"A journal like ABR seems to have little to gain from publishing overly critical reviews. "It is already established as a prominent outlet for literary reviewing, has an active subscriber base, various forms of institutional support and recognition, and attracts significant private donations. This last fact suggests that many ABR subscribers and stakeholders have attachments -- whether formal, informal, or emotional -- to established literary institutions. "Given this, why would ABR disrupt the circuits of reviewing that underwrite its influence? I also suspect that ABR’s generally civil reviewing practices reflect the expectations of its audience (both subscribers and donors), who want informed cultural recommendations and restrained analysis, rather than literary provocations."Contacted for comment, ABR editor Peter Rose vehemently dismissed the criticism and sent Crikey an example of rather critical ABR review -- of none other than Stinson's short story collection. "Any suggestion that Australian Book Review favours ‘nice’ journalism or eschews negative reviews is not borne out by a close examination of the magazine’s overall content," Rose said. "Stinson claims that journals like ABR ‘have little to gain from publishing overly critical reviews’. Maybe not, but there is the small matter of responsibility and independent journalism. ‘Why would ABR disrupt the circuits of reviewing that underwrite its influence?’ he asks. ABR never considers the sensitivities or needs or ‘attachments’ (to quote Stinson) of publishers, partners, donors – or indeed the authors we review. We believe in robust critique unafraid of judgement or dissent," he told Crikey. "Australian Book Review supports Australian writers through public advocacy, diverse programs, rising payments, and an unusual openness to younger reviewers. We respect and defend the professionalism of our contributors. This includes Chris Flynn, whose motivation Stinson chooses, in a regrettable passage, to question. Here it surely would have been appropriate to note that Emmett Stinson’s own short story collection, Known Unknowns, was reviewed quite negatively by Chris Flynn – in Australian Book Review (July 2010)." Australian critics have long pondered if the small scale of Australia's literary community, coupled with the lack of full-time professional critics, has seen a situation develop where friends and colleagues review friends and colleagues, and are altogether too nice about it. Years after first articulation, it seems the argument still has a way to run.
The compliment sandwich, or how Australian literary book reviews really are too nice
Academic says Australian Review of Books doesn't do critical reviews -- ABR says it does, with a juicy example.