Rock critic Robert Christgau once argued that ‘writing about music is writing first’. His edict puts paid to all those who have erroneously demanded that music reviewers must be musicians themselves or otherwise musically literate. If you can listen to and appreciate music, then you can write about it.
I was surprised that the respondents in Kerryn Goldsworthy’s fine study largely sidestepped the issue of aesthetic value in book reviewing (‘Everyone’s a Critic’, May 2013). Literary genealogies, identifying genres, unequivocal evaluations, responsibility to readers, obligations to authors: surely all are secondary to the question of whether the review stands on its own as a piece of writing? (This is a view that Peter Rose, Rebecca Starford, and James Ley – all, as it happens, expert reviewers – come closest to endorsing.) Or, to put it another way, writing about writing is writing first. I want to read a review knowing above all that the person who wrote it has put all his or her efforts into making that 300 or 3000 words a work of art in its own right, and the author and publisher be damned!
Perhaps when one of our many fine specialist essayists/reviewers features in ABR’s Open Page section – someone who cannot necessarily answer the question ‘How old were you when your first book appeared?’ – that will be evidence that the cultural critic has truly arrived in Australia.
Dean Biron, Spring Hill, Qld