Published on December 11th, 2015 | by Booknotes Administrator0
Favourite books of 2015
The New Zealand Book Council presents a round-up of New Zealand booklovers’ best reads of the year. A selection of writers and other booky people talk about the books they couldn’t put down.
Novelist, literary critic, poet, essayist and emeritus professor of English of the University of Auckland
I’ve been reading recent and soon to be released collections from Auckland University Press. There is one, Otherwise, by the Victoria University chaplain, John Dennison, whose work was first urged upon me by Michael Schmidt of Carcanet, his publisher in the U.K. Dennison is a poet whose language is gritty, knotty, chewy… do any of those words convey the sense of language that is perfectly serviceable and intelligible, but reading it you feel you’re working at it, because it has been worked at? Not laboured, but not let off lightly either. And the poem he calls ‘Psalm’ about the child lost wearing her ballet clothes, is utterly charming.
Then there’s Lynn Jenner’s Lost and Gone Away, whose pithy narratives demonstrate how prose can be ‘poetry’ simply by economy and sly wit. The story about the lost diamond ring is so narrowly focused and yet gave me a broader sense of what the Christchurch earthquake experience was ‘like’ (as we say) than I think anything else I’ve read.
Murray Edmond’s new poems, Shaggy Magpie Songs, with section headings Praise, Nonsense, Blues and Rock, have a feel of theatre about them – as you’d expect; a touch of Bert Brecht with rum and rhyming, calling for a Kurt Weill to complete.
And there’s The Blue Voyage, a new collection coming from Anne French (what male poetry-reader in NZ in 1988 didn’t feel the sting of her observations in The Male as Evader?) This is her fourth collection since, and reveals such a consistent and intelligent talent, with a softer touch, perhaps, but no less precise – exact and exacting!
Other poetic pleasures to be looked forward to: a visit from Fleur Adcock coming for the celebration of sister Marilyn Duckworth’s 80th birthday. And a large (650 pages) biography of Ted Hughes by Jonathan Bate, best known as an expert on Shakespeare. This is a book I expect will send me back again and again to Hughes Collected Poems and the roller-coaster ride they give me. On an early page Bate puts Hughes and Wordsworth together and asks, ‘Of what other poets does one find oneself saying so frequently, “How can someone so good be so bad?”’
Not just hagiography then, but ‘lit crit’ – discriminations. Good!
Much-celebrated writer of fiction for adults and children
These days the critic gets in the way of reading and I tend to give up on books that are poorly presented. An American teacher gave me her copy of Fifty Shades of Grey assuring me that I would like it. I persevered for about 50 pages and then left it in an airport bin. The teacher was young; but for me the book was an insult to literature – someone re-inventing the wheel with third rate materials. There were, however, some good reads and I choose three, two from our own writers.
Now You Know by Michael Fitzsimons with photos by Philip Birch
These finely crafted poems give radiance to simple domestic scenes. Here are some lines from “Dream Lovers”:
We are inches apart./eyes opening at the same/ split of a second./ Two furless creatures stirring./ I feel her warm breath./
“You again,” she says.
Teddy One-Eye: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear by Gavin Bishop
A delicious book for children of all ages. Gavin has cleverly woven several themes into a story that can be read at different levels. Children will identify with the bear, and adults will smile at the lightly laid inferences.
Nora Webster a novel by Colm Toibin.
Irish writers have a way with the English language, that makes the bleak sound lyrical. In this story, however, the darkness serves the light. Like Flaubert, Colm Toibin is a man who can create authentic female characters.I loved this book.
Writer of fiction, poetry, and theoretical writing, and a New Zealand Book Council patron
Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English edited by Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan
A massive, multi-levelled and perceptive anthology of poetry in English by Māori poets. It starts with the pioneering poetry of Āpirana Ngata to established poets such as Hone Tūwhare and Jaquie Sturm, and to the extremely rich and varied poetry of the present generation of Māori poets. It sings, protests, laments, dances, hums, and celebrates what it is to be alive. And Māori.
Waitapu by Helen Margaret Waaka
Unpretentious, sensitive, accessible, this collection of inter-related short stories brings into your emotional world the imaginary community of Waitapu, with its varied and compelling characters trying to navigate and survive the sometimes harrowing circumstances their lives present. Waitapu will live with me for a long time.
The Party Line by Sue Orr
Our literature has a long tradition of fiction about rural life and farming. This novel, set in the 70s, takes the rural novel and changes it, giving it deeper psychological depths, understanding, and daring. It is a dark, honest examination of what an enclosed, narrow-minded community can do to its members. And what happens when a few – in this case teenage girls – decide to rebel against it. A riveting read.
Writer, Man Booker longlistee
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
I read this short novel at the beginning of the year and have thought about it frequently since. It’s a three-part investigation of family, desire, mental illness and eating meat, amongst other things. The prose is elegant and wonderfully chilling.
