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Book people face audience verdict: “Boring”

While Rome fiddles, book people burn. A brief illustrated report on a small event beyond Canberra.



7 September 2010
Wheeler Centre: “Critical Failure: Book criticism”
Panel debating the state of book criticism/reviewing.
Q&A portion, 7 pm, audience member takes the mike and declares:

“This is boring.”
Murmur of agreement, smattering of applause.



Gideon Haig: Haven’t I offended enough people?

Hilary McPhee: Why are we talking about print?
Gideon: Because we’re talking about book criticism.



Hilary McPhee to Peter Craven: At your very best you’re writing into world literature. At your worst you’re writing for the dough. So your stuff is patchy.

Hilary: I’m not as despondent as Gideon.
Gideon: I’m not despondent, I’m quite cheerful!

Hilary: I like writers rather than criticism. Colm Toibin, Frank Kermode, David Lodge, Terry Eagleton.

Overheard remark about Hilary, who kept looking down and scribbling:
What was she doing all night? The crossword?



Rebecca Starford‘s preferred book critics: Clive James, James Ley [plus one, lost in the silence]



Audience member: What makes a good review?
Peter Craven: Oh, accuracy, style, enchantment. What do you want?

Craven: There’s a new market for high brow trash. People think they should reach no higher than Stieg Larsson.

Craven on Geordie Williamson (chief lit crit, the Australian): … how far back his memory stretches — about ten years. He’s forever rediscovering the wheel: “Hasn’t anyone heard of Christina Stead!?”

Craven: I think Owen Richardson is a better reviewer than James Wood. Cathy Ford over Joyce Carol Oates.

Craven: Some of D.H. Lawrence’s writing is crypto-critical, and it transcends criticism.

Craven: I misunderstood Gideon’s article which I didn’t read.


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  • 1
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Love the drawings

  • 2
    W H Chong
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Dear jus, thank you.

3 Trackbacks

  1. …] Read the original post: Book people face audience verdict: “Boring” […

  2. By Critical Failure, Indeed « Infinite Patience on September 8, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    …] to the production of successful criticism than is the medium that has brought it to its knees. Critical failure, […

  3. …] panelists have gone on to point out, the event was intended to spark further discussion, and it has.  Some of it (thank you Rebecca Starford) has been quite good – the rest I haven’t had […