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Kill your darlings, and literary reviewing

February 23, 2010

Kill your darlings is a new Australian “independent publication of fresh, clever writing that combines intellect with intrigue” (from their website). The first issue, March 2010 Issue no. 1, contains an article by Gideon Haigh on what he believes to be the parlous state of literary reviewing in Australia. The article is titled “Feeding the Hand that Bites: The Demise of Australian Literary Reviewing”. Haigh and Andrew Wilkins (of Wilkins Farago Publishing) were interviewed this week by Ramona Koval on her Radio National program The Book Show. You can listen to it by clicking here.

The interview focused on professional reviewing, and only briefly touched on the blog community and other reviewing activity on the Internet (such as what they called “fan writing” on sites like Amazon). Haigh believes that good reviewing is an important part of, what I would call, our literary health, arguing that good reviews can instruct and help writers improve their writing.

I’m not going to comment in detail on the interview (after all you can listen to it yourself) but here are some of the points made:

  • Good reviews are a dialogue between reader and reviewer. This is certainly true in the blog community, as we all know, but I take the point too regarding those reviews which engage us in an internal dialogue in which we test and mull over the ideas presented
  • Newspapers are moving more and more to short capsule reviews of around 400 words. How can you “summarise” a book in 400 words they said? What do we bloggers think is a good length for a review? Is there one? Or does it depend – and if so on what?
  • Fewer reviews are being written in Australia – newspapers are buying reviews from each other and from overseas sources. I’m certainly aware of a plethora of articles/reviews from The Guardian, UK in Australian newspapers.

There was a lot more, including discussion about the changing economics of newspaper and book publishing and the effect on reviewing … but hopefully this will whet your appetite to listen to the program yourselves, because right now I need to get back to reading so I can write my next review!

Oh, and if you are interested in this subject, from a slightly but not totally different angle, you might also like to check out Tom’s recent post on blogging and reviews over at his A Common Reader blog.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2010 11:11

    Just a small note that the link in “You can listen to it by clicking here” does not actually point to any website.

    • February 23, 2010 15:41

      Thanks Jason … I clearly did something silly there. There should now be something to click to now. Cheers, and thanks again.

  2. February 23, 2010 21:18

    IMO a lost opportunity – why *not* include some of Australia’s serious blogging community in this program?

    • February 23, 2010 22:19

      Yes, I was looking for it when they started on the Internet but they didn’t really go there at all in terms of what role serious bloggers might play.

  3. February 24, 2010 06:13

    Fascinating. So, the same issues are being dealt with by both Aus and UK public broadcasting.

    “The best review is one that just reproduces a press release” – well, you’ll never find a book blogger doing that!

    “Fan writing” ???? Grrrrrrrrrr

    I aim at 800 words for a fairly in-depth review. I find book blogs a great complement to newspaper reviews.

    Thanks for linking to my post

    • February 24, 2010 07:53

      You’re welcome … it’s always good to continue conversations, to create the “real” dialogue that we bloggers can do isn’t it.

      Fan writing. Grrr indeed. One of the things I do find frustrating is when people don’t like a book because they can’t identify with a character or they didn’t like any of the characters.

      And thanks for engaging on the review length question. When I started my aim was 500 words or so but I found I couldn’t really do justice in that space (but I will do that for a quick review if that’s all I feel like doing! Lucky we bloggers – we are the writers and the red-pen people!). Anyhow I got into it I discovered that I felt happiest crafting an 800-1100 word review…and the majority of mine now fall into that fairly largish region. (The ones at the higher end usually have the longer quotes!)

  4. February 24, 2010 06:24

    I listened to the programme – how condescending – I’ve read some fantastic reviews on amazon – don’t these people don’t know about the reviewer rating system?

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