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

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gideon-craven2

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.

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gideon1a

Gideon Haig: Haven’t I offended enough people?

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

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mcphee2a

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?

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starford2a

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

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craven1a

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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Peter Fray
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