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Shelf Reflection is a monthly series where we explore the bookshelves and reading habits of our featured First Book Club authors.

This month’s reflection is from Elizabeth Kuiper, whose debut novel Little Stones (UQP) is our June pick. Read Ellen Cregan’s review, and join us at Bargoonga Nganjin North Fitzroy Library on 25 June for a free in-conversation event with the author.

Elizabeth’s bookshelf. Image: Supplied

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished Less by Andrew Sean Greer. The protagonist, Arthur Less – a middle-aged, single, gay writer from San Francisco – accepts invitations to a variety of literary events around the globe so as to have a plausible excuse to avoid his ex’s wedding. Arthur Less (and all his ‘Lessisms’ and neuroses) won my heart and a place in it as one of my favourite literary characters. My mum bought me the book – I think from the airport. It won the 2018 Pulitzer, so she must’ve thought it was a safe bet.

I’m also currently wading through the sixth edition of Australian Real Property Law, but wouldn’t dream of boring anyone with a summary.

What kind of reader are you?

I’m not someone who can read multiple works of fiction at once. I can juggle a few non-fiction books because they’re usually fragmented into self-contained and discrete parts. If I’m reading a novel, my joy as a reader comes from fully immersing myself in the world of the story so that even when I’m forced to put the book down, I’m thinking about the characters. This mentality is also linked to my other reading preferences. I’d rather not read in short bursts and would much prefer it if I had at least an hour to spare to disappear into a book – to strip the doona off my bed, curl up on the couch with a cup of tea, and hoist a neon ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign above my head.

I’d rather not read in short bursts and would much prefer it if I had at least an hour to spare to disappear into a book.

I rarely re-read books. There’s so much excellent work out there that I’ve yet to enjoy – I’d probably need another lifetime to read everything I want to. So, something I’ve already read would have to be pretty special to win over the promise of something new.

What does your book collection look like?

It’s not as organised as I’d like it to be, but there’s only so much one can do with a single IKEA bookshelf. The top two shelves are non-fiction, loosely categorised by books on philosophy and politics. The most shelf-space is given to contemporary fiction, situated in the middle for easy access. The row below features penguin classics on the left, with the right housing some light non-fiction / satire (lots of David Sedaris). The second row from the bottom is a mishmash of short story collections, poetry and plays. And the bottom is chaotic; basically all the leftover books I could cram in next to my law readings.

Elizabeth's childhood copy of Guess How Much I Love You. Image: Supplied

Which book have you owned for the longest time?

A sweet little picture book called Guess How Much I Love You that my mum would read to me before bed as a child. We’d often repeat the last few lines of the book to each other, where Little Nutbrown Hare proclaims to Big Nutbrown Hare ‘I love you right up to the moon,’ and the response he receives is: ‘I love you right up to the moon and back’ – the ending to a story in which the baby hare tried his best to express how much he loves the big hare, and the big hare always replying that he loves the baby hare even more. I’m really glad I still have the book because I remember the great comfort it gave me, and how my mum made sure I knew that no matter what, she would always love me.

What’s one book you found critical to the writing of your own book?

I think every book you read as a writer informs what you write about. Everything I’ve written is really just a reflection of what I’ve read and enjoyed, or a deliberate attempt to avoid doing what I haven’t. That said, NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names is one of my favourite books and something I came back to when thinking about what I wanted to achieve with Little Stones. I read it years ago, when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker. It spoke to me not just because it was a book about Zimbabwe, but because of the clever writing and Bulawayo’s ability to retain Darling’s innocence (the child-protagonist) whilst also making the reader privy to the realities external to her perspective.

Everything I’ve written is really just a reflection of what I’ve read and enjoyed or a deliberate attempt to avoid doing what I haven’t.

As a reader, the awareness or the clash of both worlds can create a really impactful experience. In We Need New Names, Bulawayo does this in a way that infuses the book with a lot of joy and humour, which is what I hoped to do with my own young protagonist and my book. I basically wrote the type of book that I enjoy reading – I’m not sure I could’ve spent three years of my life on it otherwise.

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

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. Perhaps a bit of a cheeky choice because I don’t want to live in the world of the book per se, but rather experience the premise myself. In the world Albom created, after you die, you go through five stages of Heaven – at each stage meeting someone connected to your time on Earth. The people you meet are not necessarily who you might expect. It’s not just family members or big loves; they can be people you may not even remember but who were impacted by your actions and there’s something to be learnt about your past life from each of them. I won’t give the rest away (spoilers), but I do think that if there is an afterlife, this would be a pretty nice way to spend it, and if I could live in any book, this wholesome, philosophical, feel-good work would be it.

Elizabeth will be appearing at the following events throughout June and July:

KYD First Book Club at Bargoonga Nganjin North Fitzroy Library, 25 June

Emerging Writers’ Festival Lunchtime Lit Sessions: The Literary Interior, 27 June

Little Stones Launch at Hares & Hyenas, 27 June

Brunswick Bound ‘First Chapters’ Reading, 5 July

Little Stones is available now at Readings.