Sam van Zweden




Reviewing: The Problem of the Accidental Steal

I’ve recently finished reading “The Best Australian Stories 2010”. I’m reviewing it for publication, so I have pages and pages full of notes. I feel awkward scribbling in the margins of reviewing books, though it does sound like a more effective strategy. There’s something about defacing books I own that I just can’t come to terms with.

I plan on sitting down tomorrow, when everything’s had a few days to percolate, and making sense of those notes. In the mean time though, many other people who bought the book recently are finishing it too. I exchanged impressions with Alec Patric yesterday, which I found helpful in expressing some of my ideas about the stories. I talked to another friend last night about what I’d expected from certain authors in the collection and what I hope for them in future. Talking to people helps me get my ideas straight before I start writing.

However, I feel a little hesitant to read printed reviews. I have ideas about what I liked and didn’t, and suspicions as to why, but overall I’m still a baby reviewer and at times I feel like I don’t have the literary knowledge to say things with conviction in case someone tells me I’m wrong.

This morning in my Google Reader feed appeared Claire Zorn’s review of the collection on the Overland website.

The uncertainty of my own authority mentioned above means that I’m torn as to whether or not I should read this review. Overland – that’s got some heft. Good writing, authoritative voices, established opinions.

I have two options. I can ignore the review until I’ve written my own, insuring that my ideas are all mine. Or I can read the review and risk an “accidental steal”.

You know the ones. You’re reading a lot of Jane Austen, and somehow her language starts showing up in your own writing. You’re listening to a lot of hip-hop and you accidentally end a sentence with “yo”. It’s not done on purpose, but things influence you. The external worms its way in. Especially really good things – it’s natural.

I see connecting themes in the collection, and I think I’ve nutted out stylistic approaches, strengths of the stories. I have a half-baked review in my head. Claire’s review is sitting in my Google Reader feed, but I can’t decide whether I should read it yet or not, lest my review echoes hers too much.

I wonder if you’ll be able to tell from my own review whether I decided to read it or not?


I recently found an incredible website.

Infloox asks the question: “what are famous people’s favourite books? …today and throughout history?”

At the homepage of Infloox, you can type in the name of an author, a famous person, or the title of a work.  This then takes you to a page which provides a short biography of this person, or work. Under this is where it gets interesting…

Infloox lists (and wiki-style, allows feedback on) this person’s “infloox” (things that were influential upon that person’s life and work), and “outfloox” (the same idea but outwards – so things and people that were influenced by this person). Not only this, but Infloox is expanding what it lists… It now also lists “affinities”; giving details such as “people who liked this person also liked…”
I’m a sucker for these types of lists. I love being able to link ideas, works, people.

I’m blogging about this because I like to think about influences. Anyone who thinks that idea about not reading for fear of being overly influenced has any merit, is crazy. You need to be a good reader to be a good writer. Infloox is proof of that.

I’m also blogging about this because I like this site, and would like to see it grow. So click the link, send it to friends, help the database of Infloox grow so I can learn more…

If there was an Infloox page about me right now, it would have on it:

INFLOOX: John Marsden. Chuck Palahniuk. Robert Adamson. Raymond Carver.

OUTFLOOX: perhaps one of my musician-friends? Or my partner’s photography, that’d be nice.

What would your Infloox page look like?

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