Summer Reads: New Books in the Faculty of Arts

Credit: Jonas Jacobsson/Unsplash

Faculty of Arts members have penned books on topics ranging from the history of the raccoon, to transcultural experiences, and the role of Islam in the formation of the West. Below is a running list of recent faculty publications perfect for your summer reading list.

The East Asian Covid-19 Paradox

By: Dr. Yves Tiberghien, Professor, Department of Political Science; Konwakai Chair in Japanese Research, School of Public Policy and the Institute of Asian Research

What is your book about?

This book aims at making sense of the multiple policy and diplomatic dynamics in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first year (up to April 2021). The Covid crisis is treated as a triple health, socio-economic, and global governance shock. At the global level, it aims at explaining why global governance mechanisms failed and why human cooperation proved so difficult, despite this urgent common threat. I also argue that regional governance picked up some of the slack in Asia, Africa, and in Europe after July 2020. Next, the book asks why, in this difficult global context, Asian and Oceanian countries had more effective policy responses to Covid and managed to contain or defeat Covid in 2020, while Europe, North America, and South America struggled so much. The answer in the book focuses on institutional responses and social cohesion in most Asian societies, which allowed these countries to essentially apply recommendations from the international community (for which they had prepared ahead of time). The puzzle becomes why Western societies failed to do so, despite being warned ahead of time by science and international institutions.

Finally, the book asks how East Asia and Oceania also managed to increase regional integration through the signature of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Agreement in the midst of global tensions and fragmentation.

There are deeper lessons emerging from the book: our current modern world embeds a mismatch between global economic and technological integration on the one hand, and diverging political and emotional frameworks on the other hand. Covid hit humanity right at this intersection, and our collective response was weak. Tremendous human suffering and poverty has emerged as a result. Today, as we try to emerge from Covid, we face a world that is more unequal, divided, and unable to cooperate broadly. Covid-19 is great warning for the even more dangerous global climate crisis coming our way.

What inspired you to write it?

I had two motivations. First, I felt the urge to make sense of the puzzle of sub-optimal human response to Covid to draw larger lessons from the episode. I also wanted to systematically analyze diverse responses and outcomes among various countries around the world. This echoes discussions in the classroom at UBC during my classes on East Asian politics, global governance, and global political economy. Second, I felt the urge to draw deeper lessons for policy ideas on global cooperation and global governance in climate change and other domains. We have much to learn from the set of responses to Covid and to the ensuing socio-economic crisis if we wish to manage future crises environmental, health, economic, security and human crises coming our way. I sought to bring multiple perspectives from many countries, points of views, and disciplines into this analysis.


By: Dr. Dallas Hunt, Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literatures

What is your book about?

Creeland is a poetry collection concerned with notions of home and the quotidian attachments we feel to those notions, even across great distances. Even in an area such as Treaty Eight (northern Alberta), a geography decimated by resource extraction and development, people are creating, living, laughing, surviving and flourishing—or at least attempting to. The poems in this collection are preoccupied with the role of Indigenous aesthetics in the creation and nurturing of complex Indigenous lifeworlds. They aim to honour the encounters that everyday Cree economies enable, and the words that try—and ultimately fail—to articulate them. It gestures to the movements, speech acts and relations that exceed available vocabularies, that may be housed within words like joy, but which the words themselves cannot fully convey. Creeland is vital in the context of a colonial aesthetic designed to perpetually foreclose on Indigenous futures and erase Indigenous existence.

What inspired you to write it?

I was inspired by my homelands, my relatives, relations, and other-than-human kin. I’m also passionate about issues facing Indigenous peoples, and wanted to provide an outlet for others that felt something similar to relate, or empathize with, what I was feeling. I usually write critical work, so writing a book of poetry was a new exercise for me, but one that involved a lot of excavation. I hope it helps others feel less lonely.

Contesting Islam, Constructing Race and Sexuality: The Inordinate Desire of the West

By: Dr. Sunera Thobani, Professor, Department of Asian Studies

What is your book about?

My book examines the place of Islam in the formation of the West — its cultural politics, identity and forms of subjectivity. The war on terror was ideologically framed as the defence of a superior Western culture under attack from ‘barbaric’ Muslims, whose fanaticism was linked to ‘Islamic’ misogyny and homophobia. Race and religion became interchangeable in this frame, and both were infused with specific ideas about gender and sexuality.

Tracing the historical antecedents of this ideology, the book demonstrates how the early Christian desire for — and disgust towards — Muslims shaped Europe and its modernity, as well western forms of masculinity and femininity at crucial historical junctures. The global war, I argue, reiterates these older constructs as it reshapes the racial, sexual as well as gender politics of the present.

