Jane Urquhart’s adventures in the library
Congress 2012 Correspondent
Anyone who has read Jane Urquhartâ€™s fiction knows she is an expert storyteller. It is with this expert storytelling that Urquhart delivered her Monday morning Big Thinking lecture, Intertextuality or Easter egg hunt: A Canadian writerâ€™s adventures in the library. But the story that Urquhart told was not taken from one of her seven prize-winning novels. Instead, Urquhart treated us to a story in which she was the main character â€“ she recounted her own journey with books, libraries, and archives.
Midway through her lecture, Urquhart noted her fondness for the word â€œbrowseâ€ and its definition. As I reflect on her lecture, I find this moment to be significant beyond its glimpse into the authorâ€™s charm.Â Through descriptions of her own most meaningful discoveries, Urquhartâ€™s lecture invited her listenersâ€™ imaginations to browse through the libraries and findings that have made her the author sheâ€™s become.Â
From her childhood introduction to books in â€œNorthern, Northern Ontario,â€ to her adolescent realization that books did not grow â€œwildly in meadowsâ€ â€“ and in fact that she could be one of the mere mortals who created them â€“ Urquhartâ€™s lecture progressed through the authorâ€™s evolving relationship with libraries and archives. This relationship includes time at the University of Waterlooâ€™s library where much of her research for The Underpainter (1997) was done, without which, Urquhart explained, important sections of the novel never would have been written.
Urquhartâ€™s lecture was met with an engaged early-morning audience who laughed at the authorâ€™s many jokes and witty comments, but who also appreciated when Urquhart noted that on this very day archivists are marching to Parliament Hill to try to prevent Canadaâ€™s libraries and archives from being disregarded.
Urquhartâ€™s story emphasized that these archives and libraries, which are nowÂ in a state of uncertainty, continually lead her to discoveries that imagination alone cannot.Â It is from these discoveries that Urquhartâ€™s imagination is fired up and her novels are created.
With the last post I wrote being â€œBibliomania 1812 and Expo 2012,â€ I was pleased when Urquhart expressed her opinion on the future of books without my asking. The author clarified she is â€œnot against Kindles,â€ but advocated for the layers of social history that come with material book objects. Urquhart put forth the considerable point that, from tapestries to scrolls, history is enriched by multiple ways of reading. Ultimately, being a literature and professional writing student at the University of Waterloo myself, I couldnâ€™t help but feel enthused when Urquhart asserted, â€œIâ€™m sure books will survive.â€