Dear Friends


Dear friends of KevinfromCanada,

This is Trevor Berrett from The Mookse and the Gripes blog. I’m so sad and heavy-hearted to let you know that, after a lengthy illness, Kevin passed away on Wednesday evening. We will miss his enthusiasm, his intelligence, and his kindness. I know many of you have already heard the news, and words of sadness, love, and appreciation have been flowing.

I first ran into Kevin back in 2008 on the now defunct Man Booker Prize forum. He dove into those conversations with gusto, unafraid to voice his opinion and push others to articulate theirs as well. He loved to read and to talk about books. I was just starting my blog, my career, and my family, and Kevin befriended me and encouraged and supported me in every aspect. Though he was the one experiencing physical pain and eventually fighting cancer, he was always upbeat, clever, funny, and amiable, even when pushing me out of my comfort zone.

I was excited when Kevin started his own blog — this one — in January 2009. Because he had already become a part of the community, there were many welcoming voices, thrilled that Kevin had his own platform we could come to for steady and solid conversations about books. He didn’t let us down, posting over 500 reviews here in the next few years. Looking back at his first review just now, a review of Patrick McCabe’s The Holy City, I chuckled when I saw the first comment from his lovely wife, Sheila:

I am Kevin’s wife, and am much relieved to see that he has been “pursuing his joy” and blogging about great literature. I was a little afraid he was a drug dealer, or perhaps running some hedge fund from his computer, given all the time he has devoted to his workstation.

Imagine my relief — I can certainly relate to how Harold Nicholson must have felt.

Sheila frequently commented to encourage Kevin and to befriend his readers.

On this blog and through private correspondence, Kevin engaged lovingly and passionately with the online reading community. For me, relationships with people like Kevin, that are deeply meaningful regardless of the miles between our homes, are the best parts of having an online book community. The books are great, but it’s sharing them that really counts.

To that end, not long after I met Kevin he started sending me books by Canadian authors. I am not the only person to receive such a package from Canada. Kevin was proud of his country’s literature, and he introduced me to many authors I’ve been following ever since. Soon he invited me to join him, Alison Gzowski, and Kim Forrester on the Shadow Giller Jury, giving me the wonderful opportunity to engage with Canadian literature and, even better, discuss it with the group.

I’m thankful he was my friend for the past eight years. He’s been a force for good in my life and in the book blogging community, touching many of us through genuine friendship that went beyond the books themselves. I will miss him.

Below are some words from other people Kevin befriended and supported, often with but not limited to wonderful discussions about books.

Alison Gzowski: I met Kevin (and his wonderful wife Sheila) for the first time in Chester, Nova Scotia. They were friends of my father and his partner and I’d heard so much about them that I would have been intimidated . . . but in minutes somehow Kevin mentioned that he’d read and loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I don’t think anyone else there had even heard of that book and we were off to the races, starting a reading friendship that is decades old. And it was more than just reading of course, though his passion for reading opened up worlds to me. He was a wise advisor, a helpful friend and great company. Even when what he said took me by suprise. Once about three years or so ago I went to Iceland and somehow boarded in Toronto and landed in Reykjavik with a passport that had expired six years earlier. After the airport police released me, I had to go to the Canadian embassy and apply for a document so I would be able to fly home eventually. The woman there, named Elizabeth, sat me in her office and said I had to get four people to vouch for me over the phone. I called Kevin first. I told him the problem, passed the receiver to  Elizabeth who put him on speaker phone. She asked how we knew each other (through my dad, but now the Giller). What I did for a living. Check. Then asked him to describe me physically. “Well, you can tell that she doesn’t go to a gym, and she looks like she doesn’t believe in hair salons.” Once again he nailed it!

Kim Forester: I never met Kevin personally, but I felt like I knew him. We often exchanged emails about books we’d read or ones to look out for, but our online friendship went beyond literature: he used to provide excellent career advice when my own journalistic career went through a few bumps in the road. His wisdom and kindness always shone through, and he was always very encouraging. I imagine he would have been inspiring to work for. It was through Kevin that I discovered an interest in Canadian literature. When he asked me to participate in the Shadow Giller Prize in 2011 I was honoured and delighted: it promptly became the highlight of my reading year. I will particularly miss Kevin’s blog. His reviews were insightful, erudite and forthright, and I have him to blame for an ever-growing pile of novels I bought on his recommendation. The book blogging world won’t be the same without him.

