Mathew Mackie

I’m sorry Tolstoy, but you have to move out.


TBS Editor-in-Chief Mathew Mackie once bought books to show-off and never finish, but now he’s asking Tolstoy to pack up his things.


“I’m sorry Tolstoy. I never meant to buy your tome. I never meant to read your books, so tonight, I’m cleaning out my bookshelf.”

Many moons ago (late 2013), and for no reason whatsoever, I made a decision to read more books. But I was weak, I was unprepared and I was lazy. I didn’t have a big-boy-go, I let someone else decide what my tastes were:

The (notable book retailer name omitted)’s Top 100 book list.

It seemed to make sense, the way forward. They were in the know. But much like those with homely limbs and relaxed moral attitudes found cheaply under early morning discotheque-ian flickerings, the sobered hours of realisation are harsh ones.

As I awoke later that afternoon, post celebratory post-shopping binge-nap, I tasted the bitter fruit of my impulses. Tolstoy’s War and Peace, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Homer’s Odyssey and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, with a fancy new cover with that steerage passenger who drowned after that boat sank.

Brass-tacks. What sat at my feet was a well odoured paper-bag of utter desolation.

I almost fell over.

The receipt was a factor. As was the guilt. My mind, reeling in shock, zapped to the conclusion of taking them back, to start over. But to choose what? The books that placed below the ones on the list? I had no time for those losers.

Never one to walk away from a relationship, I thought I’d making the best of it, and nag it into something pliable. I was trying new things, so I assumed a natural pinching of the shoes was standard.

I tried, James Joyce. Really I did. But your brogues cut my tootsies. I got to the end of the second page – twice. All I know for sure is that someone walked down a flight of steps, in a jacket, spouting some sort of gibberish. I only know this fact because I rode shotgun with the Internet as I worked my way down the page. I watched the movie instead of the book re: Gatsby, I was unable to differ the introductions from the action in Odyssey and subsequently fled the quest of noble Odysseus when twelve people entered the same room.

The best of my efforts, for which I am most proud, was with War and Peace. I was so proud in fact, that it accompanied my travels everywhere. I’m absolutely certain that Centrelink employees and deadbeats alike we’re impressed with my pristine penguin classic copy, with the bookmark planted all the way on page 317. Even my girlfriend’s parents at the time, who for some reason disliked me, downed tools and cooed, “Ooooh, War and Peace, eh?”, to which I said, “Yeah.”

I was unable to push on beyond Dimitri’s woe. It was banished to the gulag. Which was another problem in itself; the bookshelf sat in the prime spot of my loungeroom. Most of the other furniture either belonged to my roommates, or was originally engineered to transport milk. But the bookshelf was mine. It was made out of some sort of wood, burgundy and foreboding. It oozed class and stood out.

Which was the point.

I’m not proud of myself, looking back; my usage of Pulitzer material to chum for members of the opposite gender. I can still see myself sitting there, obviously ignoring the unread collection of pompousness, as they were drawn to it, as an avenue to bridge conversational gaps or more likely, not address the complete lack of furniture that a man in his mid ’20s owned. Shudder. There was no furniture in my house, but it was full of myself.

I was a messed up adult kid.

Flash-forward to Boxing Day last year, armed with a new resolve and my usual Crimbo gift, I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. As I clamoured over the trenches, toward the (notable book retailer name omitted) I held a knife in my teeth. (A list that I had formed the day before.) And admittedly yes, I just consulted a different type of list with a similar title, but I felt ready.

It didn’t go well. But it went better.

A calico bag of impulsive flukes and blurb readings, and on the train I felt confident. Until I got home, where i found the prison was full. There was no room, for those dusty Russians were still serving their sentence. The Tolstoy with the ladder worn into the spine silently judged me. I considered throwing them out, but it’s not their fault.

In the end, I turfed the bookshelf, the curse seemingly passed onto another with stars in his eyes and patches on his jacket. Best of luck to him, I chortled, as I saw it disappear over the horizon. I subtly spread my library throughout my house, leaving a well hidden papertrail. Things were better.

Until this morning.

I tripped over you, Tolstoy. I raised my hand against you, and that was wrong. But I was foolish in keeping you. Freeing you from prison was a short-term fix to our long-term problem. If it was ever going to happen between us, Leo, it would have happened by now. I’ve moved onto books who like me back, not ones who sit there, reminding me of who I no longer am. It’s my fault, I pushed you to this, and I ignored you. But it’s your fault too. If you made more sense and engaged me in a conversation, and didn’t just talk at me, maybe things could have been different.

But now you have to leave. And take your friends with you.

Editor’s Note:

Free to any home, apply within (legit): War and Peace, Ulysses, A Clockwork Orange, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Great Gatsby, Crime and Punishment, Dante’s Purtagorio. (Nothing happened! wocka wocka.)

Seriously. Take them please.


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One Comment;

  1. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Sounds familiar.
    We actually did a huge clean up one day, my wife being an avid reader and a library that kept on growing. Also going onto the kindle format seemed to make books redundant. We actually donated them to Sydney’s biggest homeless hostel, where they run a library for their clients.
    And what do you know, I miss them! Like, it’s ok to read via technology, but in the end looking at a good library gives one a warm, kinda homely human feeling.
    Anyhows, if you find no takers for your treasures, just go down to Mathew Talbot and drop them off at the desk, they’ll appreciate it.

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