Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Press

‘Truth and elegance soured': Susan Wyndham on Gideon Haigh’s Kill Your Darlings piece

by Estelle Tang , February 23, 20103 Comments

Susan Wyndham of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about Kill Your Darlings on Saturday:

Among the essays, fiction, reviews, cartoons and interview with Sarah Waters, Undercover was most curious to read Gideon Haigh’s piece Feeding the Hand that Bites on “the demise of Australian literary reviewing”. The books pages of our newspapers and magazines, he complains, “have become hodgepodges of conventional wisdom and middlebrow advertorial”. Newspapers publish them with “a grudging air” because they attract no advertising; reviewers are poorly paid and anxious not to stick their neck out.

As often in Haigh’s writing (including his book reviews), there’s truth and elegance soured with a lot of vinegar. I will also read with interest the rebuttal by Martin Shaw, a manager at Readings Books, which will be on the journal’s site next month.

Indeed. Stay tuned for a teaser of Gideon’s controversial piece.




3 thoughts on “‘Truth and elegance soured': Susan Wyndham on Gideon Haigh’s Kill Your Darlings piece

  1. I haven’t read the article yet but intend to. I did listen to the Book Show interview and am really grateful that someone has finally called the newspapers on this. Funnily enough it was the Australian which came in for most criticism, some of which is warranted, but to me the real travesty is the Sydney Morning Herald, which has gone so relentlessly downmarket and tabloid in all its sections, including books, that it has started to resemble Who magazine. What little space is given to book reviews is often given to the most sensationalist, trashiest potboiler they can find or to a PR interview revealing nothing much about either writer or book. As a published author now working on a third novel, the fact that there are only two or three major newspapers offering any review space at all is very demoralising, particularly when compared with the UK or the US.
    On the poor state of reviewing in Oz – bless Ramona Koval who is cheery and well intentioned but who somehow manages to plumb ever-new depths of inanity in her interviews with writers. Again a shame – The Book Show it is one of our few literary radio shows and I find it relentlessly “middlebrow”.

  2. I haven’t read Gideon’s piece but can I suggest that publishing it online would be a sensible marketing move for Killing….I think the problem Gideon points to is endemic to reviewing in disciplines other than literature. Theatre reviews, for example, are often blandly uninformative and lacking the verve of spirited intellectual engagement. Which is not to say that broadsheet reviews should be highbrow. A good reviewer respects the intelligence of the reader and seeks to engage with him/her through a mixture of considered personal response, careful contextualising and a dash of provocation. Far too often I find it is the quality of the writing which disappoints. The broadsheets have a weariness about them these days which may be a symptom of institutional atrophy in the face of the quality and eclecticism of smaller more responsive inititiatives online and on paper.

  3. I am obviously somewhat biased here as I sporadically review for the SMH, but I’d like to wade in with a defence nonetheless. I actually think the books pages of the SMH and The Age (declaring another bias here) are pretty good, especially in the era of the decline of print newspapers. It is a great pity that space allocated to books is declining, but that’s due to the mess the print media is in – and particularly newspapers – rather than decisions made by literary editors, who I’m sure would all like as much space as they can get. I don’t get to read the SMH as often as I’d like, it often being hard to get from Melbourne, but I like the mix on its book pages and think that they often feature writers who aren’t hugely commercial but are of great literary interest. For instance, speaking from experience, I got a decent slab of space (in newspaper real estate terms) to review the excellent and underrated (and very cerebral) Rachel Cusk’s latest novel late last year, which I can’t remember seeing reviewed elsewhere locally (though I very likely missed it somewhere). This is just the example that comes to mind. The really commercial fiction stuff is often reviewed in shorts by Kerryn Goldsworthy, who I think is one of Australia’s finest reviewers. And I think we have to bear in mind that a newspaper books page isn’t just for literary readers; it needs to feature a range of genres as a newspaper’s audience is fairly broad. And commercial & genre writers deserve to be reviewed, too.

    I think when you look at the situation in the US and make a comparison based on the huge discrepancies in population and population spread, we’re doing pretty well in terms of space (not that I wouldn’t like more!) Many US books sections shut down altogether last year.

    All that said, I welcome your comments Kate and yours too, Boris. I think one of the wonderful things about Gideon’s piece is that it encourages debate and gets people talking and thinking about reviewing culture. For my part, I think Gideon’s very brave and stimulating piece locates some real problems, even though I may not agree on all the specifics or on their general severity. I think a lot of these problems are about the culture in general, rather than about individuals.

