The Innocent Reader by Debra Adelaide

Debra Adelaide’s collected essays offer forthright insight on living alongside books.

‘Book reviewers might flatter themselves that their critical words make a difference, but if they do then it is not a difference felt by the author.’ Debra Adelaide’s thoughts on reviewers in the essay titled The Front Line in this collection, are best read in conjunction with her thoughts on a long career as book reviewer, best-selling writer and creative writing teacher. The words are not intended to dismiss the work that book reviewers do; rather they lead to her insightful and forthright reflections on being both reviewer and reviewee.

The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing is a collection of fourteen essays divided into three sections, Reading, Writing, and Reader + Writer. Together they describe a lifetime of the importance of books in shaping the life of a writer. Debra Adelaide says her reading and writing life has been ‘ad hoc and unplanned’ but these essays are proof that the intelligence that illuminates her writing is anything but ad hoc. From her reflections on hearing of the death of Thea Astley at the same time she learned of her son’s cancer diagnosis, to her response to coping with the news because ‘there was quite simply no alternative,’ these essays (for this reader-reviewer) provide glimpses of familiar aches, joys and lives lived alongside books. There was always a writer and a book who arrived ‘at the right time’ at various conflicting points in my life, and I can agree entirely with the notion that books make the mostly unbearable, slightly bearable.

In an essay about the process she follows in her own writing, Adelaide pays homage to the writers she loves. Describing her deep love for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and the unanswered questions about mothers that it evokes, Adelaide says she wrote her own novel The Women’s Pages to interrogate the mystery of absent mothers, and the gaps in the stories of ordinary women in her favourite novel. In another essay she speaks of holding ideas in her head ‘like a migraine’ until the time is right for that idea to become a novel. Quoting novelist Ann Patchett, Adelaide explains that the process of writing down an idea is similar to committing murder because the ‘grim’ act of creation also necessitates destruction.

In Alberto Manguel’s excellent book about books, A Reading Diary, he describes reading as a conversation as well as a ‘comfortable, solitary, slow and sensuous task.’ Reading Debra Adelaide reminded me of the importance of slow reading, of revisiting favourite writers, of desiring yet resisting those visitations, and all those peculiar solitary habits of readers everywhere. As a testament to the consolations of reading, this collection resonated with me and inspired me to re-read some old favourites with new insights.

5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading & Writing by Debra Adelaide
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781760784355
Format: Paperback
Categories: Biography & True Stories | Australian | Creative Writing
Pages: 257
Release Date: October 2019

Rashida Murphy
About the Author
Rashida Murphy is a Perth based writer and reviewer. For more information visit her website.