Good-weekend lit-lovelies,

Check out the crowd in the reading room! You can view some more pictures from The Death Mook launch here. This was absolutely the highlight of my week. I had to have a few wines before reading to deal with the nerves, damn them, and because there was such a big crowd! Dion and Lisa sold over 100 copies of the book on the night. It was absolutely grand. My next publications are in Wet Ink and an anthology from the Remix My Lit project, both fiction.

Here are some TITbits for this week:

* There are a few days left to be considered for 15 Minutes of Fame at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. See last week’s round-up for the details.

* Submissions are also now open for the National Young Writers’ Festival, held in Newcastle in October. Click here.

* How did you go with Chris Currie’s ‘secret celebrity writers’ month’ during February on Furious Horses? Could you guess which of the stories was mine?

* Okay, I’m insanely jealous of the comment streams going on at Stephen Romei’s ALR blog. I am contributing, because I do often contribute comments to blogs I enjoy, when I have something I’d like to say. And there is a fresh bunch of varied comments from all sorts of people, excitedly agreeing and disagreeing. Now, last week I had over 2000 people here (*waves*) and I wonder… am I not being provocative enough? Or is it the Crikey system? See, it’s very, very easy to comment at the ALR blog. Here, it is easy as well, but it requires a name and email (for WordPress, not Crikey). Hum. I know many of you have something to say because you write to me. But see one of the great aspects of a comment stream is talking to each other. I will give this some serious thought as to how I can encourage you further. Cookies? Bookmarks? Free books?

Anyway, here’s how I responded to Romei’s post on what makes a good book review (and I was responding to a specific set of questions he asked in the post):

Oh how I love this post. I come to this from many angles – as a fiction writer, a reader, a reviewer (in blog and print form), and a proofreader/editor of reviews at my work.

First of all, what I like in a review is insight and honesty. I want someone to tell me, honestly (and it’s always going to be at least partly subjective due to our past collective of cultural influences, and our personality) what they thought of the book, and then I want them to give me insight into why. And this insight is an intellectual insight – from someone who is truly passionate and interested in the workings of literature. The reviews in ALR are usually ones that I enjoy very much, as they do provide these elements.

I think it should be clear whether or not the reviewer liked the book, because if it isn’t (if it’s vague), I sometimes suspect other agendas (not pissing off an advertiser/publisher/author etc.). And if I read a few of a reviewer’s pieces and share the same interests I will go to them again and take their word for it. In order for a reviewer to build up trust with their own readers, they really must be honest and insightful, and not just write press releases or pooh-pooh books for the sake of seeming ‘clever’. Though a genuine, honest, and insightful damning review can make very entertaining reading! I do think they might find some way to provide some direction or suggestion (insight again) on how the author might improve…?

The reviewer should never reveal crucial plot points, especially endings.

It can be interesting to alert readers to the author’s other books, if it’s relevant to the book being reviewed. But the ‘focus’ of the review should be the book in question. It may be useful to compare it to works of the author’s contemporaries in that it acts as a guide for the reader – if they like such-and-such, they may also enjoy this one. I don’t know about unfairly stacking authors of different genres against each other or anything like that though.

I do indeed expect ALR reviews to be different in style and substance than those in the weekend pages. I also think reviews on blogs and websites can be approached differently (and not necessarilly quality-wise) but I’m saving this discussion for a blog post of my own… something I’ve been thinking about a lot!

And your last question – yes there are some reviewers/essayists I will always read, and some I will deliberately avoid (such as a couple in Aus Book Review who always seem to be on their high horse, and really don’t give me much accessible insight into anything). There are also whole publications/websites/blogs whose reviews I avoid because they don’t have the honesty/insight which I see as essential.

* I have been living in Melbourne one year tomorrow. The UNESCO City of Literature. I love this place.

* Upcoming on the blog… lots of reviews! I have about five in draft stage at the moment. Plus an interview with Eva Hornung (formerly Sallis) about her new novel Dog Boy; Charlotte Wood’s literary space; another ‘small-town notes’ letter from my taxi call-centre friend; an original poem by Geoff Lemon; and the piece mentioned above that I’m writing about successful cultural blogging, and how it differs from reviewing for print media…

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