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Gifts to Last: Christmas Stories from the Maritimes and Newfoundland

by selected by Walter Learning

When We Were Young: A Collection of Canadian Stories

by selected by Stuart McLean

The broadcast industry has perfected the rerun, so we shouldn’t be surprised book publishers are following suit. They’ve put their own spin on the strategy, but the basic idea is the same: if something sells once, repackage it and hope for a new marketing wave to propel it into black ink again.

And since the best marketing hooks for publishers are recognizable names and nostalgic themes, especially Christmas, the biggest marketing binge of the year, Goose Lane’s new short fiction collection Gifts to Last is a natural. Walter Learning, who selected the stories for the book, is known best in the Maritimes and Newfoundland for his work in theatre, but he’s also made his mark on the West Coast and as head of the theatre section with the Canada Council.

And though the Christmas collection he put together here is an unabashed appeal to seasonal sentimentality, it does have an edge as well. Starting it off with a typically syrupy gleaning from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was predictable, but writers with credentials in social criticism such as Carol Bruneau and Helen Fogwill Porter are there too to remind us that the season isn’t all draped in tinsel.

A recycled Ray Guy newspaper column about loss of faith adds another dimension, as does a piece by quintessential Maritime wordsmith Alistair MacLeod. Déjà vu aside, this is a substantial offering of literary talent with a sprinkling of first-time authors.

When We Were Young, Penguin’s latest “selected by” theme title, tries to tug at different heartstrings. What we find out first is that CBC Radio broadcaster Stuart McLean, himself a storyteller of note, has a taste for the tried and true in short fiction. From Robertson Davies, through Marian Engel, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, and, yes, Lucy Maud is here too (as is Alistair McLeod), this collection reminds one of a Governor General’s honour roll.

Do we want replays of all these flashbacks to younger, happier times? This book even re-runs Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater, from which most Canadians who read or listen to Morningside on CBC Radio can already recite extensively.

Still, if you’re going to recycle stories, there is an argument for picking the best. And with the likes of Margaret Laurence, Anne Michaels, and Diane Schoemperlen, this book brings together the short story icons of the country.

But publishers shouldn’t go overboard with this genre. No one begrudges the authors the exposure and the extra stipend they receive for the replays, but maybe a dust jacket warning is in order listing just how many times and where the stories have already appeared. Loyal CanLit followers are a patient lot, but there is a fine line between promoting quality material and blatant exploitation.


Reviewer: Verne Clemence

Publisher: Goose Lane


Price: $16.95

Page Count: 240 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-86492-206-X

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: 1996-12

Categories: Anthologies

Reviewer: Verne Clemence

Publisher: Viking/Penguin


Price: $29.99

Page Count: 320 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-670-87328-4

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: December 1, 1996

Categories: Anthologies, Children and YA Non-fiction