    But of course, feel free to argue with me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

lorelei

Lou Heinrich

Oversharing is caring: the rise of twenty-something memoir

The middle-aged love to decry the self-obsession of Generation Y. But is it so wrong for young people to process their lived experience by writing a memoir? Read more »

6277209256_934f20da10_z

Veronica Sullivan

What cannot be counted: reflections on the 2013 Stella Count

Today, the Stella Prize released the results of the 2013 Stella Count, which calculates the gender breakdown of authors reviewed in Australian newspapers. This year, as in previous years, the Count shows that Australian literary pages review female writers significantly less than they do male writers. But there are other insidious patterns … Read more »

5562248-3x4-700x933

Carody Culver

Man out of time: Nick Earls and his analogue people

Some readers persist in the belief that the sort of light-hearted, character-driven comedy produced by authors like Nick Earls is intrinsically less worthy than serious literary fiction, but it’s as much a challenge to make your audience laugh as it is to make them gasp at the elegance of your syntax or the gravitas of your ideas. Read more »

Clara and Doctor

Julia Tulloh

Doctor Who’s gender dynamics: a mid-season evaluation

In some ways, Peter Capaldi was a problematic choice for the newest regeneration of Doctor Who. How on earth were the producers going to pull off a successful friendship between a middle-aged man and a twenty-something woman, without it seeming at best patriarchal and at worst creepy? Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

theskeletontwins1

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Suicide, Laughter and The Skeleton Twins

Even the best parents can inflict some form of lifelong damage upon their children. But when parents are outright mad, bad or dangerous – or in the case of the funny, bittersweet comic drama The Skeleton Twins, so depressed they commit suicide – the damage can feel impossible to bear, even decades down the track. Read more »

stepup5poster

Anthony Morris

Let’s Dance: unapologetic repetition and Step Up: All In

A franchise of movies based entirely around good-looking people performing unlikely and oddly aggressive dance moves wouldn’t seem to require heavy continuity – or any continuity at all – but Step Up: All In is surprisingly effective. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

6289302147_38e8035680_z

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Jacqui Lambie and the limits of Remix Culture

The combination of Google Image Search, Photoshop, and Facebook is a powerful one, providing web users with the ability to seek out swaths of copyrighted visual material, rip and manipulate these pictures so the original source is obscured, then share the freshly “remixed” images to a broad audience with no real fear of legal action. Read more »

Streisand_Estate

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Don’t Look: The emergence of Streisand criticism

In the wake of the recent nude celebrity photo leak, I noticed something strange about the ways different publications skewed their coverage. Tabloid-style publications tended to be honest about their motives. The behaviour of left-leaning broadsheet-style outlets, however, was more complex. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

tumblr_inline_n9e5g8afMe1rvc0fr

Danielle Binks

Beyond ableism and ignorance: disability and fiction

Youth literature has the ability to shape our attitudes to subcultures, and been proven to create empathy by reducing prejudice. So, if the genre has such potential for inclusivity, why are so many of these characters white, straight, able-bodied and middle-class? Read more »

Inky Awards

Danielle Binks

By teens, for teens: the Inky Awards

The Centre for Youth Literature’s Inky Awards are amongst the most important book awards in Australian literature. Read more »

9780987507013

Danielle Binks

Review: The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

This is a coming out story but one that desperately needed to be told on two counts – one because it’s an Australian YA coming-out story, and two because it’s a coming-out story about a young man questioning his homosexuality alongside his Jewish faith. Read more »

free-u2-album-on-itunes

Chad Parkhill

The Perpetual Undeath of Rock

 ‘Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die.’ Depending on your own tastes and cognitive biases, Neil Young’s famous lyric will now seem more prophetic than ever before – or profoundly misguided. Last week saw the release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in what Apple … Read more »

arthur-russel-beckman

Chad Parkhill

Calling out of context: The perennial appeal of Arthur Russell

When Arthur Russell died in 1992 at the age of forty, he did so in relative obscurity, having released four commercially unsuccessful albums and granted a single print interview: not exactly a promising oeuvre on which to build a legacy. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

please-like-me

Stephanie Van Schilt

Mental illness and Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me

While the jury is still out on the success of Please Like Me’s efforts to address ideas around mental health, the discussions both its seasons have provoked and continue to encourage are incredibly important. That, I definitely like. Read more »

DP

Stephanie Van Schilt

Idle hands and Devil’s Playground: Going to the movies to watch TV

I recently went to the movies to watch TV. I bid a reluctant farewell to the comforts of my couch and heater and ventured into the frosty evening in search of Devil’s Playground. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »