Book Review: Sport 45, edited by Fergus Barrowman, Kirsten McDougall and Ashleigh Young

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sport_45Sport 45 is packed with an array of new and brilliant pieces from New Zealand writers. There’s poetry, there’s essays, there’s even a novella. It’s a collection that’s not afraid to widen its scope, and this is how it provides a wonderful snapshot of new writing.

While reading through each piece of short fiction, I couldn’t help but recognise common themes. I discovered many characters who were estranged, isolated, alone. I saw the loneliness of waiting, as reflected in Tracey Slaughter’s story ‘Cicada Motel’. I stumbled through the bush with Kerwin in John Summers’ short story ‘Own Shadow’, as he tried to understand what was haunting him.

But the dynamic between characters also spoke volumes. Displaced in new and unfamiliar places, characters were left to try and make sense of each other. In Melissa Day Reid’s short story ‘I Will Come and Find You’, a husband and wife have travelled to Barcelona on a whim. They have also decided to abandon planning for spontaneity instead. Reid portrays Barcelona in a wonderful dream-like way; she describes a snapshot image of ‘arm, neck, lips, ear, tears, drums, and firecrackers’. But shifts in dialogue reveal a growing rift between this husband and wife. In fact, the two seem to be talking on top of each other. The wife points out a candlelit room in a building; her husband sees an alleyway below it and starts making his way there instead. As the story progresses, this rift widens. The piece seems to capture the natural but inevitable drift that sometimes takes place in friendships and relationships. It’s a palpable and bittersweet emptiness. And in this story, Reid explores whether this rift can be stitched up again.

Nicole Phillipson’s novella, ‘Moulin d’Ornes’ touches upon these estranged themes as well. Paul travels to a commune in France, intending to get away from the world so he can write. It’s a quiet setting where ‘the old, grand beauty of Europe… made his memories of New Zealand seem slightly cheap.’ In her novella, Phillipson highlights an interesting advantage to moving away: the delight of cutting away old connections.

A few essays also slipped in next to these pieces of fiction, taking their place comfortably amongst other genres. Giovanni Tiso’s essay ‘Before the Earthquake’ is one of these essays. Tiso describes the possible calamities that could occur if a serious earthquake were to hit Wellington. But he also describes the emotional state that Wellington is already living in because of this possible earthquake. Wellington’s next serious earthquake is not an if, but a when. As Tiso states, ‘we live before the earthquake. Everything around us is foreshadowing’.

There is also an array of beautiful poems in Sport 45. Helen Heath’s poem ‘A Rise of Starlings’ is delightful; she beautifully weaves the image of ‘wild celestial fields’ and messages traced ‘in particles of dust and light’. Natalie Morrison’s poem ‘Three edible grandmothers’ is a peculiar and whimsical little piece that sounds like it came from a fairy tale.

Overall, Sport 45 is a delightful instalment of this annual magazine, and there are a variety of pieces that provoke wonder and rumination.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Sport 45
edited by Fergus Barrowman, Kirsten McDougall and Ashleigh Young
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561995

 

Book Review: Tell You What: 2017, edited by Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tell_you_what_2017This third AUP collection of ‘Great New Zealand Nonfiction’ was an engaging summer read, and may even turn out to be the best such compilation. Through a miscellany of styles and themes, patterns emerge, just like little ripples in a swimming pool, or batting statistics in test cricket history. At first it was a useful read during the slower periods in the recent Basin Reserve test match. But as the cricket got more exciting, and the injuries more serious, I realised that the essays demanded greater concentration.

Personal narrative and in-depth history are woven into everything from slave runs in 17th century Iceland and the 19th century Marlborough Sounds, to the previously unknown story of a Muslim immigrant herbalist, and a 1960s case of arsenic poisoning. Seriously obscure literary texts and pop culture kitsch from the 1970s form the background to tales of gendered angst. There are also some good selections from more mainstream journalism and essay subjects.