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
The Year of the Runaways traces the stories of four young Indian migrants living in Sheffield. It’s compelling, and often page-turningly fast paced. What has stuck with me, though, isn’t just the breadth of its storytelling but its honesty. Sahota’s integrity is everywhere in the novel, shaping the patience and calm of the prose as much as its urgency.
I had a university lecturer who used to talk about the excitement he and his friends would feel when Ted Hughes had a new collection coming out. I didn’t quite get it at the time, but now I do, as it’s the sort of excitement I felt about the release of SJB’s new volume. Instant essential reading. I don’t think there are many other poets in NZ who are writing with such consistent acuity and determination.
Prize-winning poet and fiction writer
The American poet and critic Lesley Wheeler was a Fulbright visitor to New Zealand back in 2011, and her new book of poems, Radioland, begins with a powerful group of poems, ‘Breaking News’, which come from that time and respond especially to the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake. There are other natural disasters in the book, and some human ones, too – with, as the title suggests, a focus on the difficult business of transmitting how we think and feel. The poet has an interesting website, which is well worth exploring.
One older book I’ve had off the shelf quite often this year is Quote Poet Unquote: Contemporary Quotations on Poets and Poetry. I’ve been working – on and off – on a book about writing and reading poetry, and the anthology, edited by the late Dennis O’Driscoll, is a pre-Twitter treasure-trove of sharp and suggestive remarks on almost every aspect of the poetry business. The poets quoted range from big guns like Seamus Heaney (‘Poetry is language in orbit’) to New Zealanders like Andrew Johnston: ‘The poem is both the winding road and the wild horse that gallops past us as we read, so that when we come around the last bend, there it is, waiting for our shock of recognition.’ I’ve heard it whispered that Johnston will publish a new book next year. About time too.
I’ve also been enjoying a new literary magazine, Sonofabook, which comes from one of the UK’s most interesting small publishers, CB editions. The first issue is edited by Charles Boyle; subsequent issues will appear twice-yearly and have different editors. Contributors get a decent amount of space: there are just a dozen writers here, spread over 150 pages. There’s a semi-related blog, which offers some excellent moments of opinionated wisdom.
Prize-winning fiction writer
The Legend of Winstone Blackhat by Tanya Moir
Heart-breaking, gripping, brilliantly written, this should become a New Zealand classic.
The Party Line by Sue Orr
A fierce and intelligent expose of the dark side of rural New Zealand mores in the 1970s.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
Small but perfectly formed with not a word out of place – inventive, beautiful, genuinely moving.
Freelance book publicist
Bulibasha by Witi Ihimaera
Hearing that Bulibasha will be a film next year made me order it up from the library for a read. I would have been up to my eyeballs in textbooks when it first came out but I’m glad I’ve caught up now. It’s so evocative. I can’t wait to see that scene from The Golden Shears on screen .
Where the Rekohu Bone Sings by Tina Makereti
I was surprised not to see this one on the new book awards list but maybe it was published too early to make the cut-off. If you’re an advocate of reading NZ novelists who’re writing about NZ and you haven’t read this one, read it next. It’s a cracker.
The Antipodeans by Greg McGee
Speaking of the Ockhams, this is the book I’m most wanting to talk with people about. Especially if, like my mother and her siblings, they too had someone who was in and out of POW camps in Europe. It’s good to talk about these things.
Evie’s War by Anna Mackenzie
Yes, it is good to talk about war and the impact that experience has on families. It’s interesting to me that the diary format of this one really drives that aspect home. The pace is relentless.
Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet by Terese Svoboda
Apparently there was a female poet who was passionate about social justice who lived in New Zealand during the gold rush and eventually made it to New York. What a story! Plus, someone bookish with a hillside property really needs to name it “Lola Ridge”.
The Art of Excavation by Leilani Tamu
My new favourite poet.
The Fire Economy by Jane Kelsey
Hopefully everyone in NZ who was talking about Thomas Piketty’s Capital earlier this year has latched onto this one by now too. That and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776).
The Rugby Pantry by Daisy Dagg and Amber Vito
In this category, the Dan Carter biography is the “Great Book” of 2015 but this one beats it across the line for me because it’s cooking and rugby together. And that’s genius.
The Arabs: A History by Eugene Rogan
This is compulsory reading for anyone who watches news about the Middle East – whether it be terrorism, oil crisis, or the Israeli/Palestine conflict – and guiltily thinks, I kind of understand why this is happening but I’m not entirely sure.
Rogan’s book achieves what all good historical non-fiction should aim for. It illuminates understanding while gently correcting ignorance. It’s a big book that rarely drags, written in prose that never patronise. Fascinating, entertaining, relevant – what more can you ask for? And the next time you watch the news you’ll be able to say, ah, yes