What inspired you to write it?

Having worked in women’s and anti-racist movements, I was involved in organizing opposition to the war on terror. I soon came to see just how seductive remains the narrative of an enlightened West coming to rescue Muslim women from their families, cultures and communities. The book was inspired by revolutionary thinkers in the anti-colonial and anti-racist movements of the mid-twentieth century, and by the present struggles of Muslim and other communities of colour who are under siege by the violence, racism and white supremacist politics unleashed in the global war.

Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949

By: Dr. Christopher Rea, Professor, Department of Asian Studies

What is your new book about?

Fourteen of the best films made in China before 1949, when the Communists won the Chinese Civil War and began nationalizing the film industry. Each chapter appraises one film, assessing its artistry and its significance in relation to Chinese culture and global cinema. Slapstick, musicals, melodramas, horror, screwball comedy, social exposé, the earliest surviving Mulan film—it encompasses a diverse mix. The book argues that early Chinese filmmakers made contributions to the cinematic arts that deserve wider recognition. And the project turned into more than just a book: I also translated over twenty films and produced a full online course, both available open-access on my YouTube channel and on the website

What inspired you to write this book?

Bringing great films to light is the main goal. As a historian, I’m very much a treasure-hunter. I’d long been interested in the cultural history of the early twentieth century, and especially how Chinese culture changed with the popularization of newspapers, magazines, radio, and cinema. During a decade of teaching Chinese film courses, I had also been feeling frustrated by studies that treated Chinese cinema as if it was its own little world, which it emphatically wasn’t. Resonances with Hollywood and Europe abound. So I decided to choose a selection of oldies-but-goodies from China, and articulate each one’s claim to the attention of movie lovers.

A Timely Message from the Cave: The Mahāmudrā and Intellectual Agenda of dGe-bshes Brag-phug-pa dGe-’dun-rin-chen (1926–1997), the Sixty-Ninth rJe-mkhan-po of Bhutan

By: Dr. Dagmar Schwerk, Khyentse Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Tibetan Buddhist Studies

What is your new book about?

A Timely Message from the Cave addresses the long-lasting debate about the Mahāmudrā doctrine and meditative system in Tibetan Buddhism. Through my translation of the Tibetan textual source corpus, the positions of eminent Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyü masters between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries are, for the first time, made accessible to an English-speaking readership. My analysis shows how oral discourses became new elite Buddhist textual traditions addressing Mahāmudrā and how they then gained trans-regional and trans-cultural relevance among both Tibetan and Bhutanese Buddhist masters in the eighteenth century. I also document and discuss the life and vast literary and scholastic heritage of one of the commentators from the twentieth century, the 69th Chief Abbot of Bhutan Geshe Drapukpa Gendün Rinchen (1926–1997).

What inspired you to write this book?

This monograph is the result of turning my doctoral thesis into a monograph, and I am very happy to finally share my research with academic readers, Buddhist practitioners, and the general public. A Timely Message from the Cave spotlights one of the lesser-known and under-researched scholastic Buddhist traditions, the Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyü school and their detailed interpretation of Mahāmudrā with a thorough introduction into this 900-year-old controversy. I am particularly excited to show how the 69th Chief Abbot of Bhutan Geshe Drapukpa Gendün Rinchen as an author, scholar, teacher, and practitioner, contributed to the doctrinal innovations and modernization of religious educational institutions of the Drukpa Kagyü school in Bhutan in the second half of the twentieth century. Through my analysis, the reader will learn more about religious life in Bhutan in the twentieth century.


By: Dr. Daniel Heath Justice, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture; Professor, First Nations and Indigenous Studies and English, Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies and Department of English Language & Literatures

What is your new book about?

Raccoon is a cultural and natural history of a very misunderstood, often vilified, but always fascinating animal that many of us have encountered but few really understand. It surveys the biology and behaviour and natural history, but also considers raccoons in the human imagination of art, literature, cinema, and fashion, as well as the day-to-day interactions, economics, and philosophical considerations of these uncanny creatures.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had written a book on badgers for the same series. In 2015, I worked with Vancouver writer Rachel Poliquin (Beaver) and folks in the UBC Oecologies research cluster to help organize a symposium of authors from the series. Fourteen writers from Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand joined us for the event, and it was such a fun and uplifting experience that I knew I needed to do another book, and already had the proposal written by the time the symposium finished! Raccoons had come up numerous times in my research for Badger, and they fascinated me, too; I also wanted to work on an animal that had much more prominence in Indigenous traditions, and raccoons were perfect. I’m also fascinated by the animals so often relegated to the category of vermin in contemporary society, and there are few animals as polarizing as raccoons in that way.

