Two wonderful books of literary criticism engaged my attention this month—one I have read and one for which I haven’t yet had the necessary time. I admit to not having read Michelle de Kretser on Shirley Hazzard in the Writers on Writers series, as Michelle would surely see through any cant on my behalf. I am waiting for a very quiet, rainy day as Shirley Hazzard has always been one of my very favourite Australian writers (The Transit of Venus perhaps my favourite book ever) and Michelle de Kretser follows as a close second. I know her analysis of Hazzard’s work will be so intelligent and finely calibrated it will need all my attention. Can’t wait.
The book I have read is by another of my fangirl writer heroes—Debra Adelaide—who has published two books this year. I wrote about Zebra, Debra’s book of short stories earlier in the year and now she has a selection of terrific, thoughtful essays, The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing. There’s much to love in these pages, especially the Reading to the Dog essay—about dogs and literature as well as in literature. In The Front Line, a funny and perceptive esssay about reviewing, I was amused by Adelaide referring to A.D. Hope’s ‘infamous attack on Patrick White’s The Tree of Man back in 1956, labelling it pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge’. In my last year of school I wrote an essay about the same book, saying much the same thing as Hope, and thought myself very clever—though the teacher had other ideas. This essay prompted me to think that this monthly column is a series of mini-reviews, if you will. The difference is that the operative word in what I do is ‘seller’, so unlike someone writing for a newspaper or journal, I can’t bag books I don’t think are any good. The best I can do is not to mention them.
What we call in the trade, handselling, where the bookseller literally puts a book in the customer’s hand, is also a form of reviewing, in that we are not only personally recommending the book, but asking someone to pay for it. It can be nerve-wracking because if the bookseller gets it wrong, they could lose the customer for good, or at the very least, their respect. It’s a minefield I tell you, and I wouldn’t give it up for quids.