Giovanni Tiso makes a very good point about the assumptions of policy reformers over the course of a century when it comes to the spending habits of the poor. And Dylan Cleaver’s piece from the NZ Herald brings new life to the odd world of pigeon racing. There are also important and contrasting takes on the role of Maori protocol and sense of whakapapa in a number of the selections, some in specific cultural contexts, and others in the more complex considerations involved in the wreck of the Rena, or purchase of the Awaroa inlet. Talia Marshall’s treatment of the latter is both grammatically and thematically challenging, covers a whole sweep of Maori and colonial history, and also notes the loss of bird life in the Abel Tasman national park. Like a number of the authors, she questions our sense of place.

The main theme that emerges in this collection is the struggle for understanding between parents and children over time, including how to overcome a denial of family history. Toni Nealie’s ‘Bequeathed’ is a very structured piece that draws together her very fragmented family history, and focuses on lost grandparents, the complications of their ‘mixed race’ marriage, and the role of particular inherited items in creating meaning where memory had been shunned. The pain of maternal death and its implications are examined in Ashleigh Young’s ‘Anemone’, as she describes the journey to London to help her brother and nephew cope with the suicide of her sister-in-law. Young’s brother’s reaction is similar to that of a sea anemone; and her nephew finds an explanation in the intricacies of something called Minecraft. But Young herself can’t quite fathom the situation, or even use the word suicide.

Equally challenging, and somehow unfathomable, Tracey Slaughter’s account of her childhood in ‘Ashdown Place’, and the life changing effects of a swimming pool being installed. It becomes the venue for tawdry adult parties, what is now called ‘swinging’, and the seeds of permanent splits and reallocation of partners. Slaughter’s description of the cultural artefacts and reference points of the time are evocative in the extreme, at least for those also growing up in the ‘70s. And her final paragraph, where she recounts the seedy morning afters, as the child within returns to the swimming pool for a contemplative paddle, is sublime. But for all its literary merit I found myself troubled by this one, and the part where she suggests that the explanation is sociological – couples who married too young discarded their sexual mores in the heat of summer, but otherwise remained suburban conservatives. Perhaps infidelity was re-invented in the 1970s.

With that point made, Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood have done a fantastic job in compiling these essays. 2016 was also a good year for non-fiction writing if nothing else.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Tell You What: 2017
by Susanna Andrew & Jolisa Gracewood (eds)
Auckland University Press
ISBN  9781869408602

 

Book Review: Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dont_dream_its_overThe title for this collaborative book of essays and insights, borrowed from the Crowded House song, “Don’t Dream it’s Over”, is apposite and timely. From the song there is the line “…they come to build a wall between us…”. If we took that literally with regard to journalism, applied to the commercial model for media, it seems that the quality product will soon be found behind a paywall; and the mass media will not provide anything in the way of investigative reporting in the future. The contributors to this book  make it abundantly clear that long-form print journalism is on the wane, and, in any case, the whole future of the print media itself is in doubt.

A lot has already been written about this demise, however, and though covered here the real insights are into the specific role of New Zealand journalism. We like to think of Crowded House as a New Zealand institution, but do we similarly think of any of the local media with this level of esteem? Other than the regard shown for public broadcasting on radio, in the form of RNZ, one’s reaction to the essays in general is to ask what is worth saving in the commercial media? And does it actually matter? Those of us who do listen to RNZ for much of the morning and early evening are still well informed, by and large, and can then pick and choose what to read or view from the commercial outlets. But even then, RNZ can be challenged for its content, as some of the contributors do, on the basis of a deficit in their indigenous and Pacific stories.

