Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 23, 2010

Gideon Haigh on Australia’s ailing literary culture – The Wheeler Centre: Books, Writing, Ideas

Not a word about reviews on LitBlogs – which are now a part of literary culture worldwide – but at least he tackles the issue of the tame reviewer… 

Click the link below: 

via Gideon Haigh on Australia\’s ailing literary culture – The Wheeler Centre: Books, Writing, Ideas.


  1. I enjoyed the article. Now to work on sparky and spunky….


  2. They never do mention book blogs. Most of the time I’m convinced that have just never heard of them. Or the ones they’ve seen have been pretty woeful (and there’s lots of them) and hence they’ve written blogging off as a waste of time.


  3. I made some comments about lit blogs here, Lisa.‘the-fights-most-worth-having-are-the-ones-you-won’t-win’-the-continuing-debate-on-australian-literary-reviewing/


  4. When I blog, Kim & Gideon, I’m conscious that I’m an amateur, and that I’m doing it without payment. That offers a certain freedom from the kinds of constraints that Gideon refers to, but it’s also a limitation. I can write what I like because I don’t owe anyone anything and I don’t know anyone much in the literary scene so I’m not afraid of offending anyone. At the same time, I have a real job that makes horrible demands on my time, and I don’t have professional qualifications to support my opinions. I’m just a reader, that’s all.
    I know that the people who read my blog have ‘learned’ my taste, and that helps them to make decisions about whether they might like a book, just as I know I can nearly always trust the reviews at A Common Reader, Reading Matters, Kevin in Canada and the Mookse and the Gripes. I know that many readers like me don’t have that same trust in the professional reviews we read in the media, because we know that many reviewers don’t review books they don’t like, which leaves consumers like us in the dark about what’s worthwhile and what’s not. We also don’t feel very confident about why this book gets reviewed and that one doesn’t.
    It just so happens that my book group ANZ LitLovers is currently engaged in discussion about the Good Reading Magazine, and whether it’s worth the price of a subscription. They’re discussing the merits of the ABR, the LBR and some American magazine the name of which I forget. Some members feel more confident about the reviews they read in booksellers’ newsletters than they do in media reviews, which is a telling response, I think.
    But as a reader, I still want professional reviews from people who have professional expertise. And I do worry that my traditional sources of professional reviews are offering less of them, both in terms of fewer books reviewed and space accorded to the book/s.
    Reviewing books is perhaps in the same space as the news – with opportunities offered by Web 2.0 and at the same time, under threat because the consumer isn’t interested in paying for expertise.
    I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that if an obscure amateur blogger in Oz like me can garner the sort of readership that I have, then it’s about time that print journalists and retailers started acknowledging that we exist.


  5. Well said, Lisa. I no longer even bother reading “professional” reviews, whether online or in newspapers/magazines. My sole source of book reviews come from blogs these days. And I find out about new books mainly from the excessive amount of publisher catalogues that get emailed to me or arrive in the post, or better still, from the hours of browsing I do in my local bookstores!

    And like you, I don’t have any training in reviewing books, nor any background in English lit (although that’s about to change soon – scary). I’m just a reader with eclectic tastes who has a slight book addiction. If other people enjoy my reviews and get something out of my blog then all the better!


  6. Gideon, sorry I had to “google” you because your name was familiar but I wasn’t sure why. (I left Australia 12 years ago.) And now the penny has dropped: your cricket journalism! ;-)


  7. One thing that I think may impact on our need for reviews even more in the future is the demise of the independent bookshop. I can’t see this happening in Melbourne, Sydney or Hobart any time soon, not when stores like Readings, Glebebooks, The Hobart Bookshop etc not only offer a wide range of literary fiction, classics and NF to suit more specialised tastes, but also help readers with the culling process, sorting the wheat from the chaff and finding the best & most interesting new releases to go on their shelves (and then provide useful reviews too, though they are of necessity short). But in cities and towns where there’s only cheesy chainstores and department stories, the buying policies tend to favour mainstream taste, and in cities with only one newspaper e.g. Brisbane there’s not much guidance for the reader who wants something a bit different. In places like that the online review is essential so that readers can see what else is available, and they can then seek out books of interest online.
    PS If anyone knows of bookstores of the type I describe in Perth, Adelaide or Brisbane, please let me know.


  8. If we’re doomed to short reviews, and it sounds as if we are, then we need a Pauline Kael, or a Robert Christgau, or a Felix Feneon, someone who can pack that small space with as much as possible. Character. We need character. I think the character of the writer becomes crucial in short reviews because it suggests the presence of a larger and more complicated world standing behind the little block of prose. So let’s find a dynamite short-form reviewer. (Or do we have one and I’ve never come across them?)


  9. Thank you. I didn’t know about her.


  10. She’s great, pithy and clever!


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