What I'm Borrowing: Fiona Robertson
What I’m Borrowing is a blog series exploring our affection for libraries, loans, and sharing great reads. Each post we ask a Queensland writer and reader to tell us about their recent lending-loves.
This month we welcome Brisbane-based writer and doctor Fiona Robertson. This month, Fiona published her debut short story collection If You’re Happy (UQP), which won the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer at the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards. Fiona loves reading and libraries and the deliciously promising smell of books.
Tell us about the last thing you borrowed from the library. How did you discover it? Did you return it on time?
The last thing I borrowed was a collection of short stories called Grand Union, by Zadie Smith. I’d heard it recommended many times, but have so many unread books and felt too guilty to buy it. Luckily I spotted the book at my local library (Carindale). The stories in this collection are astonishing. They have a profound sense of truth, and a deep compassion for human flaws and foibles.
I haven’t returned the book yet, but it’s not overdue!
Do you remember your first library card? Can you describe the library you visited as a child?
I don’t remember my first library card, but I do remember the neat ruled cards that were kept in a small yellow envelope glued to the inside of a book borrowed from the school library. We had to write our names and the date on a line, and I suppose the cards were retained by the library until the book was returned. Which shows just how old I am.
The first library I remember was the Knight Library at the University of Oregon – a stone and brick building with beautiful tall windows and two flights of stairs leading to the matching front doors. My parents were pursuing post-graduate study in Eugene, Oregon, and my mother spent her mornings inside the library, books spread around her on a table. I was four years old and would draw or play nearby, or sit outside the library on the front steps. I chatted to library patrons and clambered around the stone benches either side of the front doors. I was under strict instructions not to wander away, and I never did.
What other items are you, and people in your house, borrowing right now?
Recently I borrowed a shirt from my daughter. I wanted something vaguely fashionable to wear for a bookstore visit, to sign copies of If You’re Happy. I washed and returned the shirt, of course. My daughter, on the other hand, loves to borrow eye liner, earrings and tops with a strict no-returns policy, so I have to ferret around in her room to find them again.
I can’t sit on my high horse too long though, as I still have a couple of books belonging to friend and excellent writer Dr Johanna Skinner. She lent me Unless by Carol Shields, which partway through I realised I’d read before (a common occurrence since I passed the age of forty). I was enjoying the book, though, so I just kept reading. Jo also lent me Mothers and Sons by Colm Tóibín which I must read and give back before I get unfriended!
Thinking about your own bookshelf, what is your favourite book to lend out from home?
I have several books I press into friends’ hands with the fervour of a zealot. The Spare Room by Helen Garner is an absolute favourite – such clean, observant, honest prose. Most recently, I lent someone Adam Thompson’s sharp and funny story collection, Born Into This, and can’t remember who it went to, so I may never see the book again!
Fiona Robertson lives with her husband and children in Brisbane. She was shortlisted for the Richell Prize in 2018, and won the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer at the Queensland Literary Awards in 2020. Her debut book, If You’re Happy, is a collection of 24 stories about people who are frequently lonely, and often at crisis point, struggling to find happiness in a turbulent world.