Dr. Delicious

Dr. Delicious: Memoirs of a Life in CanLit

A review of Dr. Delicious: Memoirs Of A Life In CanLit by Robert Lecker

Published on April 1, 2006

Dr. Delicious: Memoirs Of A Life In CanLit
Robert Lecker

Vehicule Press

He’s an author, an editor, co-founder and co-publisher of ECW Press. He’s the professor you always wanted. He’s a CanLit critic who encountered “…thousands of students who have changed the way I see this country’s fiction, poetry and literary criticism.” He’s an academic who doesn’t take himself seriously. He’s without bitterness, not over the games that Canadian publishers have to play in order to get grants, nor the politics in university hiring. He’s Dr. Delicious when there’s no joy in being plain old Professor Robert Lecker.

“Once you start to imagine yourself in a different way, anything is possible,” he says. A German student told him that Lecker means delicious and a South African explained that, in Afrikaans, Lekker means nice. “I was nice. I was delicious. I imagined myself as a tasty treat.”

Dr. Delicious, not Professor Lecker, wrote this memoir. Professor Lecker, he says, “would resist the temptation to make his life in Canadian literature personal.” Dr. Delicious would tell it all, “would write about his passions, his failures, how the whole business of CanLit drove him crazy, lost him sleep, drove him on.”

Chances are that Professor Lecker would have expanded our knowledge of CanLit and publishing, feeding our spirits with all the excitement of the oatmeal porridge that Mother called efficient fuel for our bodies. Dr. Delicious has fun. His sense of humour takes the sting out of his observations. He opens the doors to a world he inhabited for 30 years, and he welcomes us in.

His world is a reflection of Alice’s Wonderland. “I found out, to my dismay, how few people really read literary criticism. And yet there are all these professors around, writing articles and books that almost no one will read, getting grants to travel and give papers at conference sessions attended by a handful of people who are largely unfamiliar with the subject at hand.”

He maintains that although he grew up in Montreal and graduated from high school in 1969, he knew nothing about Canadian literature, nothing about Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, Irving Layton. Why? “I suspect because the teachers had no fundamental interest in Canadian literature or were woefully out of date in their ideas about current Canadian writing.”

If you believe Dr. Delicious, Lecker blundered through school, stumbled into literature, accidentally encountered Jack David in 1975, in the early days of Essays on Canadian Writing. “My teaching life and my publishing life were always intertwined,” he says. The two parts of his life are woven together through the memoirs, with Lecker’s personal life providing the third strand of the braid.

His failed job interview at UBC is alive with mockery of the system – and his own younger self. So is his successful application to the University of Maine in Orono, life in the ‘burbs, chainsaws, his first encounter with hunting season (including, he maintains, the accidental shooting of his neighbour, “shot for a deer”) and his escape back to Montreal and McGill four years later.

Dr. Delicious is, above all, a storyteller. He provides a look at publishing before computers, including encounters with “the first publication, the manuscripts stained with coffee and smelling of cigarettes, distressed by the author’s notes to himself: groceries to buy, pills to take, a scribbled word that didn’t work.” He assesses CanLit publishing, “an industry that had really started rolling in the 1970s, gathered tremendous momentum in the 1980s, began to fall off in the 1990s, and was just about dead after 2000…My last surviving title was a book called WrestleCrap: The Very Worst of Pro Wrestling. Apparently it did quite well.”

As should his memoir.

Joan Eyolfson Cadham is a freelance writer from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan who has spent many hours on the pleasure side of the counter of Montreal pastry shops.



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