OBIT ~ Don Bell, writer, book collector
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2017-04-20 01:32:08 UTC
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Great obit.
The Bookman' loved the absurd
Winner of Stephen Leacock award sold books he discovered on scouting
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, April 19, 2003
MONTREAL -- If the ability to trigger a smile or laughter marks the
soul of wit, then he was an embodiment of that spirit. Don Bell, one
Canada's prize funny men and a winner of the Stephen Leacock Award for
Humour, died last month in Montreal at the age of 67.
Mr. Bell's fascination with foible and folly inspired both the man and
his writing. He is remembered by his readers for his gift of satire and
In his amusing booklet titled Bookspeak, published in 2000, Mr. Bell,
a.k.a. The Bookman, married his two favourite passions: writing and book
collecting. By incorporating the specialized language of book dealers and
book scouts into the tale of two lovers, he composed a story dense with
erotic, book-lingo, double entendres.
The basic premise of the chapbook is revealed in the introduction. A
quote by Carlton Lake casts a light on Mr. Bell's absurd sense of humour.
"The late Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, a scholarly and imaginative Philadelphia
bookseller, . . . once made the claim that, 'after love, book collecting is
the most exhilarating sport of all.' In more than a half-century of rubbing
elbows and knocking heads with book collectors, book dealers, book scouts, I
have yet to find a single true bookman who would agree with the doctor on
that point: They would all, I think, insist he had the order reversed."
To the citizens of Sutton, Que., a sign that the summer season had
arrived was Mr. Bell's return. For the past 10 years, he would go to the ski
town with a cornucopia of titles that he would set up, outside, on a table
at a Main Street terrace. Then last year, he moved La Librarie Founde Bookes
and his treasure chest of collectibles out from under a tent and into a
vacant barbershop.
His seasonal business was built around his winter instincts; many of
the titles he procured were discovered during his book-scouting adventures
across Canada, the United States and France, where he spent his winters.
Though book selling helped to fill the coffers, Mr. Bell considered
himself a writer first and foremost. He was the author of numerous articles
and three published books, Bookspeak (Typographium 2000), Pocket Man (1979)
and Saturday Night at the Bagel Factory (McClelland & Stewart 1972), for
which he was the recipient of the 1972 Stephen Leacock Award for Humour.
Mr. Bell's quirky short stories are all upbeat and uplifting. His
examinations of local characters such as Balloon Man, Jacob Kaminsky, Saint
Philip Among the Doughnuts, Abdullah the Butcher and Eddie Do-Nothing all
pay tribute to the eccentricities and humanity of Montrealers who haunted
the city in the 1960s.
He often referred to himself as a short-story writer whose material
was not fictional. His friends, in his own words, were "painters, idlers,
hermits and various city freaks."
Don Bell was born in Brooklyn, into an agnostic-Jewish household, on
Nov. 17, 1935. In 1941, the family moved to Montreal, where Mr. Bell went on
to graduate from McGill University with a degree in commerce.
During the 1960s, he began supporting himself working in the media: A
brief on-air career as an interviewer with the CBC was followed by writing
gigs with the Montreal Gazette and Weekend Magazine.
In 1962, he married Celine Dubé and they had two children, Daniel and
Mr. Bell was a regular in Books in Canada magazine. His Founde Bookes
column was filled with polished vignettes that shed light on his life as a
book scout and book dealer.
His last column will be featured in next month's issue. His final
contribution was co-written by his son, Daniel. It is an amusing story about
the stir caused by The Blue Notebook, a turn-of-the-century Russian novel by
Emmanuil Kazakevich, worth about $20, that had been mistakenly valued at
$2,000. In his column, Mr. Bell's storytelling is ironic and lighthearted
and although he alludes to the emphysema that shortened his life, his
writing remained upbeat and breezy.
Combining whimsy and seriousness for pleasant effect, with a wink and
a smile, Mr. Bell placed himself front-and-centre when he described
Kazakevich's unimpressive novel. "A few days later, we had another go at it
during a long sit-in at a Tim Hortons and wolfed down Kazakevich's 105-page
proletarian outing between munches of an explosion de fruit muffin and
slurpfuls of Hortonesque decaf . . . and was suddenly surreally transported
to the hut in the forest outside Razliv where Lenin and his fellow
revolutionaries plotted to overthrow the provisional government and set up
an unalloyed Marxist state with the backing of Russia's overworked, underfed
By his own admission, Mr. Bell suffered from a common disease that
afflicts book scouts who make their living hunting literary treasures in
libraries, garage sales and flea markets and other obscure locales. He said
it was a disease brought on by the love of the bound-up word. He called it
"Often you pick up a book with every intention of selling it at a
reasonable profit, but out of curiosity you sit down, start leafing through
it, fall in love with the book and instead of flogging it to n'importe qui,
you end up keeping the lovely object. Collecting. Hoarding. It stays put on
your shelves. Goes into your own ever-growing proud collection. Simply ain't
up for grabs."
But in spite of his chronic bookitis, his career as book scout
certainly provided fodder for many interesting tales. Mr. Bell considered
the discovery of a first edition of Bram Stroker's Dracula, purchased in a
Versailles bookstore for 50 francs and resold for $4,000, to be his biggest
The meticulous detective work he invested in looking for literary gems
was also reflected in his magnus opus, a 500-page non-fiction investigation
about the death of escape artist Harry Houdini.
While writing Who Killed Harry Houdini, Mr. Bell spent decades
researching Gordon Whitehead, the enigmatic McGill student who allegedly
asked Harry Houdini at the Princess Theatre in Montreal if it was true that
he could withstand a punch to the stomach. After the unsuspecting escape
artist, who was sorting through his mail, responded in the affirmative, Mr.
Whitehead delivered a series of punches to the illusionist's stomach. Nine
days later, Mr. Houdini died in Detroit, on Halloween, 1926. Mr. Whitehead
passed away in the 1950s.
Mr. Bell sought out friends and acquaintances of the alleged
assailant, who disappeared from the public eye shortly after delivering the
fatal blows.
Witnesses had imagined that Mr. Whitehead was operating on impulse,
but Mr. Houdini was renowned for exposing spiritual charlatans, and Mr. Bell
believed that Mr. Whitehead may have been put up to the assault by one of
the impostors that Mr. Houdini foiled.
The manuscript is currently with Mr. Bell's son, Daniel, who is
putting the finishing touches to the text. Several publishers have expressed
interest and Daniel Bell is confident that the book will be published and
available in bookstores soon.
Don Bell loved to laugh. His daughter Valerie said his sense of humour
was both wry and witty and that he adored the absurd. "He only laughed twice
the last two weeks of his life. The first time was as result of some racy
George Carlin joke on the television. The second time was just a few days
before his death, when he saw the expression on the face of his atheist
friend, Simson, when he explained to him that he was going to be baptized.
"He was covering all his tracks," Ms. Bell explained. "He had just
finished reading Yann Martel's Life of Pi and he was so impressed by the
story of Piscine Patel, the precocious son of a zookeeper who plumbed the
depths of animal behaviour and the world's major religions, he decided to
"My father was a devout agnostic; but my mother is French-Canadian and
in accordance with the times my brother and I were baptized Catholics. The
priest wouldn't baptize us until my father promised that he would embrace
the faith -- something my father never did. You know, agnostics can never be
too sure. I think being baptized was his way of keeping his word . . . just
in case.
"There's a quote that sums it up best," Ms. Bell said as she opened up
a copy of Saturday Night at the Bagel Factory to a short story called The
Last of the Runyons: "When I die there's only one spot in the world I want
them to bury me -- that's in the Irishman's cemetery. That's the last place
the devil will look for a Jew."
Don Bell died of emphysema on March 6. He leaves his second wife,
Odile Perret, son Daniel and daughter Valerie.

