This season we watched deep cuts to Library and Archives Canada begin to take effect as we learned how the archives cached by web browsers make websites load more quickly. We said goodbye to the Toronto Women’s Bookstore and Douglas and McIntyre, Canada’s biggest independent publishing house. We witnessed our sometime newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, try to discount allegations of plagiarism against one of its columnists by saying they came from an “anonymous blogger.” We thought about how the same digital force that has laid off editors, fact-checkers, and copyeditors has made it easier to spot the holes they’ve left. We worried about the gap-toothed look of a street without bookstores and a country without publishers, and we wondered about how well we’re caching our own culture for the next time any of this stuff comes up.
This fifth issue of ours takes us to sea in Matt Rader’s poem, “My Life Aboard the Last Ship Carrying Cumberland Coal,” and in David Ritter’s essay on the Art Gallery of Ontario’s tiny models of the Napoleonic ships that were “instruments of imprisonment.” Medeine Tribinevicius looks at the oceanic geography of the Internet and Naomi Joseph considers the consent involved in setting sail online. That mighty bivalve ancestor of the hyperlink, the footnote, is an honoured guest in this issue, both in Tim Jacobs’s tribute to David Foster Wallace, and in Gillian Savigny’s poem, “Three Studies of Fruit.” William Max Nelson and Cindy Blažević each consider the private and public words of artists that allow them to communicate—or not. Angela Hickman finds an ancient book culture living out its year as the UNESCO World Book Capital in Yerevan, Armenia, while Meghan Davidson Ladly follows the fate of books in the streets of Paris, that other international book capital, where books are thought of as “instruments for the elevation of the soul.” Amid these life-in-death fables of the contemporary book industry, Emily Holton’s illustration, “Even the Poor will Bury their Dead,” feels like a parable for the many farewells murmured lately by book people.
Still, books are migrating, not going extinct, and new hellos remain to be said. In response, over the last few months the TRB has been growing, changing, taking on new faces, and asking more questions about what a browser cache like this one can do for readers across platforms. Lost at sea online or in books, writing remains our navigation instrument, telling us what’s out there, tracing the lines around where we’re at, reeling us in. Each issue is a dispatch. Keep listening.