Monday musings on Australian literature: Noted Works series

In early December I wrote a post about online journal The Conversation‘s occasional series they call The case for …. I promised that I would write my own case, and I will – soon. It’s just that I feel like a – well – a reader in a library. So many great books to choose from. I think I know which one I’ll choose, but I’m still thinking …

In the meantime I thought I’d share another occasional series The Conversation has created in its literary area, Noted Works. They describe it as:

 a new series on The Conversation devoted to long-form reviews of significant new books.

They go on to say that “If you’re an academic or researcher and you’d like to write on a recent work that has been a game-changer in your field, please contact the Arts + Culture editor.” So far it seems that not many have contacted the editor – but more on that anon. First I want to clarify these two literature-focused series: “The Case For …” is about arguing for “the merits of one Australian book, one piece of writing” which means it can be any sort of written work from any period, while “Noted Works” is intended to be long-form reviews of new works. Hmm, fair enough though the title “Noted Works” is not particularly self-explanatory. However, wot’s in a name? The important thing is that The Conversation is supporting the idea of long-form reviews.

Book cover, The forgotten rebels of Eureka

Courtesy: Text Publishing

But, although they announced this series in July last year, so far, if I have searched the site correctly, only three “Noted Works” reviews have been published. They are (in the order published):

  • Carolyn D’Cruz and Mark Pendleton’s (ed) After Homosexual: The legacy of gay liberation (UWA Publishing): After Homosexual, reviewer Peter Robinson writes, is a celebration, or festschrift, of Dennis Altman’s Homosexual: Oppression and liberation which was published in 1971. Robinson argues that the book explains “the rhetoric and underpinning philosophies of gay liberation in the 1970s and queer social movements that have been bubbling along in the four decades since then”.
  • Nicholas Clements’ The black war: Fear, sex and resistance in Tasmania (UQP): Reviewer Lyndall Ryan begins by contextualising this book as a descendant of the now well-known Australian “History Wars” in which historians argued, fiercely, over how we interpret the history of settlement in Australia in relation to our indigenous inhabitants. She then discusses Clements’ analysis of the “war” in Tasmania, arguing that his approach identifies a different way of looking at its major triggers, and confirms that it was indeed a significant war that should be recognised as such.
  • Clare Wright’s The forgotten rebels of Eureka (Text Publishing) (My review): Reviewer Zora Simic‘s aim is to “locate The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka as part of the wider field of Australian feminist history”. She discusses the challenges feminist historians face in the inevitable “historical silences and ambiguities”, because, of course, women’s stories/lives/actions (like those of other disempowered groups) were regularly not deemed important enough to capture and document at the time. She argues that Wright’s history is as important for its contribution to the way history (women’s history) can be researched and written, as it is for the arguments she’s presented about Eureka.

So, here we have three thoughtful reviews tackling significant social/historical issues. It’s interesting that all three books featured to date are non-fiction, and all are historically focused. Where are the academics in literature? Surely there are recently published fictional works or poetry that warrant in-depth reviewing – from the point of view of their content and style, or perhaps in terms of their reception (or lack thereof), or even, say, exploring different theoretical approaches that might be taken to understanding them?

The three reviews I’ve described here were all published in July and August last year. Will there be any more or has this series died an early death? I hope not.


10 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Noted Works series

  1. A lot of the topics on The Conversation seem to come from academics. Do those in the field of literature not see the value of this on line vehicle. Or is it that they just don’t read that much contemporary literature?

  2. Maybe it’s the “game-changer in your field” element that is keeping people from submitting man of the long reviews and that could account for the three so far all being nonfiction. It’s a great idea though! And you really must hurry up and select your “case for” book! If you are waffling, there is no reason why you can’t write more than one. Just sayin’ 🙂

  3. Perhaps all those literature academics who are interested in writing reviews for the public are already busy writing for the Sydney Review of Books. That website focuses on long-form reviews of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. It was started by the Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. I enjoy reading their reviews when I get a chance. Apparently academics get little recognition in their performance criteria for connecting with the public so they would be very limited in the time they can devote to such work as that takes away from their time writing for prestigious academic peer-reviewed journals which is an important part of their performance criteria.

    • Thanks Yvonne … Yes, that ‘s a good point about the Sudney Review of Books. I like to read it too, and have them and their ilk in site for another Monday Musings. James Ley and others write some great reviews there. And yes, I rather guessed that these more “popular” avenues don’t help much in the publish or perish game, but the interesting point remains I think that The Conversation is supported by academics but that the literature academics seem to be not as active?

      • Yet other disciplines don’t have any other collaborative university-led public initiative like Sydney Review of Books. History does not have an equivalent so it makes sense that two of the books you note that are reviewed are histories.

        I had a look at the ‘literature’ tag on The Conversation. There are quite a few articles, presumably written by creative writing and literature academics but as you point out very few reviews.

        I think there is plenty of evidence from the literature tag that these academics do want to write for a wider audience, but rather I think the problem at The Conversation could lie with the editors. To establish reviews of fiction as a core part of the publication the editor needs to be proactive and contact academics requesting reviews, following up etc etc. I reckon that the relevant academics just don’t see it as a reviewing publication. The literature tag demonstrates that the academics are clearly willing to write for The Conversation.

        I also found a ‘book review’ tag. (the tags are on articles but I couldn’t find a tag cloud so the tags are hard to hook into – something The Conversation should fix). There are a lot more books reviewed than in the ‘Noted Works’ series but once again nearly all nonfiction.

        If The Conversation wants reviews of fiction the editors need to work on getting them.

        • You are probably right, Yvonne re the Editors. Perhaps they don’t see it as their role to chase writers but see the site as providing a source for those who want to write and communicate? It may not be that THEY want them but that I want them!

          As for their tagging, it’s pretty terrible I agree. I am nervous every time I lose a page I like that I won’t find it again. Each time I look for Noted Works and Case for … articles I have to fiddle around to find them. I’m not sure their search function is very sophisticated either, even for fairly unsophisticated searches. I haven’t spent time analysing it – but I have felt each time I’ve looked for things that it’s pretty hit and miss in comparison to other sites I use.

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