Editorial

Recently I have had a number of enquiries from readers who want to submit books for review hand the enquiries came from people unfamiliar with the reviewing process. So for those readers who are unfamiliar with the reviewing process, a few words about it.

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Last month’s editorial on reviewing and its ailments in Australia seems to have touched a few raw nerves. Various reviewers have enquired nervously about whether I was referring to them, for instance. On the other hand, as a result of the editorial, I have held a number of valuable conversations about the state of reviewing in Australia. Alas this is not reflected in the Letters pages of this issue. It seems with such a long break between the December/January issue and the February/March issue, the letter writers think of other things. Letters in this issue are few, fewer than any issue for several years.

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Literary culture in Australia seems to me to be in state of some disorder, not least because of the state of reviewing. Many reviews are banal, slipshod, dull and as if written in a cultural vacuum.

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Just what is the difference between a reviewer and a critic? It seems a question of status, based in turn on the frequency and quality of the reviewing. On the other hand, the critic is suggestive of reflective articles and/or books, whereas the reviewer is offering a first reading, a virginal reading so to speak, without the opportunity for prolonged reflection. Nor properly should there be such aftermath reflection, because the review presents itself, by definition, as a first response.

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In an interview in this issue about his new novel, The Sitters, which is about a portrait painter, Alex Miller suggests the novel is almost

a continuous monologue. almost something he shouted to himself while he was working. The Sitters is this kind of shouted monologue: this man shouting at himself, to himself, listening while he is painting, listening to the sounds of himself painting.

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You, certainly, understand what it’s like when you know for sure, and in your heart of hearts, that there is something rotten in the State of Denmark, but every time you put up your hand to point to the rottenness it is ignored, slapped down, or obfuscated. Lying, back-stabbing, shoving one’s own snout in the trough ahead of the mob, manoeuvring to get ahead, and destroying anything that might get in the way of a march towards the one goal of MONEY – no worries. All’s fair in war and publishing. But think about the larger picture, imagine a better way, work slowly and cautiously towards change? Get with it, baby, you’ve got to be kidding, that’s just feel-good stuff, forget it.

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This is the 150th issue of ABR since its revival in 1978, and so it would seem appropriate for us to look back on that time in order to come to some wise conclusions about the state of book reviewing, of literature, of communication and culture in this country.

Appropriate can go jump, however. 150 is splendid, and here’s to another 150 of them.

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Because it’s the end of the year, every Tom, Dick and Harry is trotting out the Top Books of the Year, My Favourite Summer Reading, What Book I’d Like for Christmas – good old standbys. ABR, however, is looking soberly (for the most part) at the current state of critical writing. Critics and scholars and researchers talking about theory and analysis. People engaged in the processes that help us sort through why we respond to writing in the ways we do, with joy or horror, enthusiasm or indifference.

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I don’t know how all the jumping, throwing, sweating and grimacing went, but that opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in Barcelona was hallucinogenic. I’ve never seen so many men in leather-look congregating under lights! And wasn’t that rippling sea effect fantastic? Who’d imagine you could do so much with the new synthetics. How wonderful for the Barcelonians to have snaps for their family albums of pop as a water drop.

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As the year comes to a close I feel some clichéd compulsion to review ABR’s progress. Our place in the literary magazine market is assured due to the fine editors who have preceded me. There seems to be an increased awareness of ABR out there among the general reading public and this is verified by our increased sales. Of course, our position has been enhanced by a general push to bring the book out of the study and into the world. ABR’s circulation increase has certainly been assisted by the hard work of Dinny O’Hearn’s Book Show (SBS, Wednesdays at 8pm) and the continuing and comprehensive Books and Writing program produced by Robert Dessaix (Radio National, Sundays at 7.25 pm and Mondays at 3.05).

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