With a book such as Jan Zwicky’s recent The Book of Frog, released by Newfoundland’s Pedlar Press, many readers will wonder how it came about. The book is slim, perfect-bound, beautifully printed, has a pleasing light-green cover, and is adorned with images and diagrams within. The short prose work also marks a shift from the works of poetry and philosophy that Zwicky has published during her long, award-winning career.
An upcoming review in The Puritan XXI will give a fuller account of The Book of Frog, but before then I wanted to know about its inception and how it fit in with Pedlar’s mandate. So I asked Pedlar’s editor and publisher, Beth Follett. She was kind enough to respond to my email interview:
PW: How did you come to hear about this work?
BF: Jan wrote to ask if she could send along her manuscript, saying it was genre-less: a kind of cross between Archie & Mehitabel and Tove Jansson. She said that part of the story is told in photos and that its hero is a small granite frog — who lives with a pianist. Her description intrigued me.
PW: What were your reactions when you first read it through?
BF: I read it with the deepest sort of pleasure. Such a departure, in some ways, for Jan, and also so in keeping with her concerns for humanity and the planet.
PW: How did you decide it would be a good fit for Pedlar?
BF: I acquire excellent, innovative manuscripts that preserve and extend the tradition of literary innovation. Pedlar’s list is eclectic. Jan’s book is a perfect fit, truly genre-less, though we have called it a fiction, mostly for the purposes of CIP Data.
PW: Did either you or Zwicky have definite ideas regarding The Book of Frog’s design and layout?
BF: Zab Hobart is Pedlar’s designer, and she is encouraged to be innovative in the ways of the work in question. Jan had her own ideas about page layout. The total design was a collaboration between Jan, Zab and me.
PW: Were Ian Fryer’s photographs a part of the manuscript from the very start, or were they added in later?
BF: The photos were an integral part of the project from the get-go.
PW: How has the reception of The Book of Frog been, particularly compared to other Pedlar titles released this year?
BF: Readers have loved the book. Jan made a thorough tour of the east and west coasts, appeared in Toronto and Ottawa, and has been invited to many festivals, but given her stature as a thinker and a writer, and given that Forge, her most recent poetry title, was on last year’s Griffin list, this activity is not surprising…
PW: Are there plans for similar prose books like this in the near future?
BF: I acquire unsolicited works. My lists evolve with all kinds of variables at play, few of these having much to do with “planning.” I believe this is the best process a literary publisher can assume. It is crucial to be open, receptive and awake to cultural and literary forces.
PW: Finally, what are your own thoughts on this unique book, and how would you like to see it received by readers?
BF: Shortly after The Book of Frog‘s release, Jessica Michalofsky reviewed it in The Winnipeg Review. A dream review. I would like readers to find the pleasure of reading simultaneously the book’s many levels, through its many voices. It is a symphonic work, and symphony can be enjoyed by many different kinds of music lovers. So too Frog. To receive its complex riches, readers might read it many times…
A final insight:
BF: After the book was published, Jan found the following quote from Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize in Physics winner:
We have a way of discussing the world, when we talk of it at various hierarchies or levels.… As we go up in this hierarchy of complexity, we get to things like muscle twitch, or nerve impulse, which is an enormously complicated thing in the physical world, involving an organization of matter in a very elaborate complexity. Then we come to things like ‘frog’. —Richard Feynman