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LONDON, ONTARIO – Here’s an encounter I had about 35 years ago which I’ve called to mind so frequently over the years that I think I must regard it as emblematic; as one of my first encounters with an obnoxious tendency that has only proliferated since then. I was standing with a crowd of other human beings at a transfer point at Dundas and Richmond one afternoon, waiting for nearly all of the riders to disembark from a very full bus before we’d be able to file on.
LONDON, ONTARIO – I learned a valuable, lifetime lesson from an act of literary spoliation I unconsciously committed around the age of 18. Blown away by the magnificence of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, I immediately and successively raced through every novel of Mordecai Richler’s that I could lay my hands on and within a couple of months – surprise, surprise – I had utterly OD’d on the man. While I still objectively acknowledge Richler as one of Canada’s bravest and most wickedly funny writers, I was never able to take up any of the subsequent novels of his later maturity – I’m talking here about everything that followed St. Urbain’s Horeseman – without accompanying pangs of queasiness and ennui that were entirely owing to my past impetuosity as a reader and had nothing to do with Richler’s very considerable skills as a writer. The lesson I learned nearly half a century ago is that greedily burning your way through anyone’s entire oeuvre like a pack of cigarettes lit end to end, is no way to treat an author and will almost certainly put you off a good thing.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Prompted by a glowing commendation this spring by David Warren on his Essays in Idleness website, I finally read Sigrid Undset’s (1882–1949) triple-decker saga of life in Medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter. Originally published in three installments – The Bridal Wreath (1923), The Mistress of Husaby (1925), and The Cross (1927) – Kristin Lavransdatter was collectively awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. In that essay, Mr. Warren was insistent that an English reader who wanted the richest possible Lavransdatter experience, must seek out the original translation by Charles Archer and J.S. Scott and avoid the streamlined, mildly sexed-up revamping by one Tiina Nunnally which is being peddled by Penguin Books today.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
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