Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 29, 2023

Book Reviews, and ChatGPT

Just recently, I read a thought-provoking article in Inside Story by my favourite journalist Margaret Simons, about ChatGBT.

ChatGPT is an AI writing tool available on the web for everyone to play with for free. Symons writes that schools and universities are in a panic because it can apparently write pass-standard essays in seconds. She goes on to experiment with using it for journalism, playing with so-called lifestyle journalism topics and moving on to asking it to write opinion pieces à la the well-known polemicists who write trash for The Melbourne Daily Astonisher and its bedfellows in the Murdoch Press.  She discovers that it can’t come up with anything new or original because it can only harvest from what’s already on the web, and concludes that real journalism has nothing to fear, for two reasons:

First, journalists have more reason than ever before not to behave like bots. Only their humanity can save them.

Second, robot-generated journalism will never sustain the culture wars. Fighting on that arid territory is possible only for the merely human.

Intrigued, I signed up to ChatGPT, and asked it to write a book review of a book I’ve just bought: Treacle Walker by Alan Garner. This is what it came up with:

“Treacle Walker” by Alan Garner is a short story that explores the themes of memory and identity through the lens of a young boy named Tom. The story is set in a small village in the English countryside, and it delves into the mysterious past of the village and its inhabitants. The writing is evocative and atmospheric, painting vivid imagery of the landscape and the people who live there. The story is also deeply emotional, as Tom grapples with the loss of his grandfather and the secrets that are hidden in the village. Overall, “Treacle Walker” is a powerful and thought-provoking work that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

A bit short, and although I’ve only read the back-cover blurb of the book, I think the boy is called Joseph, not Tom.  But it’s perfectly adequate, I suspect, for those Goodreads reviews for free books given in exchange for honest reviews…

So then I tried asking it to write a review for a book I had read, and reviewed:

“True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Carey is a novel that tells the story of the infamous Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly. Written in the form of a memoir, the book is written from Ned Kelly’s perspective and is a fictionalized version of his life. The book is a masterful blend of historical fact and fiction, and it offers a unique and nuanced portrayal of Kelly. The writing is both poetic and raw, capturing the harshness of life in the Australian bush and the struggles of the Irish immigrants who settled there. The book is also a commentary on issues such as class, power, and the nature of masculinity. Carey’s prose is inventive, and the story is filled with vivid characters and memorable scenes. The book is a powerful and thought-provoking work that is both an entertaining read and a valuable contribution to the literary canon. It is a must-read for fans of historical fiction, Australian literature and for those who want to gain a deeper understanding of one of the most iconic figures in Australian history.

And then this one, one of the most visited reviews I’ve ever published:

“Tasmanian Aborigines: A History since 1835” by Lyndall Ryan is a comprehensive and well-researched history of the Indigenous people of Tasmania. The book covers the period from 1835 to the present day, and it provides a detailed account of the various policies and actions that have been taken against the Tasmanian Aborigines by the colonial government and later by the Australian government. Ryan’s writing is clear and objective, and she draws on a wide range of primary and secondary sources to support her arguments. The book is also rich in detail, providing readers with a deep understanding of the complex issues that have shaped the lives of the Tasmanian Aborigines over the past two centuries.

The book is also a powerful critique of the past and present policies and actions of the government towards the Indigenous people of Tasmania and how they were affected by it. Ryan’s work serves as an important reminder of the atrocities and injustices that were committed against the Tasmanian Aborigines, and it is a call to action for continued efforts to address the ongoing challenges that they face.

Overall, “Tasmanian Aborigines: A History since 1835” is an important and timely work that will be of great interest to scholars, students, and anyone interested in the history of Indigenous peoples, Australian history and the ongoing struggle for social justice.

By now I was on a roll. I couldn’t resist asking it to write a review of a book on school reading lists and one that (to put it mildly) I disliked: Jasper Jones, and I didn’t even need to name the author.

“Jasper Jones” by Craig Silvey is a coming-of-age novel that tells the story of a young boy named Charlie Bucktin living in the small Australian town of Corrigan during the 1960s. The novel explores themes of racism, class, and violence through the eyes of Charlie, who becomes embroiled in a mystery involving the town’s outcast, Jasper Jones.

The writing in “Jasper Jones” is powerful and evocative, capturing the atmosphere and emotions of small-town life in the 1960s. The characters are well-developed and relatable, and the novel’s pacing is well-done, keeping the reader engaged throughout the story. The book is also a commentary on the issues of racism and classism, which still exist in the society today.

