Let's Have a Conversation

Good-weekend lit-lovelies,

Check out the crowd in the reading room! You can view some more pictures from The Death Mook launch here. This was absolutely the highlight of my week. I had to have a few wines before reading to deal with the nerves, damn them, and because there was such a big crowd! Dion and Lisa sold over 100 copies of the book on the night. It was absolutely grand. My next publications are in Wet Ink and an anthology from the Remix My Lit project, both fiction.

Here are some TITbits for this week:

* There are a few days left to be considered for 15 Minutes of Fame at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. See last week’s round-up for the details.

* Submissions are also now open for the National Young Writers’ Festival, held in Newcastle in October. Click here.

* How did you go with Chris Currie’s ‘secret celebrity writers’ month’ during February on Furious Horses? Could you guess which of the stories was mine?

* Okay, I’m insanely jealous of the comment streams going on at Stephen Romei’s ALR blog. I am contributing, because I do often contribute comments to blogs I enjoy, when I have something I’d like to say. And there is a fresh bunch of varied comments from all sorts of people, excitedly agreeing and disagreeing. Now, last week I had over 2000 people here (*waves*) and I wonder… am I not being provocative enough? Or is it the Crikey system? See, it’s very, very easy to comment at the ALR blog. Here, it is easy as well, but it requires a name and email (for WordPress, not Crikey). Hum. I know many of you have something to say because you write to me. But see one of the great aspects of a comment stream is talking to each other. I will give this some serious thought as to how I can encourage you further. Cookies? Bookmarks? Free books?

Anyway, here’s how I responded to Romei’s post on what makes a good book review (and I was responding to a specific set of questions he asked in the post):

Oh how I love this post. I come to this from many angles – as a fiction writer, a reader, a reviewer (in blog and print form), and a proofreader/editor of reviews at my work.

First of all, what I like in a review is insight and honesty. I want someone to tell me, honestly (and it’s always going to be at least partly subjective due to our past collective of cultural influences, and our personality) what they thought of the book, and then I want them to give me insight into why. And this insight is an intellectual insight – from someone who is truly passionate and interested in the workings of literature. The reviews in ALR are usually ones that I enjoy very much, as they do provide these elements.

I think it should be clear whether or not the reviewer liked the book, because if it isn’t (if it’s vague), I sometimes suspect other agendas (not pissing off an advertiser/publisher/author etc.). And if I read a few of a reviewer’s pieces and share the same interests I will go to them again and take their word for it. In order for a reviewer to build up trust with their own readers, they really must be honest and insightful, and not just write press releases or pooh-pooh books for the sake of seeming ‘clever’. Though a genuine, honest, and insightful damning review can make very entertaining reading! I do think they might find some way to provide some direction or suggestion (insight again) on how the author might improve…?

The reviewer should never reveal crucial plot points, especially endings.

It can be interesting to alert readers to the author’s other books, if it’s relevant to the book being reviewed. But the ‘focus’ of the review should be the book in question. It may be useful to compare it to works of the author’s contemporaries in that it acts as a guide for the reader – if they like such-and-such, they may also enjoy this one. I don’t know about unfairly stacking authors of different genres against each other or anything like that though.

I do indeed expect ALR reviews to be different in style and substance than those in the weekend pages. I also think reviews on blogs and websites can be approached differently (and not necessarilly quality-wise) but I’m saving this discussion for a blog post of my own… something I’ve been thinking about a lot!

And your last question – yes there are some reviewers/essayists I will always read, and some I will deliberately avoid (such as a couple in Aus Book Review who always seem to be on their high horse, and really don’t give me much accessible insight into anything). There are also whole publications/websites/blogs whose reviews I avoid because they don’t have the honesty/insight which I see as essential.

* I have been living in Melbourne one year tomorrow. The UNESCO City of Literature. I love this place.

* Upcoming on the blog… lots of reviews! I have about five in draft stage at the moment. Plus an interview with Eva Hornung (formerly Sallis) about her new novel Dog Boy; Charlotte Wood’s literary space; another ‘small-town notes’ letter from my taxi call-centre friend; an original poem by Geoff Lemon; and the piece mentioned above that I’m writing about successful cultural blogging, and how it differs from reviewing for print media…

16 thoughts on “Let's Have a Conversation

  1. It’s not that user friendly to comment here…

    But also – maybe we just love your blog so much we just wanna read it 🙂

    P x

  2. Hey Angela, as you know I*hate* the posting system for Crikey. I put off getting a wordpress account for quite a while but eventually I caved in when I kept wanting to comment on your posts! I wish it were like wordpress accounts themselves actually, where you can post without logging in, I find it a real pain.