Industry insiders, such as Brent Edwards, do concede that there has been a loss of trust between the audience and the media, and he is particularly critical of political coverage. RNZ is actually the only media outlet that covers the proceedings of Parliament, while all the rest of the Press Gallery simply focus on the game of politics without any substance of policymaking. I suggest that the so-called ‘political editors’ don’t actually report anything, but simply provide an insider commentary. Morgan Godfery provides a brilliant chapter ‘Against political commentary’, where he wrestles with his own involvement as a commentator, and trappings of the elite company he has kept. He refers to the idea of ‘savvy commentary’, and the narrow demographic background of commentators creating a hermetically sealed world. He refers to the odd premise that this perpetuates: “a belief that political progress comes from pragmatic insiders who know how to manoeuvre within the system…” With his critique in mind, we should also note how partisan most of the broadcasters have become, even though the media insiders refer to certain examples to counter this.

The book’s editors point to the release of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics as a catalyst for the collection, and contributors refer to the innovative use of the Panama Papers as a counter-example, whereby the government was held to account. Hager has his own chapter in the book, and the Panama Papers are mentioned a number of times, including in Peter Griffin’s essay on New Zealand’s fledgling data journalism ‘scene’. Griffin’s title is ‘Needles in the haystack’, but it might as well have been ‘Missing the wood for the trees’. This is because none of the contributors note that without the release of the Panama Papers as an international story, and with the New Zealand stories actually coming out of the Australian Financial Review, we would never have known that there was a tax haven operating in New Zealand. The local media seem to think that they are responsible for exposing this, and creating policy change, though nothing has actually happened yet to close the tax haven down. In fact, certain business reporters were aware of the trust law and the related industry, that is the basis for the tax haven. These are the same couple of reporters that noted that John Key’s agenda for an ‘international financial hub’ came to grief a few years ago. There is no mention at all of business reporting in this book, and its role in providing expert analysis of economic issues, even when it is still ideologically aligned to the right.

But, overall, the Freerange Press has done a great job with this book, and every chapter is worthwhile. Peter Arnett provides a foreword, and reflects on his being a foreign correspondent in Vietnam, something of a high point for the international press. There is also a chapter on the views of some journalism students, and, perhaps not surprisingly, they almost all want to work for major international broadcasters, other than the one who is happy to find a job at RNZ. The book has some very good design features, and some impressive motifs for each chapter heading, and the ‘tags’ at the end of the book. The ‘tags’ appear in place of a conventional index, which may, however, have been of some use given the length of the text. There is even a chapter that discusses the role of design in the digital age, which adds another dimension.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand
edited by Emma Johnson, Giovanni Tiso, Sarah Illingworth and Barnaby Bennett
Published by Freerange Press
ISBN 9780473364946

WORD: The Spinoff After Dark: Toby Manhire, Alex Casey and Duncan Greive

Event_The-Spinoff-after-DarkI arrived at this session in a bit of daze, having had my head exploded by Hear My Voice, two hours of incendiary poetry and storytelling from a group of WORD Christchurch’s most outspoken writers. One of my favourite things about literary festivals is discovering new writers to love, both from Aotearoa and overseas, and at Hear My Voice I found three: Sophie Rea, Daisy Speaks, and Ivan E. Coyote. As well as being wonderful writers they were also exceptional performers. Catch them if you can.

The Spinoff After Dark was a very relaxed session – and a good thing too, because by this point in the day after Busted, Speaking Out and Hear My Voice, I was in danger of Feelings Overload. Toby Manhire, Alex Casey, and Duncan Greive from The Spinoff sat with some mics in a cafe and nattered to us. They did mini-interviews, which were quite fun, starting with comedy writer Steve Hely: “Everything I know about Max Key, I learned from Alex Casey”. I’m not sure why they were talking about Max Key, or why Casey had been emailing Hely so much information about him: one of the downsides of this session is that it assumed a lot of shared knowledge on the part of the audience (which I didn’t always have), and relied often on in-jokes. But the participants were quick-witted and the mood good-humoured, so it was generally entertaining.

The second guest hauled out of the audience was WORD Literary Director Rachael King. Casey was asking everyone who their Fight for Life opponent would be: it had to be someone equivalent in your field. King chose Auckland Writers Festival Director Anne O’Brien: “I lift weights, so she’d be down in the first round.” (Hely had chosen Max Key.)