One of the novel’s strengths is its ability to capture the innocence and confusion of adolescence, as Charlie grapples with the complexities of the adult world. The book is also a powerful exploration of the power of friendship, as Charlie and Jasper’s bond helps them navigate the challenges they face.

Overall, “Jasper Jones” is a thought-provoking and emotionally powerful novel that is both entertaining and enlightening. It is a great read for anyone interested in coming-of-age stories, Australian literature, and the exploration of themes of racism, class, and violence. It is a must-read for fans of literary fiction and will appeal to readers of all ages.

Well, that makes an interesting contrast with what I had to say about it

What do you think?  Is it time for AnzLitlovers to put away her pen?

PS This is what I got when I asked ChatGPT to write an article about itself.

GPT, short for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is a state-of-the-art language model developed by OpenAI. It uses machine learning algorithms to generate human-like text based on a given prompt or context. GPT is trained on a massive amount of text data, including books, articles, and websites, which allows it to understand and respond to a wide range of topics and styles of writing.

One of the key features of GPT is its ability to generate text that is highly coherent and grammatically correct. This makes it useful for a variety of tasks such as language translation, text summarization, and question answering. Additionally, GPT can be fine-tuned for specific tasks, such as writing poetry or composing code, by training it on a smaller set of data specific to that task.

GPT has also been used for creative writing, such as writing fiction, it can generate coherent, interesting and even captivating stories, it can also generate poetry, song lyrics and even screenplays. GPT’s ability to generate text that is coherent and grammatically correct makes it useful for applications such as chatbots, automated writing, and even content generation for websites and social media.

However, GPT’s text generation capabilities also raise some concerns about its potential impact on the job market, particularly in fields such as journalism and content creation. Additionally, GPT’s ability to generate text that is highly coherent and grammatically correct can also make it difficult to distinguish between text generated by GPT and text written by a human.

Despite these concerns, GPT and other language models like it represent a significant step forward in the field of natural language processing. As the technology continues to evolve and improve, it has the potential to revolutionize a wide range of industries and improve our ability to understand and interact with language.


  1. Peter Carey – “masterful”, “nuanced”, “raw”. Cliches that turn me off. It doesn’t actually grapple with the voice, and Carey’s use of vernacular.

    I heard an interview on ABC this week about this. One university – was it Flinders or Adelaide – has not banned its use saying that Al is of the future and students have to learn to cope with it BUT she said it would be academic misconduct to present it as your work AND teachers would know, because they know your style. I guess, though she didn’t specifically say this, students might use it as another tool, but they have to write their own language which means they have to think about what ChatGPT says? She seemed to feel the usual plagiarism tools would not pick it up which suggests ChatGPT must not actually plagiarise. Other education systems in Australia have banned it outright.


    • I dunno, maybe I’ve got tickets on myself but I reckon it’s bland and formulaic compared to mine. The Ned Kelly one doesn’t address the issue of Carey so subtly challenging the mythology around Kelly, and FWIW I don’t think Carey was tackling the nature of masculinity at all. The Tasmanian Aborigines one says it’s a call to action, but there’s no passion in it.
      OTOH you could argue that the Jasper Jones is a better review than mine. One of my commenters tackled me for my poor review…


      • Oh I didn’t say it was better than your at all. It’s full of cliches and it doesn’t grapple properly with what he was trying to do linguistically, let alone thematically. I didn’t address the theme in my comment but I agree that it’s not about masculinity.


        • *chuckle* I didn’t think you thought it at all.
          You know what this experiment reminded me of? Remember a while ago somebody wrote a piece about all the cliches that book reviewers use, and lo! of course most of us were using them and tied ourselves in knots for a while trying to find alternatives for ‘page-turner’ and ‘compelling’ and ‘lyrical’. And then we all forgot about it and went back to writing in our own distinctive style with the words that came to hand.
          I’ve been thinking about Stu from Winston’s Dad. As we all know, Stu writes his reviews in his own unique style and we all read them because he has his own distinctive interpretations of the books, and he offers the insights of a man who is widely read, about books that none of us ever hear about in the mainstream. He has that humanity that Simons talks about in her essays.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Yes, Stu … a great example of someone who doesn’t get caught up in all this because he just writes from the heart (and mind) but not from the over-schooled brain!


            • Yes, and I reckon his reviews have influenced countless people worldwide to explore the world of translated fiction.
              Plus, if you’ve just read his latest review, it’s from Eritrea, from which (believe it or not, because I’d thought he’d read every country there is) he’d never reviewed a book before. AI would have nothing to harvest from to write a review; Stu effortlessly tackles this book… and of course I bought a copy.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. I did enjoy this post very much – thank you! (And I too loathed Jasper Jones.)


