What I'm Borrowing: Luke Best

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 and poet Luke Best who lives in Toowoomba, a place that inspired his award-winning verse novel Cadaver Dog. Cadaver Dog won the 2019 Thomas Shapcott Prize and was recently Highly Commended for the Anne Elder Award for a first book of poetry.

Best's verse novel is an incredible gothic exploration of a devastating flood and the cadaver dog who searches for bodies

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

I had to go to “Checkout History” in my local library’s app to answer this question. It was Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove, borrowed in the pre-COVID January of 2020. My library visits up to this time had been frequent, my app tells me. Proof that we can break a habit when forced.   

I stick to a self-imposed rule: I borrow books that are famous, and I buy books that are not. It’s a guilt thing, and a complicated relationship I have with my library. I feel like a freeloader borrowing books whose authors would benefit more from my purchasing them. So, as though I have the official figures of a book’s commercial success, I only borrow books that, in my mind, have sold enough copies already.

Lonesome Dove is one of these, and I threw in a few other rereads: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance. These are all part of a phase I’ve been going through where I'm obsessed with the Western Genre, an obession that will probably never end.          

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

I got my first library card in primary school. A prized possession; shiny and laminated, and I could feel the little bumps of the barcode. I remember it was the lone contents of a hyper green wallet with Velcro seals.

The old Toowoomba City Library was my local. Two floors of books as far as the eye could see, and as far as the nose could smell. It had a large staircase that kids like me would scale; not necessarily to browse anything on the upper floor, but to marvel at the sheer size of the collection of books from a vantage point.  

Noisy patrons, young or old, were scolded by stern librarians. A place—like every library I’ve visited since—where compulsory silence was less for the consideration of people studying and more for the reverence of books.   

Sadly, the old library was demolished not long after the 2011 floods, having been caught up in the event. The new library is quite grand, but I think a lot of people miss the old haunt.

The circulation desk of the old Toowoomba City Library on Victoria Street; image via South Burnett Times

What other items are you, and people in your house, borrowing right now?

A treadmill. It’s a rent-to-buy one.

If not naturally self-motivated, all health-kickers must be held accountable by either a workout buddy or the pressure of having outlaid money to guilt them into exercising. 

Luke with his childhood library card. Toowoomba now has a shiny new library, after the floods of 2011.

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

Apart from a few avid readers, most of my family and friends don’t read. The ones who do, don’t read poetry. I’ve tried to change this, lending out Joel Deane’s Year of the Wasp and Luke Davies’ Interferon Psalms as modern Australian examples of great poetry. Other books by Felicity Plunkett, Robbie Coburn and LK Holt have also gone and come back on a strict 7-day return.    

About Luke Best

Luke Best is the author of Cadaver Dog (UQP), a verse novel loosely based on the 2011 QLD Floods and set in his hometown, Toowoomba. Cadaver Dog was the recipient of the 2019 Thomas Shacott Prize and was Highly Commended in the Anne Elder Award.

Luke is currently working on a prose/poetry hybrid called The Tenements. He lives in Toowoomba with his wife and kids. His days are bookended by reading and writing, and in the middle he manages a flooring store. 

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