for those of you who don’t know the man, Berton was one of Canada’s most esteemed writers – he did a lot for Canadian history by writing books that were readable and enjoyable about such things as the War of 1812 (you know, the one where we BURNT the White House!) and Vimy, one of Canada’s biggest military heartbreaks. He was a grand old man in the literary world.
myself, I could take him or leave him, based on a single experience I had with him when I was working at Penguin Books. We were about to reissue Vimy in paperback form and were handed a stack of letters and correspondence from all and sundry. Seems that while Berton had done his best in researching the battle, various veterans who were still living disputed some events and had corrected him on a lot of points. Nothing major, mind you – but if they were in the 48th Highlanders to the east and he had them to the west, well…you can see why some vets would take offense.
anyway, I looked over this stack and immediately started to sort them out. Then I was told by the editor to not bother; they had contacted Berton regarding any changes between the hardcover and paperback and he had responded.
not a single word was to be changed. Nada. Zilch.
now, this is the author’s perogative and I ain’t gonna say that he should have – heck, it might have been more work to correct the errors than to rewrite the entire book; I have no idea of the errors involved and I want to believe that the original errors were made with no malice intent. After all, it’s hard to recreate a war scene for television, much less for a literary form and get it all correct.
but it’s bothered me for years that he refused to consider it. Maybe I’m wrong and I’ll be openminded to the fact that I could be, but I really thought he should have made the corrections.
however, if you DO get a chance to pick up ANY of his books, please do so. He was a great literay figure in Canada who wrote readable books, not intellectual drivel that makes your eyes burn. Go forth to your local library and bookstore and get some history stuff, eh?