Saturday, January 17, 2004

"A good deal of bad reviewing is more concerned with inflating the self-worth of the reviewer, rather than raising the standards of the published word. Authors can and do learn from professional, critical reviewing. But neither they nor their readers gain anything from the sort of self-indulgent hyperbole that is the mark of most reflexively negative reviews."
- John Birmingham, 'Fighting Words', The Weekend Australian, 17-18 January, 2004.

Mr Birmingham must be expecting bad reviews for his next book. Then, haven't we all had those kinds of sad and scabrous reviews from time-to-time? Birmingham is urging a fightback. He says give the author a right of reply. I'm in two minds. Most bad negative reviews, as opposed to good negative reviews, are so obviously self-indulgent and gratuitous that Blind Freddy could see them for what they are (ie, unadulterated bile and envy). Why give these sad literary cowboys any further publicity?

But there is another sad fact. There are so few reviews, especially of poetry, that perhaps the old saw 'any publicity is good publicity' holds true. And, in that case, there is an argument for a literary stoush. The on-line environment would be an ideal environment for this but I have seen little evidence of virtual space for rejoinders or fightbacks. Sure, there is always the good old 'letter to the editor' but this usually has an air of whingeing. My only foray into this area, many many years ago, was to correct an error of fact. I reasonably stated at the time that the reviewer was entitled to their opinion of the book. Sometimes I wonder, though, how entitled, in a public forum where reputation is at stake.

Mr Birmingham states at the end of his article that 'he stopped reading reviews of his books a long time ago'. If this is true rather than bravado, it would be a reasonable stance. Others take the 'no pain not gain' option, preferring to know who the opposition is and hoping against hope that someone, somewhere (even if they didn't like it, or especially if they did) actually 'got' the book. Is there nothing more irritating than a review which is positive but still doesn't 'get' it? This happens far too often and I'm not the only one thinking it will be a long time between drinks.




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