Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Best Australian Political Writing, edited Tony Jones

I was amazed by how poorly Tony Jones writes. His introduction to this collection of newspaper and journal essays is dire. Hackneyed, difficult to read, full of bad turns of phrase. Pur-lease!

I don’t know why, but for some reason I expected something better. That’s not to say I’m a real fan of his interviewing work for the ABC. I’ve often sat cringing as he attempted to slowly roast a political interviewee, thinking, no wonder these pollies always go belly aching about left wing bias at the ABC.

(Note to self: I must try and find the transcript of that interview with Malcolm Turnbull, where Tony Jones had to apologise for trying to ambush him on some issue. The basics of the situation, from what I recall, were that Jones had not done his reading properly and was trying to quote to Turnbull something that was patently false. (UPDATE: The link for that interview is here. It shows Jones at his most petty minded. He had to admit his error at the end of the interview. To the ABC's credit, they aired the whole interview, warts and all.)

So okay, should you read this collection? If you have a life, probably no. If you don’t have a life, then perhaps. Or maybe if you want to find out how dull Australian politics can be.

This book would perhaps be best employed by up and coming journalists and writers as a way of ascertaining good and bad writing styles.

The book is divided up into sections on Rudd’s ascension, Howard’s decline, Aboriginal Australia, the age of terrorism, culture wars, global warming and Australian values.

To my surprise, the essay I enjoyed best was by Noel Pearson, a piece entitled White Guilt, Victimhood and the Quest for the Radical Centre. In fact, again to my surprise, the most outstanding section was the Aboriginal part of the book. Louis Nowra’s essay, Culture of Denial was amazing too. To anyone reading this blurb, I’d strongly recommend you read the above mentioned essays. (Link to Pearson's essay is here.)

The most dull essays were of course to do with political machinations, written by self-important newspaper columnists. I love Michelle Grattan, but her newspaper work falls so flat in a book.

The excerpt from David Marr’s quarterly essay, Yes Prime Minister – We’re a Nation in Authority’s Grip, shouldn’t have been included here. There were much better quarterly essays that could have been used.

The environmental section was really yawnsville, except for Richard Flanagan’s peerless essay Out of Control on the Tasmanian pulp mill.

I didn’t mind Thomas Keneally’s Flattened by a Falafel, and the always fascinating Guy Rundle put in a good showing with his essay Goodbye to all that. Plus I found Mark McKenna’s The Anzac Myth really absorbing.

Plus there’s some good right wing pornography in Tom Switzer’s Conservatives are no longer losing the culture wars.

One last piece of praise goes to Paul Kelly’s The defeat. Well done Paul! Top marks from me.

A book that is best read selectively.

1 comment:

Bill Kerr said...

Pearson's essay, which I agree is excellent, is online, here