I once was in Sutton with my girlfriend, Manon, and while exploring the main street's boutiques, stumbled across the local used bookstore. As we entered, the middle-aged, hawk-eyed fellow behind the counter greeted us amicably, no doubt registering us as strangers. As I turned to examine the shelves, I noticed a framed portrait with the caption "Don Bell, winner of the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour." I felt a slight frisson, and turning back to the bookseller, matched his slightly more withered visage with that in the portrait. "Are you Don Bell?", I enthusiastically inquired -- "Saturday Night at the Bagel Factory?" He nodded in a somehow simultaneously diffident and proud manner, nimbly proffering a copy of said book for my recognition. But I required no such prompting, and began regaling him with my memories of his jaundiced tome, which I had requested as a Christmas present years ago after seeing him promote it winningly on some obscure late-night CBC talk show. "Abdullah the Butcher -- 'Me beat, me beat!'", I intoned … "The bleachers at Jarry Park -- 'Go Mack Go!'". It seemed to take him aback slightly.

Manon and I browsed through the shop for a while, but despite my exhaustive exploration, I failed to find any volume to purchase within my limited price range. So I left rather sheepishly. Once back on the street, Manon opined that Mr. Bell had seemed especially charmed by my recognition. Hmmm, I must order that Houdini book of his.
amelia rosner
2017-04-20 17:02:28 UTC
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Do you think all these responses are from the exact same person? Someone we've known over the years? Anyone have a theory?
Sarah Ehrett
2017-04-20 17:58:28 UTC
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On Thu, 20 Apr 2017 10:02:28 -0700 (PDT), amelia rosner
Post by amelia rosner
Do you think all these responses are from the exact same person? Someone we've known over the years? Anyone have a theory?
Well, ..... http://whatismyipaddress.com/ip/

Who do you think it is? ????

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