More like this

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 Lech Blaine, whose debut Car Crash: A Memoir (Black Inc.) is our May pick. Read Ellen Cregan’s review, and tune in to our interview with Lech on the KYD podcast

An image of Lech Blaine - a man with short dark brown hair, an olive complexion and a dark beard, wearing a blue shirt and looking at the camera with a neutral expression.

Lech Blaine. Image: James Brickwood

What are you currently reading?

No Document by Anwen Crawford. I bought it from Neighbourhood Books in Melbourne while I was on book tour. Anwen is one of Australia’s best critics and essayists, full stop, so it’s no surprise that her book is brilliant. It’s a really affecting meditation on grief, art, activism and community. I’ve found it quite refreshing, because it approaches some of the same themes from my own book—such as friendship and mourning rituals—with a totally different mode of expression.

I also bought Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen from Neighbourhood Books, and finished it in a single sitting not too long ago while on a late-night flight from Sydney to Brisbane. It was a dizzying experience. I felt like I was flying over a map of colonisation while reading a diagnosis of its sicknesses and contradictions. Araluen has an extraordinary​ gift for pinpointing micro-moments of human longing and connection within those wider macro patterns of imperialism and capitalism. (Editor’s note: Revisit our First Book Club interview with Evelyn Araluen here.)

What kind of reader are you?

I’m an extremely ill disciplined and inconsistent reader, prone to throw away books that don’t grip me pretty quickly. I usually have a bunch of different things on the run, between essays and articles that I need to read for whatever I’m working on within journalism, and novel-length books that I’m diving into purely for pleasure.

I’m a bit of an insomniac, so I do a lot of reading on my iPhone late at night, which probably isn’t healthy, but I actually find it the easiest way to get to sleep. And I’m also a chronic rereader. I tend to get even more out of a good book on the second read. Often I might not even be concentrating on the plot, but flipping through for the thrill of taking in the words on a sentence-level, more like consuming poetry.

I’m also a chronic rereader. I tend to get even more out of a good book on the second read.

What does your book collection look like?

Sadly, it’s fairly invisible at the moment. I moved to Sydney just before coronavirus, so I donated most of my books, and took only a couple of boxes of the best or unread ones to a new state. This killed me; like my mum, I see books as lifelong possessions. The survivors have remained packed up in a cupboard unless I have a particular need for them, as I don’t have the space. This is spiritually irritating. I was always someone growing up who liked the decorative effect of my favourite books and albums.

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

It’s hard to pick one. Airships by Barry Hannah and Stories in the Worst Way by Garielle Lutz inspired my obsession with sentences. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine and America by Jean Baudrillard heavily influenced Car Crash at the beginning. They both set the tone for some of my reflections on media spectacles.

But Car Crash is a human story, and my prose was initially too aloof from both the characters and the landscape, so I recalibrated. I kept going back to the non-fiction of Helen Garner for literary and moral encouragement. I reread Joe Cinque’s Consolation to remind myself that the best non-fiction doesn’t provide a neat ending.

My prose was initially too aloof from both the characters and the landscape…I kept going back to the non-fiction of Helen Garner for literary and moral encouragement.

What books are you constantly recommending other people read?

I’ve recommended Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee too many times to remember. It’s a glittering achievement. I went back to it a few times while writing my own book, and found lots of fresh inspiration. I inhaled On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner straight after each other, and never stopped raving about them. Lerner is one of the few writers whose books I’ve felt compelled to immediately reread. I was constantly recommending Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04 when I worked at a bookshop in 2014 and 2015. Another book that I used to energetically endorse to customers was Acute Misfortune by Erik Jensen.

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

Underworld by Don DeLillo. It’s my favourite book by my favourite writer. I’ve reread his novels so many times that I occasionally catch myself plagiarising the cadences of his sentences, even within my journalism. The language never gets stale or unstrange.

Car Crash is available now at your local independent bookseller.