What I'm Borrowing: Lech Blaine

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 author Lech Blaine, a writer from Toowoomba, Queensland, who now lives in Sydney. In a year involving lockdowns, moving states, and finishing his debut book – a memoir about a car accident that changed his life – Lech has still found time to read some truly excellent books.

Queensland-born author Lech Blaine writes about trauma and its aftermath in Car Crash: A Memoir.

Tell us about the last thing you borrowed from the library. How did you discover it? Did you return it on time?

I moved to Sydney just before the first COVID-19 lockdown, and haven’t signed up to the library yet. In September, I nabbed The Adversary by Ronnie Scott, In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan and Nobody's Looking At You by Janet Malcolm from the magical Better Read than Dead in Newtown. 

In October, I discovered the extremely awesome Gertrude & Alice in Bondi, where I bought Real Life by Brandon Taylor, a second-hand copy of Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, and Turning Down the Noise and All Our Shimmering Skies by fellow Queenslanders Christine Jackman and Trent Dalton. Just in time for State of Origin, I've got them strategically stacked in the lounge room beside my portrait of Allan Langer, a family heirloom, which my housemate shattered at the start of coronavirus while hanging it behind him to antagonise workmates from New South Wales on a Zoom call.

I also received a copy of The Big from the author Patrick Skene, an unforgettable exploration of race and class in rugby league during the 1980's. I'm a highly undisciplined reader, liable to switch between books depending on my mood. So I like to have a mixture of genres and subjects at my fingertips. My housemate isn't a huge reader, but he dived into All Our Shimmering Skies before I could, which says something about the absolute phenomenon of Dalton Inc.

Do you remember your first library card? Can you describe the library you visited as a child?

I remember it vividly: it was a plain white, laminated card with a green border and a logo for the Toowoomba Library. The place was a complete behemoth for a country town that most people don’t really associate with literary cultivation. I went to rugby league and cricket games with my publican father, and the library with my stay-at-home, bookworm mother. She was an autodidact and speed-reader, who used to borrow the maximum twelve or so books, roughly once a fortnight. 

This was officially recognised as mother and son time, within a downtown haven from the chaos of the pubs. Although my mother – a thoroughly neat and scrupulous person – was morally outraged by my tendency to bunny-ear pages, and deviously use my sister’s library cards, due to a backlog of overdue books I couldn’t locate in my pigsty of a bedroom. 

Looking back now, those visits ritualised reading in a way that’s probably responsible for me being a writer. Unfortunately, the library was smashed in the 2011 floods, and the original building was eventually replaced by a gargantuan shopping centre extension. But on the upside, the council built a brilliant new library up the road from the old one, although it doesn’t quite induce the nostalgia of those early childhood visits. 

Lech, aged three, reading in his Parramatta Eels jersey. 

Thinking about your own bookshelf, what is your favourite book to lend out from home?

In 2014, I worked at Dymocks in Queen Street Mall, and was obsessed with Acute Misfortune by Erik Jensen – despite not knowing a thing about the subject Adam Cullen before I read it – and subsequently pushed it into lots of people’s palms, both in terms of customers at the bookshop, and copies that I bought for friends. It was such a gripping meditation on the tense relationship between masculinity and art in Australia, and a biography where the prose alone is worth the price of admission. 

More recently, I’ve gotten great satisfaction from passing on Sally Rooney’s novels to fairly macho blokes who wouldn’t usually read sexual psychodramas – or fiction at all – and they’ve bloody loved it, which I guess is why her books are global best-sellers. 

The mighty man himself would approve of these fine titles, great for passing on to others.

Lech Blaine is a writer from country Queensland. His childhood was the feature of a Conversations with Richard Fidler episode about the foster care system.

Lech’s work has been published in a range of places including Best Australian Essays, Kill Your Darlings, Meanjin, The Griffith Review, The Guardian, The Lifted Brow and The Monthly. He was an inaugural recipient of a Griffith Review Queensland Writers Fellowship. In 2017, he won the Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award. In 2019, he was awarded a Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Emerging Artist Fellowship.

Lech wrote most his first book Car Crash: A Memoir while running a three-star motel in Bundaberg. Car Crash is a memoir about a fatal head-on collision that killed three teenagers in 2009. It examines the private lives hiding inside a public tragedy. Lech – a high profile survivor – stumbles through a lucky country where car crashes compete for front-page coverage with bushfires, flu pandemics, political coups and flash floods, but where family breakdown and mental illness remain taboo subjects. 

Car Crash: A Memoir will be published by Black Inc. Books in April 2021.

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