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 Luke Horton, whose debut novel The Fogging (Scribe) is our July pick. Stay tuned for more on our website and podcast throughout the month, and join us on 20 August for a live online in-conversation event with Ellen Cregan, in partnership with Yarra Libraries! 

Luke’s bookshelves. Image: Supplied

What are you currently reading?

Jon Fosse’s The Other Name. I’m only a hundred pages in, and I’m not sure I’ve figured it out completely, but it’s about an ageing painter and widower, Asle, who lives alone on the south-west coast of Norway, and his doppelgänger, also called Asle, who is an alcoholic and lives in a nearby town. Stylistically it is pretty mesmerising. It has very few paragraph breaks, very little punctuation, is nearly all interiority, and it lingers on certain images, repeating the same words and phrases over and over and describing the same scene from different angles to create a series of lingering images. This aspect of the book reminds me a little of Gerald Murnane. It is one of those books you start reading and think, wow, I wish I could write like that. Although in the last ten pages or so there has been a lot about God and Jesus, so I don’t want to rave too much yet.

Borrowed or bought?

I bought it a while ago, during the first lockdown, from Paperback Books, in a book buying spree to support a few local booksellers. It was recommended somewhere, but I don’t remember where now. Maybe I had read reviews. I know Knausgaard rates him very highly and writes about him in the My Struggle books. It is also my first Fitzcarraldo Edition and I have wanted to buy a few of those recently.

I have never really taken to the idea of the ‘light’ or ‘easy’ read…there’s too much exciting new literary fiction and heavyweight classics yet to read.

What kind of reader are you?

Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t like or read anything particularly surprising. I don’t read much genre fiction; nearly everything is literary fiction and literary non-fiction. I have never really taken to the idea of the ‘light’ or ‘easy’ read either. I can’t read books for light entertainment. Which isn’t a judgement of people who do, I just can’t get interested in books that are like that. There’s too much exciting new literary fiction and too many classics yet to read.

I rarely re-read books. I’d like to of course, but my TBR pile is too big. I am pretty good with fiction in that I usually read just one book at a time, once I have settled on one (I like to alternate between something contemporary and something older), and rarely give up on them, but with non-fiction, especially essay collections, I have a habit of dipping in and out. I have been reading essay collections by Lydia Davis, Rachel Cusk, Ellena Savage, and D.H. Lawrence for a few months now. And loving them all, by the way.

There have been times in the past when I have had more time for reading, but at the moment I tend to read mostly in bed before sleep. Sometimes, I find an afternoon to read too, usually when I am supposed to be writing. I love to do that. I argue (with myself) that I am still working. And when I am writing I often pick up books and read for a bit, as a break, or because I want to see how someone else handles the kind of thing I am trying to do or whatever.

What does your collection look like?

I am of the opinion that people who organise their books in any way other than alphabetically by author are not real readers. I’m joking, but it just makes sense to do it that way. It’s easier to find stuff. By colour just seems like an interior design idea, hence shallow and lame.

I am of the opinion that people who organise their books in any way other than alphabetically by author are not real readers.

My bookshelves are filled with both second-hand and new books. Mostly paperbacks; some nice old hardbacks. I am not particularly interested in collecting first editions, although of course they are often very beautiful, and I do covet them sometimes. The fiction is by far the biggest section, but the non-fiction section is broader, and organised into sub-sections: essays, music, philosophy, books about writing, biography and memoir etc (then there’s my partner Antonia’s art book collection, which nearly takes up the same amount of space as all the other books).

 

This is the idea anyway; the reality is that with a three-year-old in the house it is a big mess and everything is just randomly shoved in wherever. There are also many piles of overflow around the place, partially due to my time as editor at The Lifted Brow Review of Books, when I received a lot of review copies (which I donate), but also just because I have been buying too many books.

The books I have owned the longest time would be the kids’ books my parents read to me that we now read to my daughter Albertine: In the Midnight Kitchen, Flat Stanley, Sesame Street books etc. Then the books I first read as a teenager: The Brothers Karamazov, Dubliners, The Trial. And books given to me by my parents, such as Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, among many others. I stole a lot of books from my parents’ shelves around that time too. I had a quick look and it’s things like a hard cover of Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, Electric Underground: A City Lights Reader, several Tom Wolfe and Thomas Wolfe books, Angela Davis If They Come in the Morning, Emma Goldman Living My Life, and a couple of Doonesbury comic books.

I do clear-outs from time to time, but for some reason I still have my Doonesbury comic books. I also have a couple of Angus Wilson novels my mother gave me when I was pretty young, maybe thirteen, fourteen, Setting the World on Fire and The Old Men at the Zoo, which I loved at the time, and a copy of Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault’s The Magnetic Fields which was given to me by a French exchange student friend when I was maybe sixteen.

The books I have owned the longest time would be the kids’ books my parents read to me that we now read to my daughter.

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

It’s hard to choose, but Peter Stamm’s Seven Years felt important, and I referred back to it a few times. It is a story of a relationship told from the point of view of a man who understands only so much about what that relationship has meant to his partner. It is also a masterclass in how to create real feeling characters who may be flawed and even unlikable but still compelling. And how to keep the reader interested in reading from this limited, at times frustrating point of view, where the reader may understand things that the protagonist does not. Stamm is a wonderful creator of mood too. It is hard to see how it is done, on a sentence level, but the mood of unease just builds and builds in his work. In his short stories even more so than this novel.

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

It is difficult right now to think of anything but lockdowns and curfews and national disasters, so one—perhaps cop out—answer is a kids’ book. To stay forever in the calm, hopeful world of anything by Alison Lester for example, Kissed by the Moon or Magic Beach, would be nice.

Another, perhaps weirder, answer is my own book. The year is not specified but it is set a couple of years ago, before the pandemic, the last bushfire season, and before my mother died. So, I would be briefly noted perhaps, someone in the background, lying on the beach in Sanur, drinking cocktails, and perhaps noticing Tom and Clara as they walk by. No, wait—if that means my daughter is a one-year-old forever I’m changing my answer.

The Fogging is available from your local independent bookseller.