Celebrating 20 Years of Books & Breakfast
By Stuart Nulman
Paragraphe Bookstore founder Richard King remembered when the store decided to hold its first ever Books & Breakfast event 20 years ago. He got the idea from a similar event that was held on a regular basis in Victoria, B.C. … only it was on Wednesday mornings at 6 a.m.
“Our first Books & Breakfast was not a success. It took place during Thanksgiving weekend; no one knew what Books & Breakfast was about; and the weather was miserable that day,” he said. “As a result, we comped as many people as possible and the Ritz hotel, where the first event took place, had to make the room look more smaller and crowded.”
After such a rather dubious debut, which was followed with the immediate and unending support of the Gazette and its then-publisher Michael Goldbloom, Books & Breakfast quickly became a much anticipated event where Montreal book lovers got the chance every fall and spring to enjoy a Sunday morning with a tasty breakfast and a taste of the latest book releases from the point of view of a selection of well known local, national and international authors. And each event has no problem selling out its 300-350 tickets every time, no matter which Sunday it falls on.
On October 20, over 300 Montreal bibliophiles marked the 20th anniversary of Books & Breakfast at its current home base, the Sheraton Centre Hotel, with a special gala edition. It was hosted by Montreal broadcaster Anne Lagace Dowson, and besides the usual lineup of authors talking about their new books to an eager, hungry readership (this time, it was Bill Haugland and Richard Pound who had that distinction), a handful of special guests were on hand to briefly share their respective Books & Breakfast experiences over the past two decades.
-CJAD host Tommy Schnurmacher related his connection to Paragraphe Bookstore (where, he admitted he read the risqué parts of Leonard Cohen’s novel “Beautiful Losers” and the entire Koran), and admitted that the success of one of his books that he promoted at a previous Books & Breakfast event, “Canada Is Not A Real Country”, was due to the drawing by Aislin on its cover.
-McGill professor and Gazette columnist Dr. Joe Schwarcz remembered when he appeared at his very first Books & Breakfast to talk about his first book, which he wanted to call “The Right Chemistry”. “The sales people for my publisher liked the book, but thought that a title with the word ‘chemistry’ in it was the kiss of death,” he said. “So they suggested that it be called ‘Radar, Hula Hoops and Pig Balls.’” It wasn’t until his 13th book that the publisher relented and called it “The Right Chemistry”.
-Gazette columnist and best selling author Josh Freed (who confessed that he was never a morning person), made his first Books & Breakfast appearance during its inaugural year. “I originally thought ‘Books & Breakfast’ was more like an oxymoron. It should have been called ‘Books & Blankets’, or ‘Books and Bathrooms’. Those two ideas went together like cognac and salad, or peanut butter and tuna fish sandwiches. My advice to the audience back then was to go home, because I thought it wouldn’t last,” he admitted. “However, Paragraphe managed to turn a terrible idea into a terrific tradition.”
-Fellow Gazette columnist Bill Brownstein thought it was easier to be a Books & Breakfast featured author than a Books & Breakfast host. He recalled his horrific experience as a host when he had to diplomatically cut short the presentation by the late Canadian actor Al Waxman, who was there to promote his newly-published autobiography, after he was onstage for a total of 45 minutes, which far surpassed the allowed 15-20 minutes each guest was allotted.
-Award-winning Gazette editorial cartoonist Terry “Aislin” Mosher wrapped up the special guest portion of the anniversary gala with a highly entertaining Power Point presentation showing the step-by-step evolution of one of his typical editorial cartoons which he calls “Here’s How He Draws Stuff”. As well, he promoted his upcoming 47th book, which is based on a presentation he did in China that explained what Canada is all about, according to the pen and point-of-view of his fellow Canadian editorial cartoonists.
But the crux that has made Books & Breakfast such a successful Sunday literary tradition in Montreal is the chance to hear in person an author talk about their new book.
Bill Haugland spoke about how he decided to become a novelist after retiring from a career as a reporter and anchor for CFCF TV’s long running “Pulse” newscast that lasted for over 40 years. After publishing two mysteries based on his experiences as a TV journalist, Haugland’s third book, “After It Rains” (Vehicule Press) is a collection of short stories that deal with the wide range of human emotions and behaviours.
He also shared with the audience his take on how creative people get their ideas for their works. “It’s like a commonly shared reservoir that you have to dip into,” he said. On that note, he related the time when he was researching his second novel “The Bidding” that he found out that another novelist was researching a similar subject for his book (someone named Dan Brown who ended up writing some tome called “The Da Vinci Code”); and that book, in turn, was based on a work of nonfiction published more than 30 years before called “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”.
“If you have a solid idea for a novel, my advice is to get cracking, before some other guy plucks it out of the ether,” warned Haugland.
Richard Pound, the Montreal lawyer who became internationally–renowned as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and later as president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, spoke about his new book, a collection of quotations (which he labeled as a “door stopper”) that’s entitled “Quotations for the Fast Lane” (McGill-Queen’s University Press).
The idea for the book had its genesis back in the late 70s-early 80s, when he was delivering speeches on a regular basis on behalf of the IOC and the McGill alumni association. “I learned how to find some appropriate quote in advance and collected a lot of quotes on paper, which I kept in a folder and stored in a credenza in my office,” he said. “It got to the point that I couldn’t find those collected quotes in my messy office.”
When his law firm got computers (and he later got his own laptop), Pound started to transfer all those collected quotes – and compile newly acquired quotes — onto computer files. When a colleague from his law firm asked to borrow a quote from his collection for a speech that he was about to deliver, he opened Pound’s eyes to just how expansive his collection was … it filled the equivalent of 300 printed pages.
“Putting together a book of quotes is something that suddenly doesn’t materialize; it takes years of compiling,” he said. “My new book should be seen as a starter kit for anyone who is writing an article or a speech and needs a quote as an approach to a certain topic. The quotes that I have compiled for this book have an edge to them, not to mention a sense of irony and humour.”
After the speeches were done, all of that morning’s guests held an autograph session, where they signed copies of several of their published works for an eager book loving crowd who got their full share of Books & Breakfast that Sunday morning, from 20 years’ worth of Sunday mornings, and for many more years’ worth of Sunday mornings, where bagels and best sellers just seem to go hand in hand (and certainly much better than “Books & Bathrooms”).
Top picture: Paragraphe Bookstore founder Richard King