Dusting off the bookshelf

Lisa Scott
Well, here we are. We made it through another week and in a whole new level. Fast food rubbish has replaced blue disposable gloves in the gutters and the leaves are falling. Time has ceased to have meaning, but technically speaking, it’s a Saturday.

I don’t know about you but Zoom fatigue has well and truly set in here (how hard is it to remember to unmute?), however, one thing I haven’t tired of is the opportunity to have a nosy at other people’s bookshelves. Dinner party-less, with fewer invitations to cross a threshold than Dracula, naturally we crave new ways to mock and admire. So, by their bookcases shall ye judge them.

Your bookcase says a lot about you, and this is why journalists and politicians have been rearranging theirs to appear profounder on camera (with the exception of Trump, who just keeps a running helicopter in the background, or a face-palming health adviser), shuffling intellectually weighty tomes into shot. Want to be taken seriously? Take a shelfie.

An actual bookcase. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
An actual bookcase. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
My own shelves, like the contents of my pantry, have been an unexpected pleasure (peanut butter!) and a cause for concern (why is there no actual food?). From the canonical - Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde - to the orange stack of Penguins lending a high-brow flavour to what is a quixotic selection. And, of course, there’s Shantaram. The novel equivalent of carrot cubes in your vomit, always present - but for the life of you, you don’t know how it got there.

My bookshelf serves as a bittersweet salutation to the end of an era. It has a copy of every magazine I have been published in for the past 12 years, and with many titles no longer existing, I’m so glad I kept them, especially when I walk past those sad empty gaps in the magazine section of the supermarket, missing teeth in what was once a beautiful smile.

Notable in the re-reading: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. That Daisy Buchanan, what a cow. Finally, I completely get Gatsby’s longing gaze at the green light on the opposite shore, his yearning for something so close yet out of reach, in my case a hug from my parents in Dunedin.

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. I would have murdered Bunny too, that vile cretin, even if he wasn’t blackmailing me. His revolting racist, sexist, religiously-intolerant mind set, his selfish material greed are hopefully what we are going to push off a cliff when things return to normal.

Not for re-reading, rather consternation: 100 days of Sodom, by the Marquis de Sade. Apart from being the perfect allegory for what we’re all going through right now (days and days of life brutally r... us with seemingly no end in sight), I have no memory of how it came into my possession. Fingers crossed it was a set text for some freaky course I took at university, but frankly I can’t see the University of Otago English department being that liberal.

Rather prescient of me: World War Z, by Max Brooks, in which the hero finds a cure at a WHO facility, funnily enough, in a room full of the plagues of mankind.

I read everything apart from the buggery diary, and then I ran out of things to read.

In danger of book starvation, the very kind Fliss from North Otago Literature Alive dropped off a shopping bag full, unfortunately I simply didn’t have the brains for most of them. Having started strong, I seem to have regressed. My reading ability at the moment calls for things that don’t require too much of an attention span, mysteries where the murderer is obvious from page 7. I need certainty, I need cliff hangers that won’t scare me; less cliff, more kerb hangers. I crave paperback pap, the baby food of quarantine.

A global pandemic and looming recession has fried my wiring and I can only cope with simple concepts. The cat sat on the mat. Of course it did, no call to investigate motivation. The cat clearly had neither mortgage nor dependants.

For all that I thought I might write something new, maybe even book-like during this period of solitude, abruptly reducing my creative outputs and taking away my inspiration for them (other people) has been like an athlete suddenly ceasing all physical activity. My thinks are shrinking - writing this has taken a good deal of tongue-out pushing the crayon, not to mention time away from ordering pillows for the bed fort.

The only thing I’m up to writing at the moment is exactly the same two words as everyone else. We’re all on the same page here people, some stories are universal. All I want to write is THE END.


Books, cahiers, spines and silverfish, ah the hermetically sealed years of Paparoa, before it was a National Park. Very young, I chose books for arch old English readers: Iris Murdoch (good Lord), JG Ballard 'The Drought', Laurens van der Post, only because he was an SC text.

But, when it comes to images, you don't need the Real McCoy, at all, but simulacra, which is to say carefully arranged photographs of dust jackets. 'Course, we did paintings of taillights and fenders and tied them to vehicles when the back fell off. Dust, in them days. No seal.

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