In the second year in the UWaterloo PhD programs, candidates write the first of what are known as Comprehensive Exams. These are extremely rigorous and thorough exams written over the course of an entire day. Students are examined on fields of literature they have selected, relevant to their dissertation research. Historically, these exams have been incredibly stressful–when I wrote my exams years ago, we all knew the story of a student who had a breakdown after a computer crash wiped out everything they had written, at the eleventh hour. Fortunately, technology has advanced, and–in consultation with the students–we have streamlined the process, making it more humane. Nonetheless, if you interacted with the second years over the last few months, the stress was palatable. On that note, I reached out to some of them and asked what they would be reading to decompress after the exams ended. Here’s what they shared with me.
Chris Giannakopoulos is looking forward to returning to Life, A User’s Manual, which he first read as an undergraduate, and is not at all what it sounds like. According to Chris: “Though my current research focusses on transnational English poetry, my continued interest in Perec’s work comes from his puzzling approach to language.”
On the other hand, Diana Moreno Ojeda is reading Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories, which is apparently exactly what it sounds like. She writes: “Short stories are a great way to disconnect from the world for a couple of hours, and there is something fascinating about the type of fantasy that manages to be both unsettling and intricately human. And that is what I am looking for in this book; ingenious stories threaded with poignant narrative.”
Sally Beresford won the heart of this nineteenth-century scholar when she wrote: “Holidays are a time to spend with loved ones and friends and I find that books are no exception! I therefore pull out old favourites: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol of course, usually a Jane Austen, and always lots of fun murder mysteries as those by Agatha Christie or E.C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case. Lucy Maud Montgomery also had a lovely collection of Christmas Tales – Christmas with Anne – that are fun to dive back into this time of year.”
Sally won my heart, but Christin Wright-Taylor won my stomach: “I am looking forward to reading, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking over the break. My partner and I watched the Netflix version of the cookbook when I needed brain space from studying my exams and the cooking made me SO Hungry. I love eating delicious food and Samin is a natural educator. I trust her to guide me through the kitchen.”
Finally, Hannah Watts, who is working with Critical Disability theory, Affect theory, postmodern poetry, and readership, has hit upon how I managed to keep my head clear when immersed in densely theoretical reading during the PhD–by reading classic children’s literature: “Over the break I will be reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for fun.” I’m pretty sure she’s not the only one.