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.

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey