Books·My Life in Books

Jane Urquhart: 8 books that changed my life

The author shares 8 books that shaped their life and work.
Jane Urquhart is an award-winning author and poet. (Elsa Trillat)

Jane Urquhart's book, A Number of Things, has her writing short pieces about an array of Canadian objects, weaving a narrative that highlights their symbolism to the nation. 

Urquhart tells CBC Books about the books she's glad she's read — and the book she thinks every Canadian should read. 

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson is a Scottish author who's works include Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (Otter-Barry Books)

"The first book I remember reading is A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I don't believe I ever recovered from those opening lines: 'In winter I get up at night/ And have to dress by candle light.' Or the closing ones: 'For long ago, the truth to say/ He has grown up and gone away, And it is just a child of air/ That lingers in the garden there.'"

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. (Michael Lionstar/Knopf Doubleday)

"The above, and almost anything else I remember reading and loving when I was a child, or when I was a younger person: The Highwayman, The Stolen Child by Yeats, or from my teenaged (and young adult) reading, such as some of Pound's translations from the Chinese: The River Merchant's Wife, The Exile. But really, the book that caused me to weep out loud was Toni Morrison's Beloved. The narrative is so moving, disturbing, and heart-rending, and expressed in such a pure combination of empathy and anger, the effect of reading it was completely overwhelming."

The Information by Martin Amis

Martin Amis is a British novelist best-known for his novels Money and London Fields. (Christopher Anderson/Vintage)

"Envy of another's literary creativity and/or celebrity is a topic not often explored in the history of literature, even though all writers know it exists. This examination of a friend's unlikely literary fame, and the jealousy and anger it provokes in the narrator is hugely enjoyable and howlingly funny."

The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013. (Kim Stallknecht/Penguin Canada)

"I, of course, could name any collection by Alice Munro but, if I were forced to name one in particular, it would be The Love of a Good Woman."

Falling Awake by Alice Oswald

Alice Oswald is a British poet who won the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2002. (David Levenson/WW Norton)

"In the history of the English language it would have to be the Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. But my favourite contemporary poet is Alice Oswald. I adore her bogginess and stoniness, her interest in mere and mire, and her almost ancient Anglo Saxon delivery. Her most recent collection, Falling Awake, is simply marvelous."

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was an English novelist and poet. (Knopf Doubleday)

"Impossible to answer with just one title. But here are a couple. The Mayor of Casterbridge because it lifted me right out of that Grade Ten classroom and transported me into another, fully complete world."

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

William Maxwell was an American writer and children's author. (Brookie Maxwell/Knopf Doubleday)

"And, sometime later, So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell, because his precise language, and the gentle unfolding of his heart-breaking plot, made me realize that sometimes simplicity, and not complexity, can be used for Revelations almost Biblical in their power."

The Odyssey by Homer

Homer is the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey. (WW Norton)

"The Odyssey, by Homer, because it is a book that has inspired and continues to inspire further acts of literature, and because, to be truthful, I have never finished it, and a desert island would be the perfect place to do so."

The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Absolutely all Canadians should read it."


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