The third guest was Joe Bennett, but I’m afraid I can’t report on what he said because all it says in my notes is “wow, Joe Bennett is really goddam annoying”. I think he said he would fight Steve Braunias.

Next up was author Paula Morris. She reported on her travels in Latvia, where you have to go everywhere by bus and it’s really hot on the buses, but people get annoyed with you if you take off your coat. “That’s just one of the many interesting things I know and it’s why travel is important.” She would fight Selina Tusitala Marsh, because she’s weak from where Morris pulled Marsh’s neck muscle while brushing her hair.

The fifth interviewee was illustrator Toby Morris (no relation to Paula); the other half (with Manhire) of ‘The Pencilsword‘. They spoke about the trials of being called Toby. Morris said his father-in-law referred to him as Tony in his speech at his (Toby’s) (I mean Morris) (Toby Morris not Paula) (god, sorry) wedding. He would fight Sam Scott from the Phoenix Foundation.

Then RNZ producer Mark Cubey was called to the stage. He said he was amazed there aren’t more Spinoffs: fantastic, fun, crazy, good websites. In fact, he said, “I think there’s room for a spinoff of The Spinoff, you could call it The Spunoff.” Greive looked horrified. “No one do that!”

Manhire then invited celebrated journalist Rebecca Macfie to come up and be mini-interviewed. This was a complete surprise to her and it took Manhire a while to persuade her. “I’m totally unfunny, I’m the wrong person to be doing this,” Macfie warned. Manhire asked her whether Pike River was over. “Shit no. How can it be finished when there’s no accountability, no bodies, no justice.” Hear, hear.

The final guest was blogger Giovanni Tiso. He was asked how come he’s so good at blogging when English is his second language, after Italian. He said “writing is a second language anyway. You are taught rhetoric if you’re taught well at school.” (I think Italian schools must be better than ours because I don’t remember being taught that?). Casey was asking everyone what they snacked on while writing. He said he writes his blogs on Monday nights so there are no snacks (cue much consternation). He would fight Karl du Fresne.

The panel then answered questions people had tweeted in, and from the audience. Greive on sports journalism: “Everyone got into bad habits a hundred years ago and that’s why a lot of things are bad.” Casey on The Bachelor: “When you apply an international franchise here you see the weirdness of New Zealand, and that’s why I like it”. She ghostwrote the text of Jamie Curry’s (heavily illustrated) book in a couple of days.

Eventually the panellists resorted to interviewing each other. Manhire would fight Duncan Garner. Greive would fight Marcus Stickley because The Wireless won best website at the Canon media awards, and “I will probably carry that resentment to my grave”. Casey does not recommend K Bar chocolate.

I wanted to tell Casey how much I admired her outspokenly feminist work at The Spinoff but such earnestness seemed out of place in amongst light-hearted discussion of snacks. I confined myself to live-tweeting and wine. Bring on WORD Sunday!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

The Spinoff After Dark
with Toby Manhire, Alex Casey and Duncan Greive

Alex Casey appears today in:
The Great Divide?, Sun 28 Aug, 3.30pm

Toby Manhire appears today in:
Giving Them Hell: Political Cartoons
, (Chair) Sun 28 Aug, 2pm

Duncan Greive appears today in:
Reimagining Journalism, Sun 28 Aug, 5pm

 

Extraordinary Anywhere, Edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey

cv_extraordinary_anywhereAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

We all have our own idea of the meaning of ‘Place’, whether it is our house, or home town – or even a page in a book, or seat in the theatre. Victoria University Press has published this collection of seventeen essays, all of which offer glimpses into where we are now in New Zealand in the 21st Century.

This collection of personal essays, a first of its kind, re-imagines the idea of place for an emerging generation of readers and writers.

