On Books & Reading

On Books & Reading

On Books & Reading was published by The Ryerson Press, December, 1954

The booklet On Books & Reading: The address by His Excellency The Right Honourable Vincent Massey, Governor-General of Canada at the 125th Anniversary Dinner of The United Church Publishing House and the Ryerson Press, October 19, 1954, was published by The Ryerson Press in December, 1954. Only 1600 copies of this booklet were printed and distributed to “Their Friends at Christmastide, 1954”.

Vincent Massey was a career diplomat and served as Governor-General of Canada from 1952-1959. His 1951 report, The Massey Report, was the basis for the formation the National Library of Canada and the Canadian Council of the Arts. He also founded Massey College at the University of Toronto and The Massey Lectures.

In his address on the occasion of Ryerson Press’s 125th anniversary, Massey paid tribute to Book Steward C.H. Dickinson for his leadership and to Book Editor Lorne Pierce for his creative editorial work over the past several decades.

Massey admitted to knowing very little about the business of publishers and publishing, save to point out that once having accepted the invitation to address the group he turned his hand to familiarizing himself with terms such as “cast-offs, cross-heads, captions and cases”.

Massey offered sympathy and to understanding the dilemma of publishers and the publishing community. He quoted a German writer as follow:

“To write books is easy. It requires only pen and ink and the ever patient paper. To print books is a little more difficult, because genius so often rejoices in illegible handwriting. To read books is more difficult still, because of the tendency to go to sleep. But the most difficult task of all that a mortal man can embark upon is to sell a book.

Massey contemplated, in 1954, the fact that “there are many today who are ready to proclaim that books will find little or no place in this age of mass media. It has even been claimed…that, “Radio and TV have books on the ropes.”’

He pointed out that civilization endured for thousands of years before the appearance of the printed book. “We must also remember that printed books have been circulating only for some five centuries, and our society has known general literacy for little more than a hundred years. One might conclude that a widespread and constant use of books may only be a slight interlude, a transition, shall we say, between natural and scientific forms of communication. Books, it may be argued, will remain with us, but once again will be confined to libraries for the use of the cloistered scholar. The world will pass them by, securing its information through more attractive, more convenient, more striking, and broader channels.”

Massey went on to say that he believed books were obviously still the obvious means for recording and communication of facts in ample, precise and coherent form. He said, “In our age, marked by a progressive revelation of new and significant knowledge, there is a constant demand for information which cannot be met by a series of ‘radio talks,’ however good. On the contrary, as we all know, the usual response to a satisfying series on addresses on the air, is the demand that they be printed. As a means of serious communication there may be supplements to, but there is no substitute for the clear, adequate, permanent and portable book.”

Of publishers, Massey had this quote to offer: “The feeling that one may be building with permanent materials, the knowledge that one’s name is associated with books that enshrine profound thought and the triumphs of the creative imagination add a fascination to the best publishing. To offer the public what it wants, to pander to the worst prejudices of the moment, may be the speediest way to profits, here as elsewhere; but it is a dull road to follow. Publishing has far more thrilling adventures to offer the man who is ready to accompany pioneers along fresh paths; eager to help overcome apathy, ignorance, and prejudice; anxious that, above all, the lamp of truth should be kept burning. It may not yield the same monetary reward, but it will afford a satisfaction no money can buy. If you are a student and lover of human nature in all its amazing variety, where will you have such an opportunity of gratifying your desire as in publishing? Among authors, you will meet the very perfect gentleman and his exact reverse; you will encounter the colossal egotist who acclaims his manuscript as opening a new era, and the learned man of humble spirit, and all shades and patterns between.”

While Massey was not far off in predicting the onslaught of newer forms of communication such as the TV, the tablet or other portable listening and viewing devices, it is interesting to note, 60 years on from this celebratory address, that books remain a stable communication device.

The Right Honourable Vincent Massey died December 30, 1967.

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About The Ryerson Press Archive

My name is Clive Powell. I worked for McGraw-Hill Ryerson for 35 years. Recently I was asked to find a home for 3000 publications that represent the Ryerson Press Archive. I am happy to share my discoveries.
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