Linda Grant: Kevin was a man after my own heart, a journalist with an enormous love of and understanding of literature. He read to understand, to make sense of, and of course for pleasure, but with his newsman’s ear he seemed to sort through the rubbish and find what was worthwhile. I only met him once, when I was speaking at the Calgary literature festival. We spent an entertaining few hours in his study where he mined me for information about the literary scene in Britain. He was confined to a small space but commanded everywhere with his intelligence and curiosity.

Max Cairnduff: Kevin’s was one of the first voices I started to follow online in the world of literary blogging. He wrote with all the skill and insight you’d expect of a veteran newsman, and with a warmth and sense of humour that made him an essential read. Conversations with Kevin inspired me to start my own literary blog, and I know he did the same for others. Those blogs he inspired in turn helped inspire a few more, which makes Kevin part of them too. His words continue to ripple out, inspiring people in some cases who never read him but whose own efforts have been encouraged by those who were first encouraged by Kevin. Kevin helped introduce me to Rocky Mountain Cuisine and to a wealth of great literature. He was a fine and good man and will be much missed.

Lee Monks: Kevin was a fantastic guy. His excellent blog was always a great place to find things to add to the TBR pile, and I always looked forward to another of his affable, pellucid reviews. You felt his love for literature in the reviews of books he didn’t like as much as those he did; he always managed to suggest sadness that he couldn’t be more positive about something. There seems to be fewer and fewer people as passionate as Kevin was about literature. His example is there to be followed, and I hope there are enough willing to follow it. I had fun corresponding with Kevin intermittently, on all manner of subjects. But the turn of all conversations always veered back to books, of course. He had 4,000 of them in his basement; I wish I’d wandered around in there with him just once, and I’ll always regret never meeting him, but it was privilege enough to know I could email him from time to time and get the usual generous response. He will be sadly missed by an enormous number of people, which tells its own story. Thank you, Kevin.


30 Responses to “Dear Friends”

  1. Louise Says:

    This breaks my heart. I discovered Kevin’s blog when writing my PhD Dissertation and, like so many other readers, felt as if I knew him. An ex-pat Canadian, for me his blog was a piece of home many times when I needed one.

    I was so excited to see a new post from him in my inbox today, after such along silence . . .

    Thank you for posting this lovely, thoughtful, tribute, Trevor. It is beautifully written. I shall re-read when I can see through my tears.

    My deepest sympathies to everyone who knew and loved Kevin.


  2. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    Thank you Everyone for your wonderful heartfelt comments. Kevin loved his blogging friends, and having the opportunities to compare thoughts and ideas with people who shared his passion for the written word. You have all enriched his life immensely, and for that we are so grateful.


  3. Jayant Says:

    Truly sorry to know this. I never met Kevin and corresponded with him perhaps twice, but all his posts on this site and so many other book blogs and forums revealed a compassionate and wise man whose presence in my life, oblique as it was, was reassuring. I can only imagine what fortune it must have been to know him personally. I am grateful to him for much and shall truly miss him.


  4. Trevor Says:

    I love Alison’s Iceland story! I remember one of my first experiences with Kevin’s loving and playful sense of humor. It was on the old Man Booker forum. I cannot quite remember the context, but Kevin said something about how he knew John Self and I couldn’t be trusted for our fashion advice as he’d seen our pictures. John gave a playfully indignant retort in return, something like, “How dare you! You should see my white plimsolls!” Kevin loved it. His banter was as fun as his reviews were intelligent.


  5. The Giller Prize (@GillerPrize) Says:

    We’re heartbroken to learn of Kevin’s passing. His contribution to Canadian literature and his strong, intelligent voice representing and advocating for readers will be greatly missed. We looked forward to the Shadow Giller’s thoughtful and provocative assessments every year. We offer our deepest condolences to Kevin’s family, friends, colleagues and avid followers.


  6. winstonsdad Says:

    Very sad news Kevin one first blogs I found on net a sad loss


  7. Charlotte Self Says:

    It is good to read the tributes to Kevin. He did a wonderful job of introducing Canadian writers to a wider audience. Some of the books he wrote about have become favorites for me. I knew him only through his posts and comments to others, but valued his reviews and enjoyed his sense of humor. I will always remember his comparison of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry to sponge cake, as opposed to a more dense, flavorful cake. And then telling us that Mrs. KfC told him she wanted cake for dinner. “Blogging is not nearly as easy as some think,” he said.


