Critical Failure: Books
As book pages in capital city broadsheets lose real estate to real estate pages, Hilary McPhee, Rebecca Starford, Gideon Haigh and Peter Craven ask what’s wrong with literary criticism in Australia. Are our editors up to scratch? Are critics being paid enough and given editorial scope to write with the depth and insight necessary to sustain writerly culture? And in what media does literary criticism belong?
Our panellists address the challenges of book criticism in Australia and those facing Australian literature as a whole - including the exclusion of books from high school and university reading lists. And while Craven expresses confidence that long form writing still has a comfortable home in newsprint, others suggest that the future of considered commentary lies elsewhere.
In a follow up piece published in The Age, Craven celebrated the discussion while exploring links between fandom and criticism. Starford, on the other hand, felt “frustrated and disappointed” by the experience, suggesting that critiques of online publishing should take a more nuanced, informed look, and that critics everywhere can benefit from an open, malleable understanding of their craft.
Infinite Patience blogger Daniel Wood asserts that blogs allow for “perpetual elaboration on and refinement of standards”. Emmett Stinson meanwhile observes tension between “economic and ‘literary’ value” of books.
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Hilary McPhee was a founding director of McPhee Gribble Publishers and a Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts, the inaugural Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and a founding director of New Matilda.com.
Rebecca Starford is the associate publisher at Affirm Press and the co-founder and editor at Kill Your Darlings.
Gideon Haigh has been a journalist 32 years, published 32 books and edited seven others. His latest is book is Stroke of Genius: Victor Trumper and the Shot That Changed Cricket published in 2016 by Penguin Random House.
Peter Craven is one of Australia’s best-known literary critics. He edited Scripsi with Michael Heyward and was the founding editor of the Black Inc. Best Of annuals (Essays, Stories, Poems) and of Quarterly Essay.