Shocked and Appalled: A Century of Letters to The Globe and Mail

Description

297 pages
Contains Index
$19.95
ISBN 0-88619-062-2

Year

1985

Contributor

Edited by Jack Kapica
Reviewed by Nicholas Pashley

Nicholas Pashley was a bookseller and a freelance writer and editor in Toronto.

Review

Breathes there the man with soul so dead that he has not at some time at least intended to write a letter to the editor? In this country, the reader with something to say is likely to say it to The Globe and Mail, and Jack Kapica, the paper’s letters editor since 1979, has compiled a selection of letters to The Globe spanning a century of frustration and whimsy.

Kapica’s choices for inclusion in Shocked and Appalled — andselecting from a quarter of a million letters cannot have been easy — tend to lean toward the whimsical rather than the serious, to the point that some readers will find the imbalance offensive. Nineteenth century correspondents write about Louis Riel and Canadian literature. Come the twentieth century, however, we are treated to much levity. Kapica gives us exchanges of letters on the flat earth theory, the question of direction of water going down the drain in the southern hemisphere, various lunar phenomena, and the Canadian flag issue, a debate that begins in 1901.

Kapica has an eye for famous letter writers. John Diefenbaker, Marshall McLuhan, Mazo de la Roche, and A.Y. Jackson all appear in these pages. Nellie McClung writes about the demon rum — drink has always figured largely in letters to The Globe — and Pierre Berton inveighs against Toronto Airport’s Terminal Two. Robertson Davies wonders aloud how much money a man needs to be a rich man, while Anton Kuerti properly blasts Canadian Pacific for inflicting Muzak on railroad passengers.

Still, it is the unknown writers who are the backbone of this collection. The most published correspondent is Oakville, Ontario’s Austin Small, clearly Kapica’s favourite. Small, with four letters, outdoes the better-known Senator Eugene Forsey by one. To this reviewer’s taste, the amusing letter by James F. Hutchinson of Woodstock, Ontario, responding to a theory that sex every six hours relieves the pain of arthritis, tops the bunch. Its closest rival is a letter from Dr. John Godfrey, commenting on Anne Godfrey’s letter about Mary (Godfrey’s response to an article by Stephen Godfrey.

There is much to savour in this collection. Soviet gymnast Nelli Kim protests the American boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 but does not write back when the Soviets stay away from Los Angeles. In 1926, Willard T. Perrin writes about playing baseball for Harvard 60 years earlier on a team of total abstainers who nearly beat the Cincinnati Red Stockings but for a bit of bad luck.

Kapica’s Introduction sheds much interesting light on his newspaper’s policies concerning its letters page. For years correspondents were able to hide behind pseudonyms, but in 1930 it was ruled that religious opinions could no longer be anonymous. In 1940, this rule was made to apply to all correspondents. Adieu, then, to Tempus Fugit, A Suffering Citizen, A Unionist Presbyterian, Wan to the Death, and Lover of the Robin. Devotees of The Globe’s letters to the editor will have favourites that have been ignored. Perhaps we will be treated to a second volume; Jack Kapica has merely scratched the surface.

Citation

“Shocked and Appalled: A Century of Letters to The Globe and Mail,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35536.