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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 Jackie Bailey, whose debut novel The Eulogy (Hardie Grant) is a literary page-turner about family, death and grief that is full of love, humour and life, and was shortlisted for the 2018 KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award. Stay tuned for more on our website and podcast later in the month!

Two shelves of a white melamine bookshelf filled with books, including several titles on different religions. In the bottom right corner is a small golden statue of a seated Asian god.

Jackie’s bookshelf. Image: Supplied

What are you currently reading?

Right now I am reading The Sunken Road by Garry Disher. Its structure is very cool, with each chapter a few pages long and telling the story of the same woman’s life. But each chapter is based around a theme, and so you learn new plot points and character traits throughout and that way you are propelled forward. I heard about it in an interview with Garry Disher on The First Time podcast, and he had excellent tips for writers—I listened to that episode twice! He said that The Sunken Road was his favourite, so I knew I had to get hold of it!

What kind of reader are you?

I used to be a finisher, and one book at a time, but over the last ten years since I became a parent I have become a juggler of books and I don’t always finish them. I have so little time to read that I don’t want to use it up on a book if I am not feeling compelled by it. Nowadays I tend to have a non-fiction and a fiction on the go, and sometimes more than one novel if they are different genres. I re-read certain favourites—The Lord of the Rings, anything by Diana Wynne-Jones, ditto Jane Austen, and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels—when I need a bit of comfort or need to re-ground myself. I also re-read books if they are opening up a particular part of my brain or soul which needs airing for the thing I am working on right now. I generally read on the couch at home or in bed, but honestly I will read anywhere and have always got a book with me. People might be surprised to know I love literary crime novels, especially the work of Garry Disher, Kate Atkinson and Hayley Scrivenor.

My book collection is basically organised in response to the perennial question, where can I fit this book?

What does your book collection look like?

My book collection is basically organised in response to the perennial question, where can I fit this book? We need a lot more shelves in my house and are at the point where shelves have double rows. I keep books which people give me, books by friends, books for research, and books I love. I also have an ebook reader so I have loads of stuff always on hand. I have owned The Lord of the Rings and my Anne of Green Gables complete set for the longest time, since I was a kid. They are all covered in ancient plastic contact paper and splitting along the spines, and I love them like that.

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

Anne Enright’s book The Gathering was critical. I literally broke that book down in a spreadsheet by character arc, timelines, points of crisis, and moments for critical memories. Because I had it on the ebook reader, it told me at what percentage point through the book different things happen, which was extremely useful for an Excel nerd like me.

Anne Enright’s book The Gathering was critical to my writing…I literally broke that book down in a spreadsheet.

What book/s are you constantly recommending other people read?

I am always recommending books relevant to the conversation and the person and what I am fangirling about at that moment! Fairly constant recommendations from me: Songspirals by the Gay’wu Group of Women; William Boyd’s Any Human Heart; The Permanent Resident by Roanna Gonsalves; The Gathering by Anne Enright; Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer; and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

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

The Lord of the Rings, and I would be Sam Gamgee. I have loved those books since I was little. They were the first books that showed me the world of possibility which imagination and books offered. I always relate to how Sam Gamgee stays behind on Middle Earth and gets on with the business of living while Frodo Baggins sails away. I see myself as that stoic, practical type, rather than the tragic elfin hero. Also, The Shire would be a gorgeous place to live, as long as I could bring pho and kway teow restauranteurs with me.

What’s next for you?

I have events coming up throughout the year which is pretty exciting! I’m going to be talking with Indira Naidoo on Nightlife on Sunday 12 June, which you can listen to on ABC Radio or podcast. I’ll keep updating events and appearances on my website

I’m also working on my second book, which is a non-fiction exploration of how to live a rational, spiritual life in a non-religious era. I’m drawing on the research I have done over the years, my experience as a lapsed Catholic looking for meaning, my ordination as an interfaith minister, and my work as an independent funeral director.

The Eulogy is available now from your local independent bookseller.