    • Yeah, I re-read that JJ review again last night of course, and what’s actually most interesting about it is the comments that follow.
      Which makes me think, can a fence-sitting ChatBot trigger the kind of conversations we have here? I love it when lurkers come out of the shadows because they disagree with something I’ve said. The ChatGPT reviews are more like reading book blurbs IMO.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. All I can say is Wow.


    • There’s obviously some very clever brains behind it!


  4. The reviews do sound very same same when placed next to each other as you do here. Exactly the same structure, similar wording etc. If you changed a few words in the last paragraph of each they would be interchangeable. Nothing distinctive or unique about them, but very clean, readable language.


    • Yes, that’s true, it’s the structure IMO that is a giveaway.
      But also, it uses a kind of ‘international’ English, which is not how most of us write. I can see how students would be attracted to it.


  5. How interesting! There’s been a lot of noise about this on LinkedIn amongst all the communications professionals I follow and I think everyone came to a similar conclusion: it lacks the human element so can’t respond to fresh information (ie. it can’t go out and gather it, which is what journalists have to do) and it couldn’t respond to a reputational crisis (which is what a lot of corporate comms is about) because it lacks nuance, can’t gather info and probably couldn’t strategise in terms of how best to respond in short term and long term.

    As for reviews, the ones it has written are perfectly adequate but what I like about your reviews (and blogger reviews more widely) is your PERSONAL response to a book, especially what you liked and didn’t like. The AI reviews all seem to be positive but, as Sue points out, they’re quite cliched. I think this exercise has shown me how formulaic book reviewing can be and I know I have fallen into that trap. If nothing else, maybe the “threat” of ChatGPT will help the industry lift its reviewing game.

    Great post, Lisa, so much to cogitate on!


    • Heavens, I don’t think you’ve fallen into that trap! I love your reviews, and just yesterday I thought of your brilliant self-discipline when it comes to length. *blush* As you will see tomorrow, it’s almost a case of my review being as long as the book itself. But I could not prune it. My darlings were too dear to me, ha ha.
      But your reply triggers this thought: can GPT *evaluate* a situation? If it can’t do opinions, (and Symons says it can’t) can it assess the worthiness of the ideas in a text? What would it do with Mein Kampf? Or The Bible? Trump’s inauguration speech… or any one of that gaggle of British prime ministers who were born to be satirised…
      Nooo, I could spend all day messing about with it, but I have a book review to write!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s very kind of you to say, Lisa, but it was more an observation that recognise stock phrases I use and tend to structure my reviews in a similar way. Not sure I’m too great on sticking to word counts, and, to be honest, I never have a set word count in mind but typically my reviews are between 750 to 1,200 words long.

        And yes, interesting to see whether it can make judgements on a text’s worthiness. I’d be interested in knowing whether it can decide whether it complies with media law, too – for instance, are there any safeguards around libellous content, hate speech etc?

        I just set up an account to have a play, and this is how it reviewed “Grand Days”:

        “Grand Days” by Frank Moorhouse is a beautifully written and evocative novel that explores the complexities of human relationships and the passage of time. Set in the 1920s, the book follows the story of Edith Campbell Berry, a young woman from Australia who travels to Europe to study law. Along the way, she meets a cast of fascinating characters, including a charismatic diplomat and a mysterious artist, and becomes embroiled in a web of love, politics, and deception.

        Moorhouse’s writing is both elegant and precise, and he masterfully captures the atmosphere and culture of the time period. He also skillfully explores the themes of identity, ambition, and the search for meaning and purpose in life. The characters are well-developed and relatable, and the story is both engaging and thought-provoking.

        Overall, “Grand Days” is a novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, literary fiction, and stories that explore the complexities of human relationships. It is a well-written and intelligent book that is definitely worth reading.


        • Ouch! That doesn’t make me want to read the book at all, that word ‘relatable’ is like a fingernail scratching on a blackboard!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmmm, they sound a bit bland and samey. Funnily enough, this was the way Romanian schools back in the 1980s wanted us to write. The teacher would pretty much dictate this sort of stuff and we had to regurgitate it for exams. Usually because you also had to make some reference to the superiority of socialusm etc.


    • Oh yeah, I love the way capitalist societies excoriated the USSR for everything, and now they inflict the same things on us: queueing, waiting, lack of choice, waiting forever for consumer goods such as cars, suppression of alternative POVs in the media, conformity and now samespeak!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with MarinaSofia that each of the reviews seemed very similar, as though written against a template. Interestingly, the most recent book I’ve read is William Gibson’s Agency about a really independent AI.
    ChatGPT seems pretty damn good for a first (public) iteration, and I expect it will only be months rather than years before “AIs” are writing human-standard copy.