It was while the editors were on a road trip, and stopped for a break at Paekakariki that the idea for the book began. As the book states, “The writers are interested in the obsession, fascination, wonder and often intense unease experienced in relation to particular spots in this country. They are interested in how lives are actually lived in very specific places and how these lives – and places – have changed over time.”

The collection is divided into three parts. The first, ‘Any Place might be extraordinary if only we knew it’, focuses on a single location. In the second section, ‘You take place with you as you go on’, we read stories of mobility and the reasons why people migrate to different areas in the country. And the third section, ‘The meshing of thought and world’, wrestles with how global issues and modern technology influence place.

“In the final essay Tim Corballis seeks to negotiate how we might live in the complexity of new places, suggesting that we need to hold on to at least two perspectives: a local individual view…. ,: but also a larger perspective, one that might include an image of the whole Earth, for example, and imaging of place adequate to confront climate change.”

As well as editors Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey, contributors include Tony Ballantyne, Martin Edmond, Tina Makereti, Giovanni Tiso, Ian Wedde, Ashleigh Young, and more.

Jo Bailey and Anna Brown have designed an intriguing dust cover for this paperback book which deserves to be studied as it adds a visual dimension to the publication.

Extraordinary Anywhere needs to be devoured slowly as the essays are all vastly different in style and content, reflecting the diversity of our place, Aotearoa-New Zealand and the World. There is something in this book for everyone, and I particularly enjoyed the essays about places I was familiar.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Extraordinary Anywhere- Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand
Edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560707

The Diversity Debate: Victor Rodger, Marlon James & Stephanie Johnson at #AWF16

Image

This was my last session of the 2016 Auckland Writers Festival and it was a really lively note to end on. Paula Morris chaired a panel debate on diversity with Victor Rodger, Marlon James and Stephanie Johnson that addressed important issues with good humour, energy and intellectual rigour.

pp_victor_rodgerRodger (right) is a Kiwi-Samoan playwright and screenwriter who has worked on Shortland Street, where he was always the only Pacific Islander in the writing room. He says nothing will change until there is diversity at the top levels of management. “Three of my least favourite words are level, playing, and field.” He agrees that NZ literature is too white: Pacific Island writers embrace poetry and film, but not novels so much. Rodger also sees problems with white writers creating Māori and Pacific Island characters, and in the ways these works are reviewed: “I see a lot of free passes being given across all art forms”. He told the story of a play he wrote that was criticised by a Pākehā reviewer for not having enough swearing in it: they hadn’t realised the swearing was all in Samoan.

marlon_jamesJames is a Jamaican novelist living in the US who recently won the Man Booker Prize. On the subject of writing ‘the other’ (although he has problems with that term), he says he encourages his creative writing students to do the work and try it: “90% of you are going to fail but do it anyway”. He said wryly that he’d recently given up appearing on diversity panels and is sick of talking about identity. He doesn’t like the word ‘diversity’ because it has no emotional weight. It’s like ‘tolerance’. We need to move beyond just having multiculturalism to loving it: “diversity is a sign you’re doing something right … diversity is an outcome we mistake for a goal”.

Morris brought up the problem NZ writers have of trying to get their work read overseas, and this led to an interesting discussion of whether to make the setting of one’s work as generic as possible, in order to attract an international audience. Rodger said “the more specific we make our writing, the more universal it is”.

stephanie_johnsonJohnson (right) is a Pākehā writer and founding trustee of the Auckland Writers Festival. On the topic of reviewing, she said “the reviewing situation in New Zealand is diabolical and getting worse”, with reviewers being paid so little and space for book reviewing in mainstream media shrinking. I think there are signs of hope, though – I was reminded of Giovanni Tiso in the Column Inches session talking about how blogs are taking up the arts criticism slack (see the Booksellers NZ list of NZ book blogs). And in How To Review A Book, David Eggleton reminded us that Landfall and Landfall Review Online (which he edits) pay their writers, and invited everyone to send him their reviews.

