Saturday, June 10, 2006

Out of Print - Canadian Books Published pre-2000

This is a rather specialized rant about the state of Canadian publishing and bookselling. Every year around this time, professors across the country are selecting the books that they will assign to students in their courses. Many of them, like me, are pulling out their hair in frustration because the books they want are no longer available for purchase. My informal survey of books that I was considering seems to indicate that unless a) the book is a "classic" work in the field or b) it was published by a mainstream, as opposed to academic, publishing house, you have little chance of finding a book published prior to 2000, and no hope of one published pre-1995. Even if these two criteria are met, you may still be out of luck.

My current rant is prompted by efforts to select books for two courses: a second year introduction to Canadian studies course, for which I am picking books for a book review assignment; and a fourth-year seminar on nationalisms and identities in Canada.

Herewith, a sampler of some of the books that I can no longer obtain, in ascending order of egregiousness:

1) Ramsay Cook, Canada, Quebec and the Uses of Nationalism or The Maple Leaf Forever.
Cook's work on Nationalism in Quebec and Canada is great for an undergraduate course. There are more recent compilations of his work that have been published, but they don't quite capture the period that I'm interested in.

2) Jack Granatstein, Who Killed Canadian History?
The much maligned Granatstein's rant about the evils of social history and how Canadian history is in decline was a national phenomenon a few years ago. I was contemplating it as one perspective on the state of national unity and narratives of the Canadian nation. But it, alas, (or good riddance, depending on which historian you talk to) is out of print. Only one second-hand copy is even available from

3) Pierre Trudeau, Federalism and the French Canadians
I'm completely gobsmacked that this classic work by Trudeau has not been reprinted recently. Not only has my university library lost its copy, but apparently no Canadian publisher has seen fit to keep this classic alive. It used to be published by Macmillan, which is now defunct, but I'm surprised that no other publisher has picked it up. Fortunately, every few years, another publisher acquires the rights to George Grant's classic Lament for a Nation.

You could easily add on to this list dozens of monographs on Canadian history/political science that were published by academic presses, had their initial run, and then were not reprinted. Virtually every title older than 10 years old has suffered this fate, unless a second edition was released. An increasing number of academic titles also are released in hardcover only, primarily for a library market, and are thus too expensive to assign for a course assignment. Given the limited financial resources that these presses have, this is understandable, but frustrating from a pedagogical standpoint.

The lesson I'm learning from this? Buy new books as they are released, as you might never get another chance, or you'll pay through the nose at a second-hand bookstore.

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