A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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Image provided by Noelle Phillips

Noelle Phillips (nee King)
Postdoctoral Fellow

Affiliation with UVic English: Undergraduate Student, B.A. Hons 2003

Special Book: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

When did you first read this book: Probably when I was about 12.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“Nnnoww, cchilldrenn, yyouu musstt nott bee frrightennedd att whatt iss ggoingg tto hhappenn,” Mrs. Which warned.
“Stay angry, litle Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered. “You will need all your anger now.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

This book has always frightened, enthralled, and encouraged me. The character of Meg is so fallible, so prone to temper and to a lack of faith, that she was someone with whom I could completely empathize. She was awkward, frustrated, sometimes too smart for her own good, too socially inept, sometimes selfish, and sometimes angry. And she had a deep and abiding love for her family. She has always resonated with me on a deep level, and I’ve read the book more times than I can count – often (and I quote the first line) on a dark and stormy night.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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Colette Colligan
Associate Professor of English

Affiliation with UVic English: Undergraduate Student

Special Book: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

When did you first read this book: Lisa Surridge’s Victorian Novels class, back in 1995.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

I am fascinated by Wilde’s many counter-intuitive aphorisms. The close reader will notice that they reappear in his writing, made new in the mouths of different characters. This new mouth was also sometimes his own as he was wont to plagiarise from his own work. W.B. Yeats wrote that he “had never before heard a man talking with perfect sentences, as if he had written them overnight with labour and yet all spontaneous.” One wonders how many speakers art finally mirrors.

Max Weber: Essays in Sociology by Max Weber

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Reeta C. Tremblay
Vice-President Academic and Provost

Affiliation with UVic English: Emeritus

Special Book: Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Max Weber

When did you first read this book: As a first year graduate student at the University of Chicago

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“Interpretative sociology considers the individual and his action as the basic unit,,,,in general, for sociology such concepts as ‘State’, ‘association’, ‘feudalism’ and the like designate certain categories of human interaction. Hence it is the task of sociology to reduce these concepts to ‘understandable’ action,”

What does the sentence mean to you?

For me this sentence and its accompanying passages are important because they propose seeking an explanation for individual and social actions by means of a pluralistic analysis of factors each to be weighed in isolation and in relation to each other. In short, asking all social scientists to look for several potential causes for social phenomena.

Obasan by Joy Kogawa

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Tiffany Parks
Doctoral student

Affiliation with UVic English: Graduate Student, PhD Third Year

Special Book: Obasan, Joy Kogawa

When did you first read this book: 2002

 

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“We are hammers and chisels in the hands of would-be sculptors, battering the spirit of the sleeping mountain. We are the chips and sand, the fragments of fragments that fly like arrows from the heart of the rock. We are the silences that speak from stone. We are the despised rendered voiceless, stripped of car, radio, camera, and every means of communication, a trainload of eyes covered with mud and spittle [. . .] We are the scholarly and the illiterate, the envied and the ugly, the fierce and the docile. We are those pioneers who cleared the bush and the forest with our hands, the gardeners tending and attending the soil with our tenderness, the fisherman who are flung from the sea to flounder in the dust of the prairies. We are the Issei and the Nisei and the Sansei, the Japanese Canadians. We disappear into the future undemanding as dew.” (119-20)

What does the sentence mean to you?

Obasan is a novel about the problems, paradoxes, and possibilities of memory. By bearing witness to the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, Kogawa’s story gives voice to an important but marginalized chapter in Canadian history, and finds in narrative an active vehicle of memory against the oblivion of forgetting. 

Henry IV Part One by Shakespeare

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Cameron Butt
Research Assistant

Affiliation with UVic English: Undergraduate Student, B.A. Hons fourth year.

Special Book: Henry IV Part One, Shakespeare

When did you first read this book: Fall 2010

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you, and what does it mean to you?

It’s hard to choose, but I think my favourite part is what follows the stage direction “Falstaff riseth up.” Having feigned death, the fat rogue waddles apprehensively toward Hotspur’s corpse, teasing the audience for suspending their disbelief (onstage, the player is only pretending to be dead): “Zounds, I am afraid of this gunpowder Percy, though he be dead. How if he should counterfeit too, and rise?” Of course, the dead Hotspur cannot rise as Falstaff does; history says so. But Falstaff is free of history, and some wrinkle in the fabric of dramatic characterization has left him privy to that fact. He somehow understands that he exists in a theatrical world, a world “given to lying,” and I really admire that self-consciousness. If all the world’s a stage, which it may very well be, I think Falstaff’s way of acknowledging his own performance is a great model for real people.

