. My best joke on Toronto was purely by accident. I had just flown into TO from NYC. Downtown Toronto was in the midst of a huge reno and plywood lined the streets. Being at one time a country boy I strongly favour landmarks and I was lost and in trouble. I yelled from my rental car to a guy crossing the street. Hey, where’s downtown? He stopped. Saw I was driving a rental and said…You’re in it! Where are you from? Without thinking I said I was from New York. Well, he gave me a sour look and said…This AIN”T New York. …hello, I’m actually from Calgary but you see I was just in New York and…He was gone and I was laughing.

  2. Patrick Nichol on March 26, 2022 at 7:25 am

    This is a fabulous read Ken. I’m also dismayed by the evaporation of excellent local books coverage in mainstream media.
    When I was a J-School student at SAIT, I devoured your section, plus columns by Don Trucker and Richard Wagamese, all the time.
    Your stuff made me want to be a better writer, and it was wonderful to see that brand of Journalism encouraged by J. Patrick O’Callaghan.
    I’m a bookseller today, but I share your disappointment with the incessant canned coverage, bullet-point lists and superficial coverage of the Canadian literary scene.
    Thanks for writing this blog!

    • Patrick Nichol on March 26, 2022 at 7:30 am

      I meant Don Truckey, sorry about the damned autocorrect on my phone .

  3. Diane Girard on March 26, 2022 at 10:24 am

    It is distressing. There are fewer newspapers, just for a start, and most are owned by one of the chains. The best book reviews around here are written by the local independent book store’s staff. Therefore, they are only seen by the folks who have internet access, are inclined to read a lot, and can afford to buy books.

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