As children, Jacob Richler and his siblings weren’t allowed into their famous father’s upstairs study when Mordecai Richler was pounding away at his typewriter writing his books or his satirical essays. So when Jacob dedicated the Mordecai Richler Reading Room at Concordia University last week the occasion brought back “happy memories of my father.”
The room on the sixth floor of the McConnell Building is not, as some have suggested a replica or a re-creation of Richler’s office in the family cottage at Lake Memphremagog. There are, for example, no windows behind his chair, – but it is furnished with his vast reference library, his writing desk at which he wrote Barney’s Version and Solomon Gursky was Here. It also has one of the many typewriters he owned, treasured mementos, his cigars and ashtray and his favourite photographs. “The collection looks splendid,” Jacob Richler told the launch, “Being in the room gives me a feeling I’ve never had in a school before – it reminds me of home.” Richler was 70 when he died in 2001. His widow, Florence, who was also present at the dedication, initially offered the library to McGIll University which had reservations about Mordecai Richler’s enduring importance as a writer. While McGill was prepared to mount a temporary display, it was not prepared to care for the collection in perpetuity. Concordia is perhaps the more appropriate place for them: Richler was once a student at Sir George Williams College (now Concordia) in the early 1950’s, but dropped out to go to England. He later returned as writer in residence.
Jacob Richler reminded the audience of the “unique honour,” Concordia had given the family by housing his father’s collection. “According to my research, no university has ever before posthumously honoured one of its drop outs with his own eponymous library and reading room. Nor has a university asked the honoree’s son, another drop-out from the same university, to give a speech at its inauguration,” he quipped. “No one could call my father a book worm. But he lived in some large part for – and in his books. These books.”
The Richler reading room is not open to the general public. To visit the collection you have to book an appointment with Concordia’s Department of English at 514-848-2424, ext. 2344.