Everybody wants to go to heaven, as they say, but nobody wants to die. So it is in the world of book reviewing. Everyone is in favour of frank and fearless criticism, up to the point where a work of theirs might come off the worse for it.
It was, arguably, ever thus. But the books pages of Australian newspapers and magazines have become such a wasteland that traditional timidities no longer suffice as a satisfactory explanation. Sections that should contain some of a publication’s sharpest, shrewdest, most incisive and irreverent writing have become hodgepodges of conventional wisdom and middlebrow advertorial.
Newspapers bear some blame for this. Although you’d imagine that anything contributing to an informed and discriminating print culture would be advantageous to them, newspapers publish books pages with a grudging air, regarding them as a financial burden because they attract little advertising support.
Reviewers, by extension, are the lowliest of contributors. Some newspapers and magazines in Australia have ceased paying for reviews at all, believing that the thrill of a free book alone will summon the definitive notice. Others are winnowing costs away by on-selling reviews to sister publications, buying reviews from overseas (usually of books three people in the country might read) or using staff journalists (generally, whether out of incompetence or envy, the dopiest reviewers of all).
Gideon’s piece appears in Issue One of Kill Your Darlings.
You can listen to Gideon speaking to Ramona Koval on Radio National’s The Book Show about literary reviewing in Australia here.
Stephen Romei has opened discussion about the piece at his blog, A Pair of Ragged Claws.
Gideon will be appearing in a panel discussion, along with The Big Issue’s music editor Clem Bastow and DVD editor Anthony Morris, at our ‘Feeding the Hand that Bites: The Demise of Australian Literary Reviewing’ event. The event will be held at Readings Carlton at 6:30pm on 17 March.