Shelf Reflection is a monthly series where we delve into the reading habits of interesting Australians. This month’s reflection comes from award-winning illustrator Sophie Beer.


What are you currently reading?

Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, a barefaced retelling of the provincial, Neapolitan life of two girls in the 50s. So far, it is reminding me a lot of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, a dissection of the barbed intricacies of female friendship.

Borrowed or bought?

Borrowed from my best friend, Valerie, who is a writer herself. I am reading it as I’m going to Italy in 44 days! Yes, I did just check the day counter I have installed on my computer desktop to make sure I got the date correct. I’ll be visiting Naples, so it is lovely to see rural Southern Italy wrought so boldly in this book.

What kind of reader are you?

I usually read part of a book for an hour every night before bed, a solemn routine I’ve been abiding by since I was a kid, as well as having a light, breezy read on audiobook for when I am walking my dog or at my desk working. Although I love classic literature, through audiobooks I devour a lot of YA, much to the chagrin of my snobby husband. I’ll never denigrate it though: some of the best books I’ve ever read have been YA fiction, like Philip Reeve or Garth Nix.

What does your book collection look like?

My collection is the very definition of ‘pell-mell’: books spill and sprout across every surface of my flat. My grandfather is a big history buff, so I have accumulated a lot of biographies from him. I have a sizeable classics collection from when I was an English Literature student. I love picture books, so I have a huge crate of them in my living room which probably confuses a lot of visitors as I do not have any kids.

I love the almost tangible history that hangs around second-hand books, so I have a vast collection of them. A great thing about having second-hand books is creepily Googling the names in the front inscriptions. The owner of my copy of Death in Venice only has an obituary notice that was tragically concise. The owner of The Story of Tracy Beaker is an Instagram model with very obvious hair extensions of which I feel Tracy would disapprove. The previous owner of my 1950s copy of The Radium Woman grew up to be a conservative politician, which is rather hilarious. My 80s editions of The Lord of the Rings were awarded to a student at a now-defunct high school for prowess in science. He’s now an inventor with patents out the wazoo. I love that books can attach themselves to a period of your life and define it in a singular way that cannot be attributed to any other kind of object.

My most treasured book is a 1946 copy of Peg’s Fairy Book by Peg Maltby, an exquisitely illustrated Australian fairy tale book. It was my grandma’s; she read it to me every time I stayed the night at her house as a kid. She flippantly said I could have it a few years ago and I burst into tears of happiness.

If you had to pick one book to live in for the rest of your life, which would it be?

This is so very hard as the answer would be completely different at different stages of my life! As a kid and teen, I’d have picked a fantasy world like Harry Potter, The Hobbit, or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. In my early 20s, I’d have picked Jane Austen’s universe of manners and humour. Now, after brushing with mortality by being diagnosed with a brain tumour last year, I’ve reverted back to seeking beautiful things and determinedly seeing the joy in life, so I’d love to be Anne with an ‘e’ Shirley’s friend and live in Avonlea.