2006 Book #2 - Best Australian Essays 1998 edited by Peter Craven

How do you go about reviewing a collection such as this? If it was a collection of essays on a particular theme you could review each piece on how it relates to the theme in question. If it was a collection of essays written by one person you could follow the thread and chronology of the author's work, tracking their interests and looking for rises and falls in performance. But a wide-ranging collection of works, from disparate sources, on varying themes, of different lengths?

I think the only approach that might possibly work is to review it the way it should be read: not necessarily in sequence and not necessarily all of it. In addition some notes on the overall aim of the collection might be in order.

The editor, Peter Craven, sets out in his introduction to ponder the nature of the essay - what it is, where it's come from and where it is now. We have to remember that this was the first book in this series, and as such, we have to allow for a certain stumbling, and a limited range of vision. Craven has generally accessed the usual suspects - newspapers, Australian literary and current affairs magazines - but he has also looked a bit further afield to New York Review of Books, Art Monthly and even Wisden Cricket Monthly. As he puts it: "Our essayists have insinuated themselves so quietly into the national life that they might almost not have been there." And everywhere is where you have to look.

There aren't many duds in this collection, I suppose I really should say none. For they are all of interest and all well-written. We will all have our favourites of course and I especially liked Helen Garner's voyage to the Antarctic, John Birmingham's road trip to southern Queensland, Delia Falconer's transit of Montana (research for her latest novel perhaps?) and Catherine Ford's voyage round her own backyard. Then we have Robert Manne on the stolen generations, Raimond Gaita on the shame and guilt associated with indigenous affairs, Richard Flanagan on writing and Tim Flannery on tree kangaroos. The subject matter is nothing if not catholic.

The thing I like about these essay collections is that they introduce me to new writers and remind me of the ones I really need to get back to. I doubt Craven could ask for more success than that.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 24, 2006 2:36 PM.

The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature was the previous entry in this blog.

Great Australian Authors #14 - Henry Kendall is the next entry in this blog.

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