(Update: A list of reader responses to this article is available here.)

With news dubbed #toiletpaperpanic taking hold on social media in Australia last week, the empty supermarket shelves explained in careful columns about the totally rational irrational impulse buying in the face of Covid-19, and me, unable to find even a single roll at the local shops, I couldn’t help but think of the glorious yobbo wisdom attributed to comic Barry Humphries.

I hope your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny doors down.

What this particular colloquialism even means, I don’t really know, but as a kid, I first read it in a terrific compilation of schoolyard wit called Far Out Brussel Sprout. It’s a saying that has stuck with me for years without ever really being useful. It just seems to fit this particular strange moment.

And so thinking of old books and coronavirus, I wondered what I might read should the need for a spell in isolation arise. Then I spotted a tweet from journalist and commentator Annabel Crabb, and realised I’d actually missed an important step in the plan.

 

 

So perhaps we should be preparing for a panic run on the wine store, too.

But first, what to read?

I’d love to hear short pitches from The Interpreter readers on other books related to international affairs that you have been meaning to read – or a movie or TV series to watch – and why now might be the time.

A few years ago, I was persuaded to give away all my books. Every one. And I had hundreds, a collection that I’d compiled my whole working life, to be stacked lovingly on bookshelves when I had virtually no other furniture in the house, and carted across the country, moving from job to job, city to city.

Yet much as it horrified me when first suggested, relinquishing this little library was a liberation. No more guilt.

Tell me you haven’t bought a book of impulse, one with every intention to sit and read? Only onto the shelf it goes, never really opened, to be discovered much later down the track. “Oh, yes, I meant to get to that.” Then you spot another, and another, and the shame is compounded.

Maybe it was just me.

In the years since, I have to confess the habit hasn’t entirely been kicked. Right now, sitting on my bedside table, started once but then put down, overlooked for months upon months and the cover since stained by spilled coffee, is a book I’ve been meaning to read.

The Forsaken by Tim Tzouladis looks fascinating. It’s about a group of American migrants in the 1930s, workers who fled the hopelessness of the Great Depression for the promise of a socialist utopia, in Soviet Russia.

Yes, they put the land of opportunity in the rear vision mirror, the great American dream was actually a desire to leave. Migrants seem extraordinarily brave to me in any instance, with the courage to uproot from everything familiar in the hope of a better life. These Americans took culture with them – they set up a baseball league in Russia, for instance. Yet for all the promise of jobs, secure income, and social welfare held out to attract them, in the years to come most of these American migrants wound up victims of the gulags, crushed by Stalin’s ruthless reign.

It’s lump of a book, published in 2009, 470 pages, loads of footnotes promising detailed research. With all good intentions, I’ve never properly committed to plough through and finish it. Everything and anything got in the way.

So black market dunny paper now sourced, celebrity chef Adam Liaw consulted, it’s time to stockpile the rest of the supplies. We’re told to be cautious of the media reporting about Covid-19 – at least the political news – so let’s start a reading list. I’d love to hear short pitches from The Interpreter readers on other books related to international affairs that you have been meaning to read – or a movie or TV series to watch – and why now might be the time. Just don’t send emus. We’ve got enough of them asking about. Like the one Jürgen Klopp had to deal with.