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June 6, 2017 | by  | in Books | [ssba]


The clearest form of opinion in writing is the critique. The review. The essay.

Writers are biased critics. Critics will over-extend when they attempt to write. And university reviewers can make definitive statements six ways from Sunday, but honestly they’re flying by the seat of their pants.

Opinions about literature aren’t as cool as they used to be. People don’t read books anymore, they fidget spin (What are those?).

But this is university. The beating heart of a free society. This is where ideas put down in writing start to matter, because now you have the freedom to try them out. Which is why you have to be careful you don’t inhale too much fake news, or else you’ll pass out and wake up in The Hunger Games (I thought we had more time!).

Instead, read more, read widely, and read critically.

In recognition of this issue’s theme of “Opinion”, here are a number of hilarious and incisive critiques from writers and critics alike:


“This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.”

— Virginia Woolf


“The current memoir craze has fostered the belief that confession is therapeutic, that therapy is redemptive and that redemption equals art, and it has encouraged the delusion that candor, daring, and shamelessness are substitutes for craft, that the exposed life is the same thing as an examined one.”

— Michiko Kakutani


“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

— Dorothy Parker


“A good book is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, what human nature is, what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.”

— Susan Sontag


“What do we mean — it is a common term of praise — when we say that a book is ‘original’? Not, usually, that the writer has invented something without precedent, but that she has made us ‘perceive’ what we already, in a conceptual sense, ‘know’, by deviating from the conventional, habitual ways of representing reality. Defamiliarisation, in short, is another word for ‘originality’. I shall have to recourse to it again in these glances at the art of fiction.”

— David Lodge


“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”

— Henry Louis Gates Jr.


“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

— Christopher Hitchens


“I think of writing a poem as putting oneself in the moment, at the moment — an action more comprehensive, intuitive, and mysterious than mere thinking…”

— C.K. Stead


“A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.”

— Azar Nafisi


“We wouldn’t know that we are a multicultural society by looking at our literature. Māori writing has gained much more focus than it had previously, but there is still a lot missing. There is a lot missing from people of other backgrounds too. I think it would be good to be more proactive about encouraging writers from all sorts of backgrounds as New Zealanders, because until that happens, our literature is not whole, it is not showing fully who we are in this country.”

— Patricia Grace


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