Weekend Round-Up 2006 #32

The Age

Although not listed as a book review, Peter Craven leads off this week with his thoughts on what it means to be a critic, and his opinions on "good" and "bad" reviews. In the middle of all this he gives his view of a new collection of notorious reviews, Creme de la Phelgm, edited by Angela Bennie who, in her introduction, "suggests that criticism is only the arbitrary and subjective assertion of some pompous individual". Remove the word "pompous" and I'd tend to agree. Craven, on the other hand, tends to have a bit each way: "In fact, in order to review something accurately, with an appropriate registration of your own response, you probably need not to exercise too much control or you will queer your own pitch by dampening your own hyperbole...In other words, to be properly accurate you often need to abandon yourself to your own response because, however much criticism is a discipline (which depends on a knowledge of the form you are evaluating as well as a capacity for discrimination) it is also one kind of writing and, for heaven's sake, you have to go with the flow and not watch yourself too closely."

Following on from this piece by Craven on "negative" reviews we get Aviva Tuffield's review of Tiare by Celestine Hitiura Vaite, which outlines her opinion of the book right up front: "Hold on tight because this reviewer is about to buck a publishing trend. Celestine Hitiura Vaite's Tahitian trilogy -- of which Tiare is the final instalment -- has been picked up by publishers around the globe, selling in the US for a six-figure sum. Clearly there are many people, especially in the publishing world, who appreciate these tales of Polynesian daily life for Materena Mahi, professional cleaner and matriach, and her much-extended family. But I'm not one of them." An opinion that she is rightly entitled to. The question this raises is: does she justify her standpoint? "Many celebrated novels have been written about non-Western societies and in particular about their poorest segments - think, Chinua Achebe or Rohinton Mistry. But Hitiura Vaite's fixation on sexual politics -- 'sexy loving', keeping your man happy and the like -- results in her writing descending into the banal and the vapid." I think she makes her point well enough.

I'm not keen on "negative" reviews, written for the sake of just being derogatory. A reader should tackle a book with the view that the writer set out to achieve something -- determining whether or not they succeeded is the true test. After that, personal preferences come into play.

I'm not a bird-watcher by habit or obsession so I can safely say that spending $625 on a copy of Handbook of Australian, New Zealand & Antarctic Birds. Volume 7: Boatbill to Starlings edited by Peter Higgins, John Peter and Sid Cowling, is not on my horizon. On the other hand, Sean Dooley thinks it's "a fantastic book to dip into". Good enough.

Short notices are given to: Ida Leeson: A Life by Sylvia Martin: "Ida Leeson...was the first woman to be appointed Mitchell librarian...Despite the disjounted chronology, this portrait of a passionate librarian provides an engrossing journey through Leeson's life and times"; One Day in July: Experiencing 7/7 by John Tulloch: "In this book, Tulloch pulls off the tricky feat of combining academic analysis of the media's respnse to the bombings, with a personal account of his frightening experience of the explosion, its aftermath and the media's use of his story"; and Dovetail Road by Graham Kershaw, whose characters are attractively credible, and his plot, with its intimate observations and genial symmetry, always has enough going on to hold your interest".

The Australian

It's non-fiction all the time over at The Oz this week. Debra Adelaide tackles Creme de la Phlegm: Unforgettable Australian Reviews by Angela Bennie. "The suggestion that criticism has degenerated over the decades isn't borne out, given that acrimony prevails right from the start. Nor is it a particularly Australian phenomenon: Bennie cites plenty of evidence from the US, althoug maybe the wider dispersal of criticism in more publishing outlets overseas makes the egotism of the Australian critic appear more prominent." I don't think I'm interested in this book at all.

Shakira Hussein reviews Paul Sheehan's book Girls Like You, which explores "the horrific series of gang rapes committed in Sydney by the Pakistan-born K brothers", and finds it wanting: "Given the total lack of empirical evidence that Muslim men in Australia are any more likely to commit rape than anyone else, Sheehan's willingness to endorse the idea that a Muslim upbringing conditions one to sexual violence is a dangerous and repellent slur. Rapists and their lawyers can be expected to come up with far-fetched explanations for their crimes; the mystery is why Sheehan should choose to join them."

Errol Simper is pleased that Ken Inglis has brought his story about the ABC up-to-date in his new book, Whose ABC?.

Robert Murray is bemused by The Myth of the Great Depression by David Potts: "What will they think of next? Gallipoli, Kokoda, Curtin and Phar Lap are all under attack from revisionists these days. Now here is an old leftie historian saying the 1930s Depression wasn't so bad after all."

Ross Fitzgerald considers John McDouall Stuart much-maligned and an important, but long-forgotten, explorer of this continent in his review of John Bailey's Mr Stuart's Track.

Short notices are given to: Mixed Relations: Asian Aboriginal Contact in Northern Australia by Regina Ganter in whose "widely researched study, the Top End hums with activity"; Mongrel Punts and Hard-Ball Gets: An A-Z of Footy Speak by Paula Hunt and Glenn "the Bolt" Manton: "Footy speak is the closest Australia has to a national lingo, although the more arcane branches remain the reserve of the AFL pundits"; Faith & Duty: The John Anderson Story by Paul Gallagher: "If Paul Gallagher's bio never gets nasty, it's not only because it's authorised: his subject's role as the Nicest Guy in the Room seems genuine."

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 7, 2006 9:44 PM.

Some Thoughts on First Tuesday Book Club 2 was the previous entry in this blog.

Australian Bookcovers #24 - The Grisly Wife by Rodney Hall is the next entry in this blog.

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