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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 Melissa Ferguson, whose debut novel The Shining Wall [Transit Lounge] is our April pick. Join us at Readings Carlton on 24 April for a free in-conversation event with the author.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished Rosewater by Tade Thompson. It’s an alien contact story set in a future Nigeria. A town, named Rosewater, has formed around an enormous alien biodome with mysterious healing powers. The main character has psychic abilities that are connected to the presence of aliens on Earth.

Borrowed or bought?

I requested this book for purchase at my local library after seeing it on lists of the best science fiction of 2018. I’d also previously read and enjoyed a novella by the author called The Murders of Molly Southbourne.

What kind of reader are you?

I can only read one book at a time because I have a terrible memory and would be completely lost if I went from one book to another. I read quite quickly, no longer than a week per book. I can read up to three books a week (depending on their length and how compelling they are). I used to re-read books a lot when I was younger, but I now have more of a sense of the finiteness of time and the size of my to be read list. There are several books I have promised myself I will re-read when I have the time, but I suspect that will never happen.

I take a book with me wherever I go.

I take a book with me wherever I go. My children and I are always the ones in the waiting room at the doctor’s or the dentist’s with our books open. I read for about an hour before bed every evening. I mostly read science fiction of any subgenre (dystopian, futuristic, apocalyptic, space opera), especially written by women or an author from a background that provides a fresh perspective. I’ve also been known to delve into gritty realism, weird fiction, historical fiction, and horror. I love any new take on the zombie or vampire genre.

I often request books for purchase from my library (they don’t seem to routinely get in the kinds of books that I read). I will give a book a chapter or two and decide if I want to keep on with it. I prefer reading to not feel like hard work. I want to be immersed in a world and attached to a character. I want to feel the connections being made in my brain as I’m challenged with new ideas. Then if a book does these things for me (or if it makes me cry) I will often purchase my own copy.

What does your book collection look like?

My bookshelf is a bit of a mess. I totally blame my children. It’s more of a family bookshelf and books are organised into fiction, non-fiction, and kids. Beyond those categories it’s a bit of a free for all. My kids also have bookshelves in their rooms. I’m a sucker for buying kid’s books and get excited every time the Scholastic brochure comes home from school.

I like to own any book that I have loved. Even if I never read it again, I like to know it is nearby.

I like to own any book that I have loved. Even if I never read it again, I like to know it is nearby. I don’t mind if books are new or secondhand. Having said that, I can be brutal when it comes to clearing out books. If it no longer sparks joy it is gone, and yes, I’ve often regretted getting rid of certain books and have, on occasion, purchased them again. (Why did I get rid of all my Anne Rice and early Stephen King books?). I also have a habit of giving books away. So not all the books I have loved can be found on my shelves.

One of the oldest books I have is probably The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. It is one of my all-time favourites and has survived many bookshelf slaughters.

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

All of Octavia Butler’s work, but especially Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, influenced my writing of ‘The Shining Wall’, especially when I imagined the world in which the main protagonist, Alida, lived. I first discovered Butler’s books about ten years ago. Her stories could be described as quiet – there are very few explosions or gun battles – but they’re incredibly compelling. Her work is very character driven, while also full of unparalleled imagination and impeccable worldbuilding. For someone who claimed she was a bit of a hermit she has remarkable, and sometimes painfully resonant, insights into the human condition. In the Parable books she depicted a future America where environmental devastation and widespread poverty have led to the rise of a fascist government and a reduced quality of life for the majority of the population, while also depicting pockets of resistance and hope for change.

For someone who claimed she was a bit of a hermit she has remarkable, and sometimes painfully resonant, insights into the human condition.

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

I read a lot of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction, including zombie books, and also science fiction, that might be set on different planets or in some kind of future. I don’t want to live in any of the worlds I like to read about. I wouldn’t want to live in any of the worlds of the historical fiction I read either – they did horrific things in the name of medicine way back when. Our world isn’t perfect, but I feel quite comfortable in it right at this moment in history (although I do have fears for the future). I have hot showers, access to affordable health care, all the food I could want, and my family are healthy and happy. I’m not very adventurous in real life – maybe that’s why I like fast-paced speculative fiction. Writing dystopian and apocalyptic fiction is a way for me to appreciate just how lucky I am in my life now. (I wouldn’t even like to go to Hogwarts – that place is so dangerous!)