As a side note, two other UBC-affiliated writers were also inspired to contribute to the Animal Series based on that symposium: Margery Fee, Canadianist and professor emeritus in English Language and Literatures (Polar Bear) and Ildiko Szabo, Collections curator of the Cowan Tetrapod Collection at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum (Kingfisher). UBC is becoming something of an epicentre for animal cultural histories!

Shakespeare and Queer Representation

By: Dr. Stephen Guy-Bray, Professor, Department of English Language and Literatures

What is your new book about?

My book is about how in several of his texts Shakespeare’s focus on the various techniques of representation exceeds the function of representation as the means to a narrative end. I argue that this excess should be considered queer.

What inspired you to write this book?

Over the last decade or so, my research interest has been in how queerness can be found in texts whether or not the texts have queer narrative content.

Writing the Empire

By: Dr. Eva-Marie Kröller, Professor Emerita, Department of English Language and Literatures

What is your new book about?

Writing the Empire is a collective biography of the McIlwraiths, a family of politicians, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, scientists, and scholars. Known for their contributions to literature, politics, and anthropology, the McIlwraiths originated in Ayrshire, Scotland, and spread across the British Empire, specifically North America and Australia, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.

Focusing on imperial networking, Writing the Empire reflects on three generations of the McIlwraiths’ life writing, including correspondence, diaries, memoirs, and estate papers, along with published works by members of the family. By moving from generation to generation, but also from one stage of a person’s life to the next, the author investigates how various McIlwraiths, both men and women, articulated their identity as subjects of the British Empire over time.

Why did you write this book?

It goes back to the very beginning of my career, indeed as early as my comprehensive exams toward my doctorate in Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta. One of my exam papers, later one of my first publications, was on the historical novel. This research took me to Jean N. McIlwraith, a novelist, and eventually to the rest of her family, including the ornithologist Thomas McIlwraith and the anthropologist T.F. McIlwraith. Among others, I drew on the work of the UBC anthropologist John Barker (emeritus), who edited the second edition of T.F. McIlwraith’s study of the Nuxalk (1948, 1992) and who co-edited, with Douglas Cole (SFU), McIlwraith’s field letters.

The Istanbul Quintet. Confluences and Intertwinings Between Life and Writing in Transculturality

By: Dr. Arianna Dagnino, Lecturer, Department of French, Hispanic & Italian Studies

What is your new book about?

Mobility is a fact of contemporary life. Whether voluntary or forced, experiences of relocation are shaping the lives of millions and, increasingly, literature is turning to matters of transcultural and translingual identity that follow such relocations. In this book, I set out to provide creative insights into the life and writing practices of five internationally renowned writers with complex cultural backgrounds and multifarious transcultural experiences across a number of countries; namely, Alberto Manguel (Argentinian naturalized Canadian), Brian Castro (Chinese naturalized Australian), Ilija Trojanow (Bulgarian naturalized German), Tim Parks (British naturalized Italian), Inez Baranay (Hungarian naturalized Australian).

Since I am a novelist as well as an academic, I decided to frame the interviews in a quasi-narrative of a visit to Istanbul, a city where cultures collide and connect, and where I (imaginatively) meet four writers. The fifth, Parks, is “diffused” throughout, a distant commentator on others’ views.

The resituated quotes of my “quintet” are stitched together with citations from the authors’ novels, my reflections, and extracts from my travel diaries, providing glimpses into my own transcultural journey as I comment on locations ranging from Moscow to Sydney, from Zimbabwe to the Amazonas.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by my life trajectory, my wanderings across multiple cultures, languages, professions (international reporter, literary translator, socio-cultural analyst), and landscapes.

I also wanted to experiment with a form of writing in which I could combine different genres and approaches: the journalistic interview, the literary essay, the fictionalized account.

Österreichisches Deutsch oder Deutsch in Österreich? Identitäten im 21. Jahrhundert [Austrian German or German in Austria? Identities in the 21st Century]

By: Dr. Stefan Dollinger, Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literatures

What is your new book about? 

This book is directed at the speakers of German in Austria. It explains the inherent discrimination that speakers of Austrian German are confronted with and boils down the academic debate for everyone to understand and, importantly, to weigh in. In a day and age when some academic disciplines continue to operate in isolation of the objects they study – and Austrian German lives only in the speakers of Austrian German – and old concepts of hegemony, dominance and colonialism still seem to linger large in our collective bodies, this book takes the sociolinguistic message seriously and applies it to standard languages. When, as has been found, 80-90 per cent of Austrian German speakers feel there is more than one standard in German, they are to be taken seriously and not, as is common practice in the field today, belittled as speakers of some neat “dialect”. They are speakers of a new form of standard German. The book seeks to instill confidence in Austrian speakers and aims to demote Standard German German from the “universal standard” it never was to what it has always been: the standard of German for Germany and Germany alone. At one point Austria was part of that Germany, even leading it for many centuries, but it has been its own political entity, in contrast to Germany, for a century and a half, which has resulted in cultural and linguistic differentiation.