The award for Best Audience Question has to go to a man who approached the mic at the end of the panel discussion and said, “I’m a gay disabled polyamorous white man – you may have to google that … why in 2016 is a panel on diversity so narrow in content?” Riotous applause. Morris acknowledged his excellent point, saying they could easily have had a diversity panel discussion every day of the festival focusing on different aspects.

After the session ended I felt a little lost. It was my fifth Auckland Writers Festival session in a row that day, and now all of a sudden it was over. I hung about a bit and chatted to some booksellers and festival staff. Sales of both tickets and books had been really strong (hooray!). Everyone looked tired and happy. People had met their heroes, stumbled across works of genius, heard extraordinary ideas spoken and sung to them. Questions has been asked and answered, persuasive conversations had changed the shape of people’s minds. We had stood in queues and smiled at each other.

So, thank you. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make the festival happen (and kia ora to Rachel who runs the AWF Twitter!). Thank you to all the writers and artists and speakers. Thank you to my fellow reviewers, in particular my editor Sarah Forster. Thank you to David Eggleton for his How To Review A Book session, which helped me think about my own reviewing in a more nuanced way. And a special thank you to David Larsen, who attended more AWF sessions than I thought it was possible for one human to handle. (“You don’t need a break! Come on, stay for Paul Muldoon!”) It was a pleasure to sit with him in the middle of the front row, and an honour to have all those conversations between sessions on what had just happened and what we thought about it. Steve Braunias called Larsen’s column on day one of AWF , Drunk on Information, the greatest writers festival blog he’d ever read. I think there might just be a bit of hope for professional arts criticism in Aotearoa after all.

Attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage
www.elizabethheritage.co.nz
Here on Twitter.

Check out the other reviews by Elizabeth, Claire Mabey, Matthias Metzler and Felicity Murray (and myself) of sessions during the 2016 Auckland Writers Festival.

Column Inches, then How to Review a Book at #AWF16

I’m suffering a little bit from review-ception (reviewing the reviewer who reviews reviewing…) so please bear with me as I try to stop analysing the fact that, in the act of typing, I’m creating digital content for free and thus participating in the democratisation of information and/or helping destroy the essential watchdog function that the media performs in civil society. And doing this, while also giving a knee-jerk reaction to book-related events that occurred earlier today and thus possibly not making best use of my critical judgement, while also both publishing on and absorbing information from Twitter, that scourge of reasoned debate, that echo chamber of the chattering elite, that reason-we-have-that-dreadful-Trump!

With all of these topics in the spotlight of my brain, it’s very difficult to actually write anything down. Somebody famous (maybe I should google it, being a digital native and all) said that all writing is political, and, having just reveled in the wonderful Spirit House, Foreign Soil event with Tusiata Avia and Maxine Beneba-Clarke, I’m particularly conscious that I’m a Pakeha critic participating in a literary festival that is attended overwhelmingly by white, middle-aged women. As Avia said, we’re in the biggest Polynesian city in the world, yet just look around the room.


Let me try to rein myself in a bit. As ex-NZ Herald chief Tim Murphy (@tmurphyNZ) asked, is opinion drowning out the news? Presumably what you want is the facts of today’s sessions: except, do you? David Fisher (senior reporter at the NZ Herald) says there’s a board in the Herald newsroom with live metrics from the Herald website. “There’s a massive upswing between 9am and 5pm with an average engagement of 30 seconds.” He attributes this to readers wanting a “brain-break” during the working day. They’re mostly following the more clickbait-y headlines – sorry, “the content readers appreciate” – for lots of coverage of The Bachelor etc. In the evening, though, that’s when the long-form pieces of journalism are published, because that’s when they’re read. The lesson, said Fisher, is that people want entertainment when they’re on their boss’s time and something more in-depth on their own. So I guess it partly depends what time of day you’re reading this, as to whether you want the bare facts of who said what at the festival, the salacious detail (at the book reviewing workshop, David Eggleton said the NZ Listener is a shadow of its former self! – you’ll never believe what happened next!), or an in-depth critical evaluation. Perhaps Tweet me and let me know?!