    Also, I heard you did a great reading at the launch though I didn’t hear you. (Boo!) That photo of the reading room blows me away… I have a photo of that room when Dion and I did our speeches and there were at least twice as many people packed in there. It was completely mental.

  3. Angela, I think if the log-in thing was removed it would probably improve things a bit, not that I find it a problem myself.
    Having said that, can’t comment on Stephen’s current post as I hope to review for him again sometime, heh. But I thought your discussion was excellent, particularly liked the requirement that the reviewer’s position be clear enough to discern if the book (or other elements) is just being gently massaged instead of reviewed. Noice.

  4. Thanks for both your comments. PC – that’s a lovely thought, I hope others feel that way!

    Lisa, doh! I wish I could do something about it. I have brought it up with them but get the same answer – stops people from spamming etc. But I don’t know, because I get to moderate all the comments anyway!

    Actually – there’s a big update scheduled this weekend. Let’s see if anything changes 🙂

    I have no idea if my reading was any good. I was tipsy – haha – and a bit shaky, but I made sure I projected and looked up, so hopefully people got the gist of it. And yes, there were definitely twice as many people in there for the intro!

  5. And Genevieve – we posted at the same time here I think 😉

    I should have mentioned to him that yours are some of the reviews I always read – whether in print or blogged!

    Yes, and I do think we live in a society where there’s a danger of other factors ‘influencing’ criticism (though this really is nothing new I suppose). Maybe moreso now though because of difficult financial situations? I’m very lucky to work for publications (B+P and Crikey) that don’t allow advertisers etc. to have any sway over editorial content. A good publicist knows how to get you interested in a book on its own terms – and to recommend you books in your areas of interest, rather than just ‘the book we’re sending to everyone’. Being a bit of a newb to the literary/lit criticism scene, I’m also very aware of establishing my integrity. It helps that as a person I’m really quite incapable of lying anyway!

  6. don’t be provocative just for the sake of it. be irreverent. or humble. or gauche. something.

    & am i right in thinking my blog does not appear in your sidebar, specifically ‘Poet Blogs’? that doesn’t seem right… if anything is a cultural institution it is me, or the blog-me.

    it’s not archived by pandora, but i have a suspicion that doesn’t exist anyway.

  7. Hey Ange!! I’m finally here. i’ve been lovin this blog for so long but have just been lazy! but if “blog-me Derek” is here…

    lookin forward to your stories in wet ink and the death mook… 😉 ]


  8. aaah, now I can get in at last. What I did different yesterday was that I came from my blog not via blogger but from the domain name http://www.proseandpassion.com. In that case, my domain name stays in the URL address field, no matter what other sites I visit. Wonder whether that’s confusing crikey ?

  9. I also had problems getting in here … grrrr … have emailed Crikey about it, as I can comment on the other Crikey blogs with ease.

    Angela, you said “Okay, I’m insanely jealous of the comment streams going on at Stephen Romei’s ALR blog … Now, last week I had over 2000 people here (*waves*) and I wonder… am I not being provocative enough? Or is it the Crikey system? .. But see one of the great aspects of a comment stream is talking to each other. ”

    your blog is refreshing … don’t worry about the no of comments. As you say one of the great things about a [good] blog is talking to each other. That should include the blogger. Which you certainly do. As Romei does. And that is actually quite rare.

    Some bloggers NEVER respond to commenters. Others seldom get involved in the discussion / conversation and that includes a few Crikey bloggers! And a few in MSM. You have to wonder why these people blog at all. They should be just writing, for print or online. I wonder if some people think they HAVE to blog … be part of the evergrowing in-community, which is nonsense.

  10. Oh, just got this back from Jane!

    Hi Mary, thanks for all your feedback. Believe me we are looking into
    all of those problems with commenting — and a way of making it less
    cumbersome. Because our main Crikey website and the Crikey blogs are —
    for now — on different infrastructure, the logins are still different
    for each of them. I know it’s a hassle! But it won’t always be like

    Thanks for perservering. Jane

  11. Hi Mary, thanks for your comments! I’m glad to hear that Crikey are working on it. I didn’t realise that it was a different log in for each blog.

    Yes, I try to respond to most comments, because I genuinely enjoy the interaction – so no skin off my nose. I agree that it’s frustrating when bloggers never reply to any comments. Romei is doing a great job, as he must be a busy man. I sense that he genuinely enjoys it also!

    And I also agree that a blog stinks if someone feels they have to do it – those ones don’t last for a long time anyway.

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