What inspired you to write this book? 

After trying to enter into a conversation with the peers in German linguistics departments in Europe, and failing miserably (see my English book on the topic here, I decided to reach out to the speakers themselves. After all, it’s always the speakers we linguists owe our justification to, especially if the scholars do not listen and ignore or ridicule alternative concepts. Since there is good reason to believe that Austrian speakers of German are not considered worthy of equitable attention, I had to inform the speakers about unreflected patterns of linguistic and cultural dominance in the field that, I think, should have been dealt with and gotten rid of a long time ago. They have no justification in the 21st century. The book is in a way a call to view Standard Austrian German as a more flexible standard of German that is characteristic of usage in Austria, a standard that is open to the many multilingual influences it has – often in contrast to German German – always had. Despite being rejected 13 times, this book has become a best-selling title in Austria over the past couple of months. Published first in March 2021, it is now available in third, extended edition.

A Silvan Tomkins Handbook: Foundations for Affect Theory

By: Dr. Adam J. Frank, Professor and Associate Head (Graduate), Department of English Language and Literatures and Dr. Elizabeth A. Wilson (Emory University)

What is the new book about? 

The brilliant and complex theories of psychologist Silvan Tomkins (1911–1991) have inspired the turn to affect in the humanities, social sciences, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, these theories are not well understood. A Silvan Tomkins Handbook makes his theories portable across a range of interdisciplinary contexts and accessible to a wide variety of contemporary scholars and students of affect.

What inspired you both to write this book? 

Tomkins’s innovative thinking about affect and emotion in the 1950s and ’60s is not well understood but has had a considerable impact and still has much to offer. We would like contemporary thinkers and researchers to engage his difficult but promising ideas and to use his work fluently in their own domains of interest.

Growing Dumb: An Autobiography of an English Education

By: Dr. Peter Quartermain, Professor Emeritus, Department of English Language and Literatures

What is the new book about? 

Growing Dumb is a spirited and gentle investigation of bafflement and perplexity in a boys’ world. It plunges us into England in World War II – where a child is uprooted from conventional life in a Birmingham suburb and stuck in a series of isolated country villages. The boy, Peter Quartermain, witnesses the Blitz in Birmingham, and navigates a world of rationing and hunger, shortage and inhibition, accents and class mannerisms. He and his brother both end up at Brewood Grammar School, which like many of its kind was loosely modelled on the quintessential English Public School in Tom Brown’s School Days. Education at Brewood is conferred by a rather eccentric crew of teachers who operate as though the British Empire were still in its heyday. Quasi-military chains of command and intense competition are the order of the day. What is learned and what is unlearned on such a journey? How is speech itself at stake?

What inspired you to write this book? 

At the turn of this century, an old friend of mine challenged me to write my autobiography, and I laughed at him. But that night I lay awake remembering and remembering and remembering. Next day I started to write and ended up very quickly indeed with a version of what Growing Dumb came to be: a detailed memoir of my school days.

Modernism and the Idea of the Crowd

By: Dr. Judith Paltin, Assistant Professor, UBC Department of English Language and Literatures

What is the new book about? 

This book argues that literary and other modernists engaged creatively with modernity’s expanding forms of collective experience and performative identities; their works clarify how popular subjectivity evolves from a 19th-century liberal citizenry to the contemporary sense of a range of political multitudes struggling with intersectional conditions of oppression and precarity.

The book discovers a genealogy of the contemporary political multitude in literary modernism’s representations of crowds, and focuses on the modern crowd’s status as a strategic political articulation competing with established traditional forms of identification such as nation or kinship.

What inspired you to write this book? 

Anglophone modernist novels are conventionally supposed to speak for the alienated individual, whose senses of self-coherence and of social connection have been depleted by a mechanizing modernity. Instead, I found texts obsessed with group identifications and attachments, structurations of collective intelligence and reconfigurations of the crowd’s ecologies. This book was conceived out of a suspicion that crowds were being given short shrift by both historians of modernity and readers of modernist literature. Crowds consistently received readings which I suspected were systematic and oppressive, even when justified by some parts of crowd history. This book tries to adjust the standard reactionary story about modernism and its idea of the crowd. The aspirational model of the agile crowd holds interest and relevance for contemporary democratic movements once again coming to themselves in a moment of rising ethno-nationalisms, spreading populist authoritarian governmentality, and renascent fascism.