Book Review: The World’s Din: Listening to Records, Radio, and Films in New Zealand, 1880-1940, by Peter Hoar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_worlds_dinPeter Hoar provides us with a very worthwhile insight into the world of sound that emerged for New Zealanders as radio, musical record, and film sound was imported and adapted to local needs. This is nonetheless a partial insight, as it tries to convey in text, and illustrations, mostly a lost world of sound and entertainment forms. While it may only be a glimpse of what our forebears listened to, it remains a fascinating one.

The World’s Din is organised into three parts, based on: recorded technology and musical recordings; then radio technology, and the emergence of radio stations in between the wars; and finally a look at the musical accompaniment to the booming film and cinema industry. Hoar provides some context where necessary, and most of the text is placed within New Zealand social history, the key point being the way locals received the new technology from overseas, and adapted it in a cultural sense. This raises other cultural questions, such as with early commercial recordings of Maori singers. This was helpful to the performers, but they remained very much ‘cover’ versions.

Perhaps it is the chapters on the development of radio which include the most obvious evidence of local expertise, and perhaps of an enduring legacy. Interestingly, Hoar includes a chapter on ‘military radio’ and its influence on the later development of commercial radio after World War One. Not only does he remind us of characters such as Eric Battershill and Clive Drummond, who went from ham radio enthusiasts through the military, and then became commercial radio figures. But he also examines in detail how the early radio operators found life in remote places, whether that be on top of Tinakori Hill (in Wellington), or in the garrison captured from Germans in Samoa, in 1914. These chapters also have interesting archival photographs, including the raising of a large aerial radio mast on the Chatham Islands, and the operator of a radio set in the desert of Mesopotamia, who was enduring over 40 degrees of heat.

Back home, and after the war, there were also forgotten female pioneers in radio, such as Gwen Shepherd in Wellington. Her wedding was apparently broadcast live on 2YA in 1930, with a large crowd also in attendance at Old St. Pauls. Aunty Gwen, as she was known, was just as popular as the avuncular men who got into broadcasting between the wars, though none may have been as well known as Maud Basham (Aunt Daisy) in the post-war era. Hoar not only looks at the content ‘on’ the radio, and debates over musical styles, but also the role of the actual radio in interior design.

Towards the end there is more consideration of the broader cultural context. Although films became very popular over time, there is a sense in which some of the local flavour was lost, as accompanying music was supplanted by the ‘talkies’. And with the talkies came a particularly American form of entertainment, in a period in which the British influence was officially still predominant. It is always difficult to gauge the role of popular culture in historical events, in general, but this book indicates how the local and indigenous cultural forms are present and then perhaps quickly forgotten.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

The World’s Din: Listening to Records, Radio, and Films in New Zealand, 1880-1940 by Peter Hoar
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531199

Publishing buzz – links to the latest articles on publishing in New Zealand

The world seems to be abuzz at the moment about the state of publishing. As well as the standard cry of the change that e-books are wreaking on the publishing industry, here in New Zealand we have the issues created by online bookstores selling without requiring GST to be added to sales, and major publishers and distributors pulling out of their NZ bases.

And everybody is talking about it. So, instead of doing another big article ourselves – though we are aware that we are still lacking a good round-out of what has been happening with the educational publishing sector since Learning Media pulled out – here is a guide to what you may have missed in domestic, and some international media.

Firstly our own articles:

The future of New Zealand Publishing – Our feature writer Jillian Ewart wrote a great article about the future of New Zealand publishing, featuring Sam Elworthy talking about the challenges of the US market and how we are echoing this on a smaller scale and Lincoln Gould talking about the taking away of internationals and where this leaves the industry. Booksellers Mary Sangster, Rob Smith, CEO of PaperPlus and Peter Greenberg can all see smaller publishers stepping into the breach here in New Zealand, and Peter Dowling from Oratia Media backs this up.  Read on…

Children’s Trade Books in the NZ Market: the pulse is strong – After the first article was published, we had a lot of enquiries wondering – what about children’s publishing in New Zealand? Scholastic NZ remains one of our strongest trade publishers, with a list of 40-50 new titles each year. Random House and Penguin will continue to publish some children’s books, and Duck Creek Press and Gecko Press remain strong.  New Holland continues to publish in the nature books for children area as well.