    • They’ve got a feedback function, which will improve it the way that Google Translate has improved. (For some languages, that is.)
      Perhaps we will see GPT writing novels next…


  8. I’d have thought that plagiarism detectors could be devised to recognise a fellow AI-generated text. I’m glad I’m not a teacher any more!


    • Oh me too, Simon. It was a problem even in primary school. We had a writing competition at our school, and I used to judge the entries from the seniors, 10-12 year olds. There was no money in it, only a book prize but the prestige was A Big Deal.
      There was at least one instance of a kid pirating a poem off the web… and there were kids pirating stories from video games as well. there may have been others that I didn’t detect.


  9. Speaking of lurkers, Lisa (I do check in from time to time) – I happened on this and wow, I didn’t know another Garner book was out – thanks for that tip! I still have a hand-written letter Alan Garner sent to me when I was a girl – I had written to him via his publishers because I found Elidor so sad, and he replied there was no solace for me but to read The Owl Service next – I still think that was such a lovely gesture. It has been folded in my old autograph book for decades!

    The implications of the bot writing are almost overwhelming. I had no idea it was this good – I have several high school teacher friends, so will make a point of asking them about this next time we catch up!


    • Oh what a treasure! I loved that series, starting with The Weirdstone…
      I didn’t get on with the last Garner that I read, but I want to try others to see how I find them.


  10. This is fascinating Lisa, I had never heard of ChatGPT. Defintely don’t put away your pen – it does sound like automated blurb rather than a genuine reader’s response to their experience with a book.


    • I’d never heard of it either, till I read Margaret Symon’s article…
      You know, I’d be hard put to articulate how this actually happens, but those of us who visit each other’s blogs have a clear sense of each blogger’s personality. I don’t think GPT is ever going to be able to emulate that, I hope not anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Um… I’ll write my own reviews, thank you very much!


    • *chuckle* Amen to that.
      But it will be interesting to see how the print reviewing industry reacts.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. B22 and Mr Books have been playing with this for a couple of months now and I was pondering a post about it and what it might mean for blogging. Still thinking…
    But Mr Books recently used it to help him put together a proposal he needed for his volunteer role in community sport. It saved him a day of writing and research and gave him the basics. He then spent a couple of hours editing and adding in ‘local colour’ and his voice around the basic, bland facts. (I say basic, but he had to keep refining the questions he asked to get it to address the specific info he required – so perhaps not as labor-saving as he first thought!) Helpful, time-saving but generic was his verdict.


    • Ohhhh my goodness…
      As a veteran of reading submissions for grants (and job applications) I have a bad feeling about this. Not everyone is going to be professional in the way that Mr B was… and that’s going to leave a lot of lookalike grant applications to be waded through.
      Still, I suppose one could always use it to write the ‘sorry you missed out’ letters….


  13. I’ve been thinking about what Brona’s Mr B did. It seems to me that this sort of software might help get you the basics that you then massage into shape. If you didn’t, I imagine that, as you say, the grant readers would get a bunch of lookalike applications and immediately put them aside as applications that have not been thought about or applied to the applicant’s particularly situation?


    • Well, that is we used to do with job applications. To be fair to the applicants (who were usually graduates) the entire application process was a real pain, and it took ages to generate one, and of course they were trying to apply for multiple schools so that they could a get a job. But if they churned out the same generic application (or paid for someone to do it professionally) then they rarely met specific things that we had in our KPIs, such as their familiarity with particular programs in literacy and numeracy which were crucial in our school. We always put the most important KPI first and so it was easy to put aside anyone who just talked about those things in general terms.
      We might have missed out on some great teachers, and I know we disappointed many, but sometimes we had over a hundred applications, and we had to deal with them after hours, after school, at the busiest time of the year at the end of Term 4. And we had to write nice letters to the ones who missed out too!


      • Yep, know all about handling of hundreds of applications and the ways you just had to use to get them down to something manageable. They say choosing staff is a manager’s most important job, and it is, but my it was exhausting – physically and emotionally!


        • It was great when you finally got to the interviews and met those enthusiastic young people and could choose one of them!


  14. All I can say is that a few of the review writers at Publisher’s Weekly should be concerned about being put out of work. Of course their reviews and the publisher’s blurb are likely the prime source material for this software.


  15. […] few days ago, Lisa (ANZ LitLovers) wrote a post on ChatGPT, inspired by an article she’d read by Margaret Simons in Inside Story. She decided to test it […]


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