Column Inches was my first session today. The Limelight room was packed out – people standing at the back – to hear Murphy and Fisher discuss the current state of NZ journalism with ex-journo  Janet Wilson and political blogger Giovanni Tiso. Grateful thanks to the festival usher who, impressed by my yellow Booksellers NZ media pass, placed me at one of the tables in the front with the festival patrons. This must be how famous people feel!

It was an interesting session, not least because the mood of (most of) the panel seemed to be at odds with that of (most of) the crowd. The crowd seemed to be in a proper isn’t-it-dreadful, finger-wagging, hand-wringing state. The decline of newspapers! The rubbish on the internet! The death of proper journalism! The youths with their Facebooks and their smartphones, and so on. It reminded me of The State of America session yesterday, when we came not to explain Trump but to deride him.

Wilson was going for the populist vote, as it were, by pandering to this element of the audience. “Opinion is drowning out journalism because it’s cheap and easy to produce … what we’re getting now is opinionist fact … the merger [of Fairfax and NZME] is happening because neither organisation has tried hard enough … no one’s actually on Twitter but it still gets reported”. Hear, hear, grumbled the audience. Fisher tried to talk about the ways in which the Herald is using information from website use to inform the ways they publish the news. Wilson hates metrics (a popular comment.) I assume she meant that she understandably hates the idea of the news being driven only by what is popular instead of by what needs to be said, but she came across as being against analysing reader behaviour.

I would have liked to have heard much more from Tiso, Murphy and Fisher about their ideas for the way forward. The time for wishing people would buy newspapers is past. The time for creative solutions to protect the role of journalism in a democracy is very much here. The idea of a tax on broadband to fund investigative journalism was mooted, but the discussion moved swiftly back to Twitter-bashing. I took notes on my laptop, Twitter defiantly open in a browser window next door. I sent several Tweets about the session. That’ll show them.

Time for a quick coffee and a chat with fellow Booksellers NZ festival blogger Claire Mabey and then I was back in, for a book reviewing workshop run by Ockham award-winning poet David Eggleton. It was a funny old session, neither a lesson (despite the list of Latin words on the whiteboard) nor a lecture nor, really, a workshop. Instead it was a discussion of various aspects of book reviewing: its purposes, ethics, limitations and craft. I found it very interesting, but I gather from the increasingly exasperated questions from fellow attendees (“so, when you’re writing a book review, how do you actually start and what do you actually write?”) that not everyone’s expectations had been met.

Eggleton’s philosophy is that book reviews should strive towards honesty, generosity, and clarity. They should inform and entertain, sure, but the critic should think hard about what level of informing is appropriate, and entertaining the reader should not come at the expense of the book. This prompted an indignant rant from a man in the front row with a rather lovely southern US accent – there’s this woman in the New York Review of Books! And she’s really mean to some authors! And she even includes plot spoilers! It was a magnificent rant and I’m sorry I didn’t take more detailed notes. At one point he definitely used the word “shenanigans” in all seriousness. It’s a shame too that I missed the name of the reviewer because of course I now want to read all her reviews. The appeal of the really passionate hatchet job cannot be denied.


Near the end of the session, Eggleton (left) read us a review he had written sometime in the 90s. It was published in a newspaper (you know, before they died) and reviewed a book of NZ short stories. He read the entire piece aloud and then, well, then reviewed it – at which point the review-ception in my brain reached some kind of critical tipping point.

Eggleton was also very hot on editing one’s own reviews, especially with an eye to removing repetition, so I’ve obediently been reading over what I’ve just written and trying to make sure that the same words don’t appear too many times in a paragraph. I hope I have informed you to the appropriate level and entertained you without disrespecting our community. If you feel really strongly, I’m at @e_heritage on Twitter.

Events attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage