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: 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.