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The Innocent Reader: Reflections on reading and writing (Debra Adelaide, Picador)

Debra Adelaide’s biblio-memoir is more of a collection of essays than a cohesive story of a literary life, and reading it as such can help mitigate some of the internal inconsistencies throughout the narrative. Adelaide’s extensive experience in the writing and publishing industry is evident and her argumentation frequently displays nuanced understanding of contemporary publishing concerns. However, the generalisation of her own experience often strays from that of the realities for emerging publishing professionals and overlooks the many precarities about the current publishing ecosystem. The first section of the book is the most enjoyable: lifelong readers will find themselves sinking in to the shared experience of reading everything and anything that comes to hand, and the magic of immersion into fictional worlds. The middle sections feel casually cruel as Adelaide undermines her own experience as a reader for pleasure by dismissing those writers and genres most often read for pleasure (Dan Brown, Tom Clancy and Fifty Shades of Grey are all name-checked specifically), and the inclusion of anecdotes about bad writing from students adds little except a vague sense of punching down. The section on Adelaide’s friend Pat and her love of dogs in books brings some personality to the narrative, and the final chapter—written in second person—provides a lovely invitation to the reader to consider their own biblio-life. Overall, The Innocent Reader is an indulgent but uneven read.

Kate Cuthbert is program manager at Writers Victoria


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