Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

Look at this – just sun and steel… Reviewing unwritten books

So anyway, there I was ready to listen to Peter Reith discuss his brand new book about something or other only to discover that the event had been cancelled.


 But was I ever going to read his book?  Didn’t I already know what was going to be in it?

We are currently saturated with books written by Formers: former politicians, former journalists, former political advisers…  They linger on in the public debate like unexercised poltergeists, trying to reinvent a past when they were relevant.  Worse, most of them are poorly written.

There is no excuse for poorly written political writing.  Political thought should be aesthetically pleasing: politics is our highest form of art.

But this got me thinking about other books I’d read recently.  Bernard Keane’s Surveillance was rewarded with effusive praise, but I can’t work out if the reviewers and I have read the same book.  It’s practically unreadable.  The characters are flimsy, a result of Keane’s single-minded ideological goal.  Ayn Rand’s writing is better than this, and has more intellectual substance.  I could only conclude that the reviewers hadn’t actually read the book, knowing that they’d be able to catch up later when it gets turned into an ABC2 miniseries.

Similarly with Mark Latham’s The Latham Diaries which is horrid.  Utterly horrid.  It is literary sludge.  And yet review after review extolled is as heralding a brand new age of political writing.

The reverse happened — I claim — with Russell Brand’s Revolution.  People had their hot takes ready to go regardless of the content of the book.  Reviews were more ‘The monkey with a typewriter done went and made a book!’ and less ‘How on Earth do we comprehend the mess that political discourse has become?’

But there must be an economic reason for why these book reviews get written.  Are they popular because they rip into the people we want to hate, and lavish praise upon the people we want to admire?  If so, do we even need to spend money purchasing the books in the first place?  And if there’s no point purchasing the books, do we really need to publish them?  We could have an entire industry dedicated to reviewing books that were never written, filled with all the snark and toadying that the punters have come to love.


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