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.




  • Kate

    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”.

  • Boris Kelly

    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.

  • Jo

    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!

West Bank

David Donaldson

Whitewashing occupation? Bill Shorten and the Israel Lobby

Racism and military occupation have no place in the modern world, and are certainly not something looked upon favourably by a majority of Australians. Yet while apartheid, for example, has become a byword for shame and racism, the Labor Opposition leader feels comfortable asserting that some Israeli West Bank settlements are legal. Read more »

Tony Abbott

David Donaldson

Abbott and Brandis’ culture war backfires

What is supposed to happen in a culture war is that conservatives use a controversial issue to drive a ‘wedge’ through the left, forcing a split between factions. In Australia, this usually means pitting Catholic unionists against their socially liberal colleagues in the Labor party. Read more »

climate change

David Donaldson

Australia is going backwards on climate policy

During the Howard years, it was usual for Australia to be awarded ‘Fossil of the Day’ by climate advocacy groups whenever it attended a climate negotiation conference. The award signifies the country that had done the most to hinder climate change negotiations, and Australia has won a pile of them. Read more »

Zoe Pilger

Carody Culver

Girls, eat your hearts out

Middle class hipsters, conceptual artists and third-wave feminists have long been easy targets for mockery, so I admit that I wasn’t expecting anything too groundbreaking when I picked up Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out, a satirical romp through contemporary London that reads like a surreal mash-up of Broad City, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Less Than Zero. Read more »

Laika, Astronaut Dog

Carody Culver

Houston, we have a fabrication

As someone who doesn’t have children, I’m no less resistant than any of my book-loving friends-with-kids to the charm of a beautiful picture book. So when I spotted Laika: Astronaut Dog by writer and illustrator Owen Davey, with its charming retro-style artwork Read more »

& Sons

Carody Culver

WASPiration: David Gilbert’s & Sons

As someone who’s always secretly aspired to being a WASP (before you mercilessly judge me for this, I should clarify that my desire has less to do with attaining elevated social and financial status than with being able to dress like a character in The Great Gatsby Read more »

American Pickers

Julia Tulloh

Eccentric junk collectors held high on American Pickers

The History Channel’s American Pickers, currently in its sixth season, is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable reality series on TV. It’s not a competition show, it doesn’t exist to objectify people and it isn’t particularly dramatic. So what’s the appeal? Read more »

Justin Timberlake

Julia Tulloh

Pleasantly forgettable: Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience

On 7 March this year, tickets went on sale for the Australian leg of Justin Timberlake’s latest tour, ‘The 20/20 Experience’. All five shows sold out in a few hours. The same day, five new shows were released, with most tickets for these rapidly selling out too. Read more »

BuzzFeed

Julia Tulloh

BuzzFeed quizzes understand me

If you use social media regularly – Facebook, in particular – you’ll have completed a BuzzFeed quiz during the past month. Don’t deny it. Even if you didn’t share your results online, deep down you’re still feeling smug because the ‘What Should You Actually Eat For Lunch?’ quiz confirmed that eating ice cream was, in fact, an appropriate meal for your personality type. Read more »

The Lego Movie

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Nostalgia and today’s family-friendly films

Hollywood has always known the adults are watching alongside the kids, and that to push a film into record profits (as Lego looks set to do with a global box office of $428 million and counting), you need to appeal to ‘kids of all ages’. Read more »

nympho-poster

Rochelle Siemiennowicz

Weirdos on screen: Noah and Nymphomaniac

There are some filmmakers you’ll follow into the dark, no matter how bad the buzz is about their latest work. For me, naughty boy Lars von Trier (The Idiots, Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Antichrist, Melancholia) and strange kid Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) are two filmmakers who can be loved or detested, but never ignored. Read more »

planes

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Notes from a plane

There’s an art to choosing the right film for every particular occasion, and as I nervously sit in a Qantas jet about to take off on a four-hour flight from Melbourne to Perth, the choice seems very important indeed. Read more »

Samsung fingers

Connor Tomas O'Brien

‘Fooled’ by technology

As I browsed the web last Tuesday, something struck me: tech companies can no longer pull off compelling April Fools’ Day hoaxes because there’s no longer even the thinnest line delineating sincerity from spoof. Read more »

wifi

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Flight 370 and gaps in the internet

On Twitter the other day, sandwiched between a slew of links to articles about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, somebody tweeted a link to the website for Tile, a Bluetooth-enabled device that can be attached to physical objects, enabling them to be located within a 150-foot range. Read more »

IMG_3267

Clipped: What would Susan Sontag say about always-on cameras?

As I write this, a tiny camera clipped to my shirt collar is silently taking a picture every thirty seconds. At the end of the day, I will plug my Narrative Clip into my MacBook, and it will upload half a gigabyte of images to the Cloud. … Read more »

Young Adulthood Books

Danielle Binks

The young adult books of my young adulthood

In March, Penguin Books Australia rereleased Melina Marchetta’s first novel as part of its Australian Children’s Classics series. Looking for Alibrandi was first published in 1992; the first print run sold out in two months, and Marchetta’s debut went on to win the Children’s Book Council of Australia Children’s Book of the Year Award. Read more »

When You Reach Me

Danielle Binks

A children’s lit prize of one’s own

Earlier this year, Readings Bookstore announced the creation of The Readings Children’s Book Prize. The eligibility criteria for the 2014 Prize was specified as ‘a work of published fiction, written for children aged 5–12’. Read more »

The Fault with a Sick-Lit Debate (1)

Danielle Binks

The fault with a sick-lit debate

American author John Green’s young adult (YA) novel The Fault in Our Stars has been a bestselling juggernaut since its release in 2012. Green’s book was somewhat inspired by his friendship with Esther Earl, whose posthumous memoir This Star Won’t Go Out was released in January this … Read more »

music theory

Chad Parkhill

Do music critics need music theory?

Canadian musician Owen Pallett – the man who arranged the strings on Arcade Fire’s albums, co-wrote the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Her, and has a bunch of wonderful solo albums – can now add another feather to his cap: that of an engaging music writer. Read more »

Tune Yards

Chad Parkhill

Drips, leaks, and spurts

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement – musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track … Read more »

Grandma photoshop

Chad Parkhill

Singing out

My maternal grandmother, Merilai Lilburn, recently died in a nursing home in Katikati, New Zealand, of complications arising from pneumonia. She was 82 years old. At the time of her death, I and the other members of our extended family based in Australia Read more »

Community

Stephanie Van Schilt

Diary of a lurker: TV and Twitter

At the end of last month, global information provider Nielsen announced that Australia was to become the third country in the world with the ‘Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings’ service. According to a Nielsen Company press release, the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are ‘the first-ever measure of the total activity and reach of TV-related conversation on Twitter’. Read more »

Broad City

Stephanie Van Schilt

Funny Broads

‘All comparisons between Girls and Broad City should be hereto forth banned from the internet.’ I agree with Katherine Brooks. Yet the comparisons continue, ad nauseam, mostly following one of two lines of thought. Read more »

The Carrie Diaries

Stephanie Van Schilt

‘Alive Girl’ TV: The Carrie Diaries

Get ready to feel old: it’s been ten years since the final episode of Sex and the City aired. I’m not talking about the first episode back in 1998, but the final episode – the one before the two questionable movies were released. Read more »