I thought that some readers might be interested in a review I wrote of Peter Doherty’s book An Insider’s Plague Year. And just in case I am right, here’s the link! The following illustration has nothing to do with the review, except that mice feature there, too. I just had to use this, so why not now?

‘The danger of eating mice’

My reviewing is picking up a lot after I made my first swag of selections for poetry at The Canberra Times, which took a great deal of thought. The straight ‘no’ is easy, as are the obvious yes poems. It’s the maybes that kill you.

Reviewing

May 17, 2021

I have recently had my fortieth review published at The Canberra Times. The book was a challenging and at times disturbing analysis of psychosomatic illnesses, entitled The Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan. You can read the review here.

Writing so many reviews has given me a lot of time to reflect on the process. I see a review as a kind of bridge between the book and reader. The reader can cross over the bridge, and then make the decision as to whether they will jump off the other side, to buy or borrow the book.

Questions such as whether the book is a good example of its genre, and how it fits into an author’s previous publications can be addressed. New authors’ strengths can be celebrated, and what they add to a genre examined. There’s no point reviewing a thriller and complaining about it being action driven, or a horror novel for trading in darkness, for example; that would be a misuse of space.

I will of course point out what I see as faults in a strong book, but if there’s a book I really can’t stand, I won’t review it. People want to be referred to books worth the reading, and have an indication as to why, rather than observe the reviewer’s vocabulary of negative words being taken out for a walk (or flaunt). I don’t want to dwell on something that I find annoying or repellent, either.

The wide variety of books available has taken me to places I wouldn’t necessarily have gone without having the ability to read for review (which entails free books, and being paid something for the effort). Would I have sought out a book about psychosomatic illness before I began reviewing regularly? Possibly not. So a reviewer puts herself over a kind of bridge each time she picks up a new type of book, sometimes checking out surprising views on the way to the book’s end, before going back and asking the reader to accompany her.

I think I’ve flogged the bridge metaphor to death, and must now blow it up in a River Kwai type action. I try and avoid that sort of exhausting overuse of metaphor in reviews. Honestly.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/ganggang-turtles-diving-like-huge-coins-thrown-into-a-wishing-well-20150812-gix4gz.html

That’s a link to a very nice appreciation of my chapbook Paths Into Inner Canberra, written by Ian Warden. He is kind enough to write that:

‘She writes poetically, deftly and quirkily. The needle on my highly sensitive cliche-detector didn’t flicker once during my reading.’

Lovely stuff! I write hoping that I may surprise a few readers with an image or a reflection, and it is gratifying to read that this was the case with Ian Warden. Here is the cover, with a photograph by Geoffrey Dunn:
paths cover

The book can be purchased from me (for those who ride bikes/drink too much coffee at cafes), from Book Lore, Lyneham, in Canberra, or from the publisher, Ginninderra Press. It is $4 (plus postage, if you order online). It is a prose essay with two poems.

It snowed yesterday in Canberra, so I was not on my bike. Snow is an occasional surprise here, and everyone was armed with their smartphones to record the phenomenon of cold dandruff. It has never settled on the collar of the pavement, though, that I can remember.

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/book-review-the-stars-like-sand-edited-by-tim-jones-and-ps-cottier-20150223-13au1z.html

The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry was just reviewed for the Sydney Morning Herald, Canberra Times and elsewhere. A lovely review by Peter Pierce, which states that the book is a ‘splendid anthology, that entertains from start to finish’. Adjectives such as ‘enterprising, unusual and rewarding’ are used, which is always a good thing, providing retrospective solace to editors on their long trips through the unknown reaches of the poetic universe*.
a thing
Seek out the book here, or, if necessary, through those on-line bookstores.

You could even ask a physically constituted bookstore to order it for you, you intrepid little time traveller you.

*’Poetic universe’ is here defined to mean Australia; a small solar system on the outskirts of the English Andromeda.