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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 Kay Kerr, whose debut novel Please Don’t Hug Me (Text Publishing) is our May pick. Read Ellen Cregan’s review, and stay tuned for more on our website and podcast throughout the month! 

Some of Kay’s book collection. Image: Supplied

What are you currently reading?

I am reading Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (read KYD‘s review). Dolan is an Irish novelist and this is her debut. It’s this dry, funny, heartening story about an Irish expat Ava and the love triangle she finds herself in while working in Hong Kong. I’m only about halfway, but I’m at the stage where I can’t stop thinking about the writing. I need to finish it. No doubt people will compare Dolan’s work to Sally Rooney, but there is something distinctive about the way she observes human behaviour that I find compelling.

Borrowed or bought?

I pre-ordered a copy, which I try to do when I’m excited about a book, because I’d read so many good things about it. Regardless of whether an autistic author writes autistic characters or not, I appreciate and feel at home in stories that look at the world through an autistic lens. I would say the same about the works of Helen Hoang, Anna Whateley and C. G. Drews. Their books make me emotional, in the way being seen often does.

What kind of reader are you?

My reading ebbs and flows. If I am reading something I’m engrossed in I will do it in every spare second. I’ll read as I cook and get dressed and parent and I’ll read at the end of the day until far too late into the night. If a book has me hooked it will be finished in a day or two. Other books, when I’m not totally captivated but still enjoying it, will be spaced out over a couple of weeks. I’m happy to put a book down and not finish it if it’s not for me. I usually have one book on the go at a time, but sometimes I might have an audiobook I’m listening to as well. Re-reading is a pleasure, but it has to be a pretty special book, or else a complete comfort read. This pandemic definitely has me reaching for the nostalgic cosiness of the familiar. I’ve noticed my music and TV/movie tastes are the same. I don’t think people would be surprised by any of my reading. It’s a lot of YA, definitely, but then it’s anything else that sparks my interest. I could be drawn in by a good blurb or an author who is cheeky on social media, or a recommendation from someone whose tastes I trust.

My reading ebbs and flows…if I am reading something I’m engrossed in I will do it in every spare second.

What does your book collection look like?

I have books in every room of the house, all organised in different ways depending on location, but definitely organised, even if the manner of which is only understood by me. My main bookcase is organised based on height and what will fit on each shelf; it is a bit annoying like that. I have a bookcase especially for my Young Adult fiction, as those are the books I will most often look to reference or flip through while I’m writing or thinking about writing. I rotate our children’s books and we have two different shelves for those. Sometimes they’ll be grouped based on themes or seasons or what we are into at any given moment.

I find second-hand bookshops overwhelming sometimes, because where do I start? But I like the lived-in feeling of a pre-loved book and try to buy them when I can.

I still have all my childhood books, and I’m enjoying revisiting some of those with my daughter. Others have not aged well and are being donated or put away. I’m most excited to share the Under The Hawthorn Tree series by Marita Conlon-McKenna with her when she is a little bit older. The books are set in the time of the Great Famine in Ireland and something about knowing the events really happened seemed more extraordinary and affecting to me as a young child than any of the fantasy stories I’d read before then.

I like the lived-in feeling of a pre-loved book and try to buy them when I can.

 

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

I wouldn’t be able to talk about my book without first referencing Australian YA fiction. The works of Vikki Wakefield, Fiona Wood, Will Kostakis, Steph Bowe, Melina Marchetta, Laura Buzo, Clare Atkins, Anna Spargo-Ryan, and so many others, has shaped my own writing and the way I look at the world in immeasurable ways.

But if I had to pick one book, it would be It’s Kind of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. It isn’t so much the plot, which follows this 15-year-old boy Craig from Brooklyn who is hospitalised with depression, as it is the way Vizzini described the inner workings of his protagonist’s mind. He used these visual descriptors of tentacles and anchors to represent how certain elements of Craig’s life impacted his mental health. I’m likely doing him an injustice here, and you would probably have to read it to see how well it’s done, but something about that stuck with me.

Living my teen years being undiagnosed autistic meant I harboured the belief that my mind worked in a different way to other peoples’, but I couldn’t figure out why. Getting my diagnosis as I was writing my first novel meant that I was unpacking and re-examining so much of my earlier life through my writing. I visualised my own sensory and social communication processing in different but perhaps somewhat similar ways, and a lot of that ended up in my book. It’s Kind of a Funny Story was absolutely the case of the right book at the right time for me.

Living my teen years being undiagnosed autistic…I believed my mind worked in a different way to other peoples’, but I couldn’t figure out why.

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

I would be doing my younger self a disservice if I didn’t say the Harry Potter series and living at Hogwarts. I was as deeply into those books as I can imagine ever being into anything. The first book came out when I was nine and Harry Potter was eleven, so I aged up with the characters and truly lived that intense, frenzied fandom era that involved queuing up on book launch dates and fervently rereading the series in anticipation for each next release. It was all consuming and such a joy. I probably wouldn’t want to be any of the actual characters from those books though, as they all went through such deeply traumatic things, so maybe I’d be a studious Ravenclaw in the background somewhere. J.K. Rowling’s online presence is really doing the most to turn me off such a beloved childhood experience, but I can still look back at that time with fondness.

Please Don’t Hug Me is available now from your local independent bookseller.