Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Hilary Scharper

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Hilary Scharper

Hilary Scharper is a professor and a lover of classic literature. In her new novel, Perdita (Simon & Schuster Canada), Hilary explores her interests while experimenting with the emerging genre she calls eco-gothic. The book tells the story of a woman who claims to be 134 years old and unable to die, over whom the titular Perdita exerts a mysterious force. A love story, a mystery and an exploration of myth, Perdita is set in Georgian Bay, an area where Hilary once worked as a lighthouse keeper.

Today Hilary speaks with us as part of The WAR Series: Writers As Readers, which gives writers an opportunity to talk about the books that shaped them, from first loves to new favourites.

Read on to hear from Hilary about reading with Jack and Jill, a Victorian Donald Trump and Goethe merchandising.

Don’t miss seeing Hilary in person at the launch for Perdita, on April 25, 2013 at Massey College, University of Toronto, from 4:30p.m. to 7:30p.m.
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The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:
It was one of those grammar school books — Jack and Jill and a dog. I was terribly proud and so thrilled. Perhaps I had already been reading, but this made it “official.”

A book that made me cry:
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (1939). I read it as a teenager and really did cry after finishing it. Set in South Wales among mining families, it’s a beautiful, evocative book about family and love and loss. The story also explores a poignant sense of loss-of-place that struck a cord with me.

The first adult book I read:
At eight years old I decided to take the plunge into adult fiction and bravely started with Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (1941). No pictures, but it was nevertheless the beginning of a long love affair with Hercule Poirot!

A book that made me laugh out loud:
This summer I rediscovered Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (1865) and his wonderful, satirical chapter on Mr. Podsnap, a kind of Victorian Donald Trump. The writing is biting, the wit singeing — was Dickens slightly intoxicated when he wrote it? “Podsnappery” is very, very funny and still an excellent critique of the self-serving claptrap of the ultra-wealthy.

The book I have re-read many times:
There isn’t one book — I tend to go back and read an author’s canon. I’ve just gone back to W. Somerset Maugham and read for a second time his masterpiece Of Human Bondage (1915). I’m likely to continue with The Painted Veil (1925) and then try out his historical novel Then and Now (1946).

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922)— I feel very guilty about this! Also, my son strongly advises that I read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996) and I have promised.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
Seventeen was a rough period for me, and so something spiritual, introspective and ultimately sustaining would have been good for me. I would say Georges Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest (1936) or something from Francois Mauriac, perhaps Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927). I discovered Edith Wharton as a seventeen-year-old — both her Age of Innocence (1920) and House of Mirth (1905) had a strong influence on me.

The best book I read in the past six months:
The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1774. Goethe wrote this in six weeks and the novel rapidly made him famous. The prose is very emotional, confessional and romantic — all appropriate to the story’s subject matter: a young man’s unrequited love. What astonished me the most, though, was the “merchandising” of the novel shortly after its publication: stylish ladies wore Eau de Werther and carried Werther fans; men wore Werther frock coats and buff leather waistcoats; and in perhaps one of the world’s first theme parks, enterprising residents of the village where the story takes place provided guided tours to the supposed spot where young Werther was buried.

The book I plan on reading next:
In Northanger Abbey (1818) Jane Austen satirizes the gothic tradition and has Isabella Thorpe list seven “horrid” novels that her friend, Catherine Morland, must read. For many years, it was thought that Austen invented the titles — but it turns out that they were all published novels. I’m planning to read all seven and next on my list is The Mysterious Warning by Eliza Parsons (1796).

A possible title for my autobiography:
I can’t even begin to imagine — but I unequivocally reject Hooked on Classics.


Hilary Scharper studied anthropology at Yale University and is a professor at the University of Toronto where she teaches about wilderness and cultural approaches to nature. She has served as an assistant lighthouse keeper on the Bruce Peninsula in northern Ontario where she explored an emerging literary form — something she terms the eco-gothic.

For more information about Perdita please visit the Simon & Schuster Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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