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The Bear necessities: Marian Engel’s novel gets a makeover

OriginalBearLast July, Marian Engel’s 1976 novel, Bear – an erotic story about an emotionally disconnected librarian who engages in a sexual affair with an ursidae – became an unlikely internet meme when the book’s cover and a few of its salacious passages were posted to the website Imgur under the headline “What the actual fuck, Canada?” The cover of the original Seal Books mass-market edition went viral, with its retro illustration of a bare-chested woman leaning provocatively against a bear. Along with the inevitable jokes came a bump in sales for the Bear ebook, owned by Penguin Random House Canada imprint McClelland & Stewart.

The publisher reacted quickly to the online attention, in August releasing two small reprints of the 2009 New Canadian Library edition. Behind the scenes, work began on covers for new ebook and print versions of the Governor General’s Literary Award–winning novel. There was just one issue clawing at the team: should the new editions go camp or classy?