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(Photo by Alex Block)

‘A library card is a priority in a new city’

By and
Shelfie | 3 minute read
A novelist talks about giving books away, finding bookshops in new cities and her love of libraries in the Shelfie Q&A series

Julian Mash: Can you remember the first book you bought?

Eliza Robertson: It might have been a book from His Dark Materials. When Santa gave me The Golden Compass for Christmas, I was hooked. Pullman is a wizard. I’m still waiting to meet my daemon.

JM: How big is your library now?

ER: My library has suffered casualties from nomadism. A library card is the first business I arrange in a new city. But I do inevitably acquire books. I gave away 70 percent of my collection when I moved from Norwich to Montreal this summer. Twenty percent of my collection I posted home to my mother for safekeeping. 10 percent I packed with me in heavy suitcases.

JM: How do you arrange your books?

ER: Sentimentally. I typically have one or two author copies on the shelf, and these I nestle beside my friends’ books, or else or my favourite books, as if their goodness might rub off on me. After that, it’s by genre in a broad sense. Literature together (fiction and poetry intermingle, as they should), then my astrology and witch books. A final consideration is spine colour.

JM: Favourite reading spot in your house?

ER: In my house growing up, where I am visiting now: an armchair by the fire. My flat in Montreal: the balcony, which is becoming less tenable as the season shifts. Also: bed. The nightstand serves as a second, accidental bookshelf.

JM: Do you have a regular purge?

ER: Yes. Enforced by migratory patterns, as described above. (And physical strength / baggage restrictions / costs of shipping.)

JM: Favourite bookshop new or second-hand?

ER: I’m loving Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal. Munro’s in Victoria. The Book Hive in Norwich.

JM: What’s on your ‘to read’ pile?

ER: Anne Carson’s Grief Lessons. Decreation. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s This Accident of Being Lost. She signs her books ‘rebellion is on her way,’ which feels apt right now. And always. Zoey Leigh Peterson’s Next Year for Sure. David Chariandy’s Brother.

JM: What is your favourite edition that you own and why?

ER: Maybe the UK hardback of Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk. Simply because I loved the novel so much.

JM: To break the spine or keep it as immaculate as possible?

ER: I try and keep hardbacks immaculate. Paperbacks I get comfy with.

JM: Do you lend books?

ER: I do if I know a friend will love it, and I get that itch to proselytise. Otherwise, I give them away when I leave places.

JM: Do you like to get books signed by the author?

ER: Sometimes. Sometimes I’m shy.

JM: What is your favourite book currently funding on the Unbound site?

ER: Like an Orange by Wallis Eates. Described on the website as ‘a collaborative graphic novel about brain injury survivors, incorporating their words and pictures.’ I guided a writing workshop for Mainspring Arts’ Square Peg Stories, which works with adults who have an autistic spectrum condition. They are assembling an anthology of stories from the participants, and I was blown away by the work I read. I’m excited by the idea that a similar project could be established for people who have incurred brain injuries. The artwork in the trailer is stunning.

Eliza Robertson’s latest book is ‘Demi-Gods’ (Bloomsbury)