Moon Honey by Suzette Mayr

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Karina Vernon
Assistant Professor

Affiliation with UVic English: Former Graduate Student, Ph.D 2008

Special Book: Moon Honey, Suzette Mayr

When did you first read this book: 1998

 

Describe why this book is important to you?

Reading Moon Honey I experienced, for the first time in my reading life, the shock and pleasure of having my own specific experience as a mixed-race woman in Canada represented back to me. But this is no tragic mulatto narrative; Mayr represents the experience with an abundance of humour, wit, and insight.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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Lindsey Bell
Student

Affiliation with UVic English: Alumni, B.A. 2012

Special Book: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Betty Smith

When did you first read this book: 2002

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which gew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that gew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenement districts.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

This passage occurs within a few chapters and seems to me to really sum up the descriptive and poetic qualities of the novel. The Tree of Heaven is never in the foreground of the novel, but keeps reoccurring through Francie’s story in early twentieth century Brooklyn. Francie

Crow: From the Life & Songs of the Crow by Ted Hughes

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Garth Martens
Writer

Affiliation with UVic English: Alumni: MFA, Poetry, 2010

Special Book: Crow: From the Life & Songs of the Crow, Ted Hughes

When did you first read this book: I read Crow as a university student in 2007. It was one of the first collections of poetry to enthrall me from cover to cover.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

From Crow Tyrannosaurus: “The swift’s body fled past / Pulsating / With insects / And their anguish, all it had eaten. // The cat’s body writhed / Gagging / A tunnel / Of incoming death-struggles, sorrow on sorrow. // And the dog was a bulging filterbag / Of all the deaths it had gulped for flesh and the bones. / It could not digest their screeching finales. / Its shapeless cry was a blort of all these voices. // Even man he was a walking / Abattoir / Of innocents— / His brain incinerating their outcry. // Crow thought ‘Alas / Alas ought I / To stop eating / And try to become the light?’ // But his eye saw a grub. And his head, trapsprung, stabbed. / And he listened / and he heard / weeping // grubs grubs He stabbed he stabbed / weeping / weeping // Weeping he walked and stabbed // Thus came the eye’s roundness the ear’s deafness.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

With Hughes generally, and in Crow specifically, I was astonished with the poet’s ascendent lyricism, his use of the aerial and intimate registers. Here was the epic gesture in a modern poet whose achievement staked out ambitious territory in dreamtime. His dramatic diction, the blood thump of verbs, ligamental snap of adjectives or adverbs, occupied my tongue with possibility, the understanding, at last, that I might attempt any scaffolding as a writer so long as I built it with unrelenting rigour.

Possession by A. S. Byatt

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Janelle Jenstad
Associate Professor, English

Affiliation with UVic English: Faculty; Alumni, B.A. Hons. 1992

Special Book: Possession, A. S. Byatt

When did you first read this book: July 1993

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“There are things which happen and leave no discernible trace, are not spoken or written of, though it would be very wrong to say that subsequent events go on indifferently, all the same, as though such things had never been.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

I first read Possession in the summer between my M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Queen’s University. I loved the way this literary detective story unfolded through archival discoveries, semi-autobiographical Victorian poetry, transcriptions of letters and journals, and historical fiction. I became an early modernist, not a Victorianist, but, in retrospect, I can see that the story of a number of modern-day scholars competing and collaborating to discover the truth about nineteenth-century literary figures had a profound influence on my research practices. My training did not cover archival research or paleography … but I was determined to study records and letters. Eventually, I set off for England armed with a basic knowledge of Elizabethan Secretary and a romantic notion that I would change literary history by digging in the archives, just as Roland Michell and Maud Bailey did in Possession. Of course, I discovered very quickly that the records of early modern England are richer than I’d ever dreamed, and partial in ways that are both fascinating and frustrating. Finding out why people and institutions record certain things in certain ways became an obsession. It was the very partiality of literary history that ultimately interested me. Every record seemed haunted by “the things which happen and leave no discernible trace.” I wondered constantly about the unrecorded lives and events that changed the course of history, the books that have disappeared from our cultural history, the irretrievable responses of readers and playgoers, the complex lives of individuals whose dreams and desperation survive only in a line recorded by a clerk. These lines from _Possession_ came back to me as I worked, reminding me that the past humbles the scholar but also legitimizing a certain conjecture and imagination. Without an omniscient narrator to tell us of that profound encounter, we have to dream it ourselves even if we can never prove it. And perhaps it’s that desire for an omniscient narrator that makes me a literary critic rather than a historian.