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 Wayne Marshall, whose debut short story collection Shirl (Affirm Press) is our February pick. Read Ellen Cregan’s review, and stay tuned for more throughout the month! 

Wayne’s book collection. Image: Supplied

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just picked up Angela Meyer’s latest, the MsLexia Novella Award-winning Joan Smokes. The story begins with an unnamed Australian woman on the run, arriving in Las Vegas and – for reasons as yet unclear – needing to invent a new identity for herself. The writing is so beautifully spare, organised into small sections brimming with mystery and menace. I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Borrowed or bought?

I bought Joan Smokes at the wonderful Paperback Bookshop in Melbourne. I’ve been a huge fan of Angela’s for a while, from her novel A Superior Spectre to her flash fiction collection Captives.

What kind of reader are you?

Ideally, I’d be reading one book at a time, devoting myself entirely to it – but that rarely ever works out in reality. So, as well as Joan Smokes (and Sean O’Beirne’s collection A Couple of Things Before The End), I’m also on a bit of a Robert Coover binge. I just read his 1968 novel The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. for a third time, as well as his novels Ghost Town and The Origin of the Brunists. Also, I can’t stay away from short stories for any length of time, so I’m always dipping into the collections on my writing desk (see photo!) or the journals I subscribe to. Reading at night works best for me, in bed, all distractions shut off.

I can’t stay away from short stories for any length of time, so I’m always dipping into collections or the journals I subscribe to.

What does your book collection look like?

My book room is pretty chaotic. About the only method of organisation I can think of is that the top shelf is reserved for my very favourite books. Peter Carey’s Collected Stories is up there, as is Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the works of Kafka, the works of Kenneth Cook, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles and Gillian Rubinstein’s Space Demons and ​Skymaze. The only other quirk, I guess, is that my writing desk is piled high with story collections. I’m a big re-reader of short stories, so when I’m down on inspiration or just generally feel like entering those worlds again, I’ll pick up a collection and dive in. Not so great when I’m trying to work though…

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

Obviously there are many. But if I had to choose one I’d say Ryan O’Neill’s The Weight of a Human Heart. It’s a short story collection that’s funny, inventive, has so much heart, as well as being meticulously crafted. For a long time, I see in hindsight, I’d been seeking an alternative to the solemn minimalist realism that dominates much Australian short fiction, and The Weight of a Human Heart gave me that in spades, educating me and having me in stitches at the same time. Ryan’s also a passionate advocate for the short story form, and I’ve picked up so much useful advice from him. He was also really generous in supporting me with my own writing during the early stages of Shirl.

About the only method of organisation I can think of is that the top shelf is reserved for my very favourite books.

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

I’m tempted to go with Gillian Rubinstein’s Space Demons – premise: a video game becomes real for a bunch of kids in the suburbs of Adelaide – or at least, that’s what my fourteen-year-old self would have chosen. Instead, I’ll go with the collected short stories of American writer Steven Millhauser. Millhauser is an enchanter, a writer of boundless imagination, his seemingly humdrum American towns the setting for many weird and wild things. It helps that he also writes these scenarios – which also ​include extravagant theme parks, and other dazzling feats of architecture – in gorgeous, lush prose. So if I was to live in any fictional landscape, it would be in one of Millhauser’s towns. First, I’d breathe in the obsessive, sometimes excessive, detail that is the hallmark of Millhauser’s world-building – then I’d get ready. Because something very very strange was surely about to go down.

Shirl is available now at Readings.