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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 Laura McPhee-Browne, whose debut novel Cherry Beach (Text Publishing) is our February pick. Read Ellen Cregan’s review, and stay tuned for more throughout the month! 

Laura’s bedside reading area. Image: Supplied

What are you currently reading?

Yesterday I finished Blueberries, Ellena Savage’s debut, out in March. It’s every bit as accomplished, unique and stunningly written as I expected. I’m also re-reading a Barbara Vine called The Chimney-Sweeper’s Boy for comfort, am halfway through American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, and halfway through Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport because I keep starting other things and neglecting it, even though when I am reading it I thoroughly enjoy myself! I think that might be because it requires a lot of concentration, and I don’t always have it in me! I’ve also just started reading the poems in L.K. Holt’s collection Birth Plan, and am very moved already.

Borrowed or bought?

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Blueberries and Ducks, Newburyport from Text, as we share a publisher and they are very generous! I’m reading the Vine and the Sittenfeld on my Kindle, despite not really wanting to admit that. I bought Birth Plan online, so I could hold it.

What kind of reader are you?

As is likely evident form the above, I am a reader who usually has more than one book on the go. I like to read different things depending on my mood, and the time of the day. I won’t persevere with a book if I’m not getting something out of it – there are too many other books to spend time with, I think.

I am a reader who usually has more than one book on the go, depending on my mood, and the time of the day.

I re-read books, but only some kinds of books. When I was younger, I read What Katie Did and the Mallory Towers and St Clare’s books by Enid Blyton over and over! These days I will re-read books by my favourite authors (Margaret Drabble, Alice Munro, Siri Hustvedt, Elizabeth Jolley, Michelle de Kretser, Lynne Reid Banks, Allison Lurie, Jean Rhys, Clarice Lispector) every few years because I just love them so much, and it feels comforting, and will dip into my favourite short story collections for inspiration.

I’m not sure if people are surprised, but I do enjoy dated psychological thrillers like the ones Ruth Rendell wrote under the name Barbara Vine, and dated crime by Ruth Rendell, Agatha Christie, and the Maigret series my dad loves so much. I also like reading biographies of famous political figures sometimes, to try and learn something about history, since I didn’t seem to pick up much at all at school and university.

What does your book collection look like?

A lot of my most treasured books are packed away at the moment, but when they are on shelves I like to put the ones I love the most together, and put short fiction together and poetry together. But I’m not very organised and I’d much rather be reading in bed than sorting out the shelves. I like to have as many books as possible to choose from within reach of the bed, but not so many that the pile topples over when I am trying to slide one out.

I love second-hand books, because books have often had such beautiful, unusual covers throughout their published life, and that’s the way you find the best ones – by buying second-hand.

I like to have as many books as possible to choose from within reach of the bed, but not so many that the pile topples over.

I think the book I’ve owned for the longest time would be Possum Magic by Mem Fox. I’ve had it since I was tiny, and have managed to hold onto it through many house moves and leaving for overseas more than once. It’s such a beautiful book, and looking at it makes me feel lots of feelings!

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

I read poetry for feeling and inspiration, and Adrienne Rich was a poet I read a lot of when I was writing Cherry, in particular her collections Twenty-One Love Poems and An Atlas of a Difficult World. Gwen Harwood’s poetry also helped me along, and I included a section of one of her poems in my epigraph.

Pema Chödrön’s books, and in particular her little book of teachings called Comfortable with Uncertainty has been something I’ve gone to over and over these past few years, for wisdom and grounding and to remind myself how important meditation and lightness and loving kindness are in my life, if I am to be healthy. She is truly wonderful.

I have also gone to pages in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations when needing sage advice regarding how to stop being an idiot, and that has helped when I’m stuck or getting too caught up in my own small worries. Stoic philosophy and Buddhism seem to strike an unlikely yet helpful balance for me!

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

I remember reading Lisa Jacobson’s verse novel The Sunlit Zone a few years ago and feeling so drawn in to the world, a watery world slightly in our future, and I think I’d like to have some time in that world! The characters were also beautifully wrought, and even though there was such sadness in the book, it was an exploration of freedom. I think I would like to be the character of Finn, who spends all her time in the ocean, and is part girl, part mythological sea creature, or maybe I would just be a starfish, looking on.

Cherry Beach is available now at Readings.