Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 2, 2019

New Zealand Review of Books, Pukapuka Aotearoa

It’s been a while now since I subscribed to the ABR: I abandoned it because too often it was reviewing too many books by authors who weren’t Australian.  Since things might have changed since I last subscribed, I checked the contents of their current issue (Jun-Jul 2019) and found reviews of books by Jeanette Winterson (UK), Anand Giridharadas (US), Hal Brands and Charles Edel (US), Ted Chiang (US), Fernando Aramburu (Spain) and Toby Faber (UK).  Not a lot, perhaps, and they were outnumbered by books by Australian authors, but still, the inclusion of authors who get plenty of exposure in other publications means depriving seven Australian authors of much-needed space and exposure.  The ABR’s menu also lists categories of reviews across the arts, i.e. theatre, music, opera, film, visual arts, TV and games, and festivals.  Interesting, perhaps, but not books, which is what you might expect from a journal calling itself the Australian Book Review…

So I thought I’d share my thoughts about New Zealand Books, Pukapuka Aotearoa which is a quarterly review published with the support of Creative New Zealand. I picked up the Summer and Autumn editions for 2018 at the Auckland Writers Festival, and have been browsing them on and off ever since I got home.  It’s an impressive journal, entirely about Kiwi books…

Reviews vary in length, from one to two pages, and since it’s mainly NZ fiction that I’m interested in, I was pleased to see that novels get plenty of column space.  There were reviews of novels I’d reviewed myself, such as Patrick Evan’s Salt Picnic, Tina Makereti’s The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke and Catherine Chidgey’s The Beat of the Pendulum, plus those on my TBR such as C K Stead’s The Necessary Angel.  There were some books I hadn’t heard of or was hesitating over and have now added to my wishlist, such as Gone to Pegasus by Tess Redgrave, Amy Head’s Rotoroa, and Tess by Kirsten McDougall.  There were also a couple that I now know would not be to my taste!

I was also interested in a review of Maurice Gee’s memoir Memory Pieces because it impacts on his fiction (some of which I have on the TBR).

There was an amusing but pertinent piece called ‘Is the book launch dead?’ by Graeme Lay, and a droll account of a writer’s residency in an arctic cottage in Dunedin.  On the more serious side, there’s a thoughtful two-page spread by Tim Hazledine about the pre-conditions for demagoguery, a question also relevant to Australia and explored in a collections of essays called The Big Questions, What is New Zealand’s Future?  The review of a book by Gerald McGhie, Balancing Acts, Reflections of a former New Zealand diplomat intrigued me too: sometimes a good review can pique one’s interest even if one is unlikely ever to read the entire book, and this review was excellent.  A review of a book called After the Treaty also resonated because at the Auckland Writers Festival we had attended a session with one of the contributors, Vincent O’Malley.  He spoke authoritatively about the injustices of the New Zealand wars and how they have not been acknowledged—in much the same way that Australia refuses to acknowledge the frontier wars and the massacres of our Indigenous people.

So often, here in Melbourne, there are excellent public lectures by people of note, but for various reasons, I rarely get to them.  The NZB carries a review of a published lecture at Victoria University… it’s about art history at one end anchored by the appearance of the television in domestic living-rooms and the other by Facebook live-streaming in our pockets.  This lecture, by Christina Barton, has some challenging ideas about art history, arguing that no major scholarly work has been written on the role of television and its partner technologies, the video camera and later mobile phone, as signifiers and as sites of experimentation in New Zealand art since 1970.  The reviewer Melissa Laing isn’t entirely laudatory, which takes courage IMO in a small literary community.

Children’s and YA books are also treated seriously, with reviews of good length and perspicacity, and the ‘Bookshelf’ feature lists new releases across a variety of genres, including a couple that look very interesting indeed.

Most pleasing of all was the last article in the Summer edition which featured the book on which a museum exhibition was based.  Palmerston North has an excellent museum, and when we visited they had a display of WW1 print music and a video about one of their most prominent composers… no, not Alfred Hill, though his work was featured and you could listen to a recording of one of his patriotic songs, but Joy Wilhemina Taylor, who was a prolific composer and much loved at the time.  Good-bye Maoriland sounds like a lovely book, and I’ve added it to my wishlist as a book which offers a different slant on the history of the Great War, covering not just patriotic songs, but also songs of mourning as well as the contributions of dissenters and pacifists.

In the Autumn edition there was also a write-up of the results of a recent survey, which showed that not enough readers know about this terrific journal, and that readers typically want more reviews of their favourite genre.  (We’re a difficult lot to please, eh?) Well, I missed the survey because I was one of those who’d never heard of the journal, but now that I know about it, I’ll share my opinion, here:  This journal does exactly what it ought to do.  It provides a guide for readers of Kiwi books.  And it certainly made me want to buy quite a few books!

It costs $44NZD to subscribe, or $30 for the digital version. To subscribe, go to https://nzbooks.org.nz and see more on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nzreviewbooks/

 


Responses

  1. Thank you so much, Lisa, on behalf of the editors and board, for your superb piece about New Zealand Review of Books Pukapuka Aotearoa! (We changed the name late last year by adding ‘Review of’.) We’re delighted that you found it so useful and enjoyable.
    To subscribe, go to https://nzbooks.org.nz and see more on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nzreviewbooks/

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    • Hello Anne, you’re welcome! I’ll add those links about subscribing:)

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      • Thank you, that’s great! And I see the cover you posted was the one with the new name, so all good.

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  2. As a long-time subscriber to ABR I have expressed my disappointment with the predominance of US/English coverage over Australian, a number of times and am now just waiting for latest subscription to expire. It’s a while since I did more than just flick through but I would say that reviews of Australian books typically make up less than half the magazine. Good on NZ for getting right what we get wrong. Again!

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    • Yes, I told them what I thought prior to ditching the ABR too…
      It’s probably just a phase: Oz Lit seems to go through phases of being embarrassed about being ‘nationalistic’, sniping at the Miles Franklin for its requirement that books be about ‘Australian life in all its phases’ (which seems broad enough to me but still insistent that the books should tell *our* stories). Yet at the same time, the ABR’s international focus seems to suggest that we need *Australian* reviews of books from elsewhere, books which have already been reviewed in the NYT and The Guardian and The Paris Review etc.
      All I know is that I have heaps of private thanks from Australian authors and publishers thanking me for what I do, and while that’s nice, I think it’s a pity that the journal that should be supporting Australian publishing with proper professional reviewing, (and probably gets a grant to do it) is only half-hearted about it.

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  3. What a find and it sounds far more up your street than the ABR. By the way, what was the verdict on the question is the book launch dead?

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