New Zealand articles:

Is this the end for New Zealand publishing? – A weekend feature in the Dominion Post saw commentators talking about a new way of telling stories. Fergus Barrowman, Sam Elworthy, Finlay Macdonald, Lincoln Gould, Geoff Walker, Robbie Burton, Graham Beattie, Mary Varnham and Stephen Minchin all have a say, and this is a reasonably well-rounded view of the issues involved, and shows a commitment by our major players to carry on telling our own stories.

Ideas on Sunday morning, Radio NZ – Chris Laidlaw took publishing in NZ as his theme for a 45-minute chat last Sunday morning.  “Chris Laidlaw sits down to discuss the future of New Zealand publishing with Fergus Barrowman of Victoria University Press; Kevin Chapman who headed up Hachette NZ until it was closed earlier this year; and Melanie Laville-Moore of Allen and Unwin. Also, Jeremy talks to Tom Rennie of BWB about a new e-book series; and Peter Rigg, the co-owner of Nelson bookshop Page and Blackmore.”

NZ Herald Consumer-watch: Hardcopy books live on – “Sales of ebooks in New Zealand have exploded in the past six months, industry experts say, but the future of Kiwi books may lie with small, independent publishers.”


Books don’t want to be free – how publishing escaped the fate of other culture industries

Similarities of the Irish and New Zealand publishing industry – Gill takeover is a good news story

Article pulled together by Sarah Forster, Web Editor, Booksellers NZ

Book Review: The Curiosity, by Stephen Kiernan

I picked this book up for its cover quote fromcv_the_curiosity Justin Cronin (The Passage), and I’m pleased I did. It has been awhile since I read a book that engulfed me as much as The Curiosity did. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it, trying to guess at the main character’s next moves.

The Curiosity is told from several points of view. Dr Kate Philo is the lead scientist on an Arctic expedition. This expedition is bankrolled by the arrogant genius scientist Erastus Carthage, and the aim is to find ‘Hard Ice’, a type of ice that has previously yielded animal specimens that have proven to be able to be reanimated. Also on the ship is hack science and nature journalist Daniel Dixon.

Dr Philo and her team find a man frozen in the ice. They successfully extricate him, and the Lazarus Project is born. While the morality is questioned from day one, Carthage overrides everybody to ensure that reanimation takes place, and we are introduced gradually to Judge Jeremiah Rice, who died while on an Arctic exploration over 100 years before.

This book is a love story, but without the purple prose. It is a story of wonder, a story of intrigue, and a story of morality. Can they really bring somebody back from the dead for no reason other than to see if it can be done – and what responsibility do they then have to keep him alive? What is the best way to utilise the science, and at what point can they say ‘Subject One’ will stay alive, and thus open the floodgates for the cryogenics industry to walk through?

Author Stephen Kiernan deals well with keeping his story anchored without going overboard in any direction.  Love, science and story are all well-balanced, for the most part. There were a few points that I thought should have been explored more thoroughly, particularly finding the judge’s living descendants – he became an instant celebrity, and the press hounded him without uncovering anything new. While we are acquainted with a possible family member, this is never explored.

I think this book is going to strike a chord with a lot of readers. It is an ably-written story with enough conspiracy theory in it to make the reader want to stay ahead of the play, while having a gently-handled love story underpinning it, and a fascinating unreliable narrator in the person of the vilified genius Carthage. I think it has several of the elements that drew people to The Da Vinci Code, but the writing is stronger.

I look forward to reading more fiction from Stephen Kiernan.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster (Booksellers NZ)

The Curiosity
by Stephen Kiernan
Published by John Murray (Hachette)
ISBN 9781848548763