Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

On page 22 to­day, Peter Craven re­views the sixth in­stal­ment of TS Eliot’s let­ters. The first thing that strikes me about this nearly 900page book is that it cov­ers just one year in Eliot’s cor­re­spon­dence. I of­ten won­der if we are in dan­ger of los­ing writ­ers’ pen to pa­per mis­sives in this dig­i­tal age. I know emails are re­triev­able but such in­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion doesn’t feel the same. If Eliot had ac­cess to Ya­hoo would we be in pos­ses­sion of six col­lec­tions of his let­ters (with more to come)? No, and thank good­ness, I hear some say. But as some­one who en­joys read­ing writ­ers’ let­ters I would miss it. Fun­nily enough, of the nu­mer­ous replies I re­ceived to my re­cent col­umn on reread­ing great books, only one came on pa­per. The writer said she could email but pre­ferred to “think with a pen in the hand”. Now emails do work well in such cir­cum­stances — it’s eas­ier for me to com­pile them into a col­umn (which will ap­pear soon) — but I ap­pre­ci­ated that let­ter. One of the joys of my job has been work­ing with Geordie Wil­liamson. As you may have read, he has left his role as our chief lit­er­ary critic to join pub­lisher Pi­cador. I’m sorry about that, in the sim­ple sense that we have lost a world-class critic. But more im­por­tantly I am happy for Geordie, who at this ripen­ing time of his life has de­cided he must have a grown-up job — with an of­fice in the city, meet­ings with mar­ket­ing peo­ple, less flex­i­ble dead­lines and all sorts of equally un­fa­mil­iar chal­lenges — to help pro­vide for his fam­ily. Geordie is such a de­cent man, and as our critic I think he ap­proached ev­ery book, ev­ery writer — prob­a­bly ev­ery per­son — in a pos­i­tive way. He did not write neg­a­tive re­views. That’s not to say he never dis­liked a book but his ap­proach was gen­tle and con­struc­tive. If you know Geordie’s writ­ing well you will know when there’s some­thing in a book that doesn’t quite work for him, and that’s the best re­la­tion­ship we have with crit­ics: we know what they think not be­cause they drip it on a bill­board but be­cause they write to us as peo­ple who fol­low and ap­pre­ci­ate their work. To­day Geordie has writ­ten his farewell piece, and while there’s no bill­board in sight it is a hard ex­am­i­na­tion of the po­lit­i­cal in­dif­fer­ence — bel­liger­ence per­haps? — to our writ­ers and their work. “The writ­ing of the con­ti­nent I have spent the past eight years cel­e­brat­ing and cri­tiquing faces a mo­ment of cri­sis.” Thank you, Geordie. I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our talks about books — and not just the ones you are pub­lish­ing! “Filthy cof­fee mugs left in the kitchen sink. Bath­room hy­giene re­sem­bling a dirty bomb … of­fen­sive body odour. Peo­ple who just want to chitchat ca­su­ally while oth­ers are swamped with work. Loud and ob­nox­ious … The use of elec­tronic de­vices …” No, not more about Geordie’s new job. But I had to recheck the cover of James Ado­nis’s lat­est book to make sure it wasn’t about par­ent­ing. Well it is, sort of. Em­ployee En­rage­ment: Why Peo­ple Hate Work­ing for You (Black Inc, $14.99) is based on a sur­vey the work­place ex­pert con­ducted with 2400 em­ploy­ees in Australia and the US. He asked a sim­ple ques­tion: “What makes you an­gry, up­set, or frus­trated at work?” Well, work­ing, I’d say, but it seems I’m not rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Ado­nis lists the top 50 prob­lems. No 50 is mood swings. No 1 is … well, no plot spoil­ers here. Per­son­ally I went straight to No 41, of­fice psy­chopaths, to see if there were any names I recog­nised. This is an amus­ing and at times quite use­ful book. Quote of the week: As it’s elec­tion day, let’s go with one that is old but per­haps rel­e­vant, from Machi­avelli: “A re­turn to first prin­ci­ples in a repub­lic is some­times caused by the sim­ple virtues of one man. His good ex­am­ple has such an in­flu­ence that the good men strive to im­i­tate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so con­trary to his ex­am­ple.”

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