  8. Jessie May Keller Says:

    I have been following Kevin’s blog for a number of years and enjoyed his intelligent reviews and blogs. He will be missed. Thanks Trevor for posting this sad news.


  9. Guy Savage Says:

    I miss Kevin’s posts. We wrote a few e-mails back and forth and exchanged some dog stories. I knew he was ill. My best wishes to Sheila.


  10. Sandra Keats Says:

    I never met Kevin but read his blog faithfully. I was always surprised to receive a reply from him when I asked him a question or made a comment about a book. He seemed like a good friend.
    My codolences to Sheila. I’m sure you have many happy memories.


  11. John Self Says:

    Like everyone here, I was shocked and saddened to hear of Kevin’s death. We never met but exchanged comments on one another’s blogs and sometimes by email. He bought my sons a gift of books – and was keen that they should have durable titles in lasting editions. I will be sure to remind them of their benefactor.

    Kevin’s blog was always a pleasure to read – I viewed the clarity and concision with which he wrote (a newspaperman all the way, as others have noted) with admiration and frank envy. I hope his archive will remain here for us to visit for a long time. It’s a fine tribute to one aspect of his life.


  12. Lisa Hill Says:

    Waking up to this sad news in Australia, I am overwhelmed by the loss of a great friend and mentor. Kevin was interested in the common features of Canadian and Australian literature and we were frequent visitors to each other’s blogs. He was my behind-the-scenes guide when I led a Shadow Jury for the Man Asian Booker and his wise advice and encouraging ideas will never be forgotten.
    But more than that, in the small but precious network of lit-bloggers around the world, Kevin was the one among us who championed the great literature of Canada, introducing us to a wonderful world of authors who have enriched our lives as readers. Only readers who care passionately about books will understand how much it means to have a forum where books and the conversations about them are an integral part of our daily lives, and the forum here at Kevin from Canada was one of the best. His reviews were brilliant; his praise could make a book irresistible. My bookshelves are a testament to that.
    I knew Kevin was ill, and I knew too, that his brief return for the last Giller Shadow Jury was an act of courage and determination. So I knew that the long silence here meant that we were losing him, and I longed to send him an old-fashioned card, to tell him and his family how much he meant to me, an obscure blogger on the other side of the world. It was a curious thing to realise that I didn’t have a bricks-and-mortar address for a virtual friend who meant so much to me. Today I realise that I don’t even know what he looked like, but I am weeping all the same.
    To Sheila and family, please accept my condolences. Vale Kevin, you will be sorely missed.


  13. San (Sweet Fanny Adams) Says:

    Very sad news. Kevin’s blog was the first ever that I joined and I remember – in my ignorance – asking him how much it was to become a subscriber. I still remember his lovely reply. I’ve read many good books from his recommendations. He was a kind, knowledgeable man who never flaunted his intellect and I’ve missed his blogs very much. I still have the emails of Kevin’s blogs on my laptop going back to 2011 because I’m still working through his book lists.Tinged with sadness now. My condolences to Sheila and family.


  14. Tony Says:

    So sorry to wake up to this news – definitely an inspiration and someone who championed literature.


  15. Steve Says:

    This is dreadfully sad news. I’d only recently discovered his blog. It encapsulates everything a good blog should be: a facilitator of community. My thoughts are with you, Sheila.


  16. Dave Margoshes Says:

    I knew Kevin primarily as a journalist, rather than a man of letters, though I came to be a fan of KevinfromCanada and was honored to have two of my own books reviewed by him. We were colleagues at the Calgary Herald, back in the days when it was part of the Southam chain and a very good newspaper. Newspapers made and spent money back then, and Kevin, as an editor (city editor news editor, managing editor, and ultimately publisher) was an innovator. On his watch, The Herald was as much a paper of the arts as it was of politics, business and sports. He was a superb reporter (mostly politics) and an excellent editor. And, from a personal point of view, a terrific boss. It was a pleasure to work for and with him, and later a pleasure to read his thoughtful, insightful and even-handed book criticism. His death is a real loss for Canada.


  17. whisperinggums Says:

    So very sad to hear. I can’t really add to what has already been said, except to say that Kevin was an important part of the lit-blogosphere, and made his own significant contributions to how lit-bloggers go about their “business”. His Shadow Giller Jury has inspired others, and his considered, thoughtful reviews provided excellent models for the rest of us.

    I’m so glad though that we have been told. There is always this fear that online friends will disappear without a trace – and that’s sad because virtual friends are still real and we like to know and be able to acknowledge them in our cyber-ly way.

    I send my sincerest condolences to Sheila and the rest of his family.

    Go well, Kevin …


  18. David Says:

    Yesterday morning I started reading a book of short stories (I’d mentioned in a comment to Kevin once that I have a routine of reading a short story every morning before breakfast) – it was a book I’d bought on the strength of one of Kevin’s reviews but which had languished on a shelf unread for a few years. I thought of him when I picked it out and wondered how he was. And then I read the terrible sad news of his passing. I only “knew” him via his blog and had no idea quite how illustrious a career he had had in journalism – to me he was just a really nice, endlessly generous person who communicated his passion for literature and books so brilliantly, and who always made you feel as though your opinion mattered to him. Needless to say I shall miss him. And, as ever, he was right about the short stories – it’s a wonderful book which, as with many others I own as a result of his reviews, I wouldn’t have come across without his enthusiastic championing.

    My condolences to Sheila.


  19. sharkell Says:

    I’m very sad to hear of Kevin’s passing. I am a book lover, blog reader and sometimes commentator. Kevin introduced me to many books, especially Canadian fiction – Dan Vyleta’s The Crooked Maid comes to mind. We didn’t always agree, but that is one of the good things about blogging – being able to get your teeth into discussions on books. The book-blogging world is so much smaller without Kevin and I am grateful for the “time” we were able to spend together. My condolences to his family.


  20. Ceri Kay Says:

    I am very sorry to hear this. I have followed Kevin’s blog for years and reading his reviews. So sad…


  21. Anokatony Says:

    This is sad news. Kevin was a powerful force in my blogging world giving me the Canadian viewpoint on literature. His blog was one of my regular stops.
    I had a picture of Kevin in my mind, and it is not at all like the picture I saw of him in the Calgary Herald.


  22. Brian Says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I will miss Kevin’s thoughtful, well-written blog.


  23. Colette Jones Says:

    When I met KevinfromCanada on the old Man Booker forum, I was already “into” Canadian literature to an extent, but happily took on more and more recommendations by following the Shadow Giller. The Booker was our main tie though, and I am pleased that I was able to send him a book from a longlist that he was unable to acquire in Canada at the time. We corresponded on the Booker, Palimpsest, and Trevor’s Mookse and Gripes forums, but also personally through email on occasion. Please keep the blog as there are many entries and comments too valuable to lose.


  24. carolebesharah Says:

    I first heard of KevinfromCanada on CBC radio. He’s the one who got me started reading shortlisted Giller books and reading shadow jury reviews. Loved his blog.

    My condolences to his family and friends.


  25. Deirdre Says:

    Thank you, Trevor, for your heartfelt words and to Kim, Alison, Max, Linda and Lee for adding your thoughts to this tribute to Kevin. I will miss his blogging voice and his in-depth reviews many of which have caused me to acquire “just one more book” when, surely, I could have waited a while! My condolences to Mrs KfC, Sheila, and the rest of Kevin’s family from a reader in the Netherlands.


  26. JoAnne Jones Says:

    I was fortunate to know Kevin for many years. His reviews educated me, stimulated my thinking and always lifted my spirits. What a mind! What a heart!


  27. Ian Curtin (@IanCurtin1) Says:

    Very sad news to catch up with after a week of travelling. I greatly enjoyed Kevin’s reviews, his comments across the many blogs he followed and supported, and the discussions he generated with me and many of the other commenters here.

    He was, from what I knew of him online, a beacon of sense and courtesy. He will be fondly remembered and sadly missed, but as Max and John say his legacy is in the inspiration he passed on to others and in the archive here that I hope the curious and thoughtful will continue to stumble across.


  28. Scott W. Says:

    I’m so very sorry that Kevin is gone. I did not know him personally, but his was among the first literary blogs I discovered, a source of encouragement. My best to all those close to him. I am grateful that Kevin’s words will live on and his work will be continued by others.


  29. Mary Gilbert Says:

    What very sad news. I want to echo what the other bloggers have said about Kevin. His kindness, thoughfulness and generosity shone through his reviews. To find that my thoughts chimed with his was always a real pleasure.The bookblogging world is considerably diminished by his death. I don’t think anyone else matched his breadth of interest, and curiosity. I’ll very much miss his wise words and gentle comments.


  30. Kevin Ross Says:

    So very sorry to hear of Kevin’s passing. I always enjoyed reading his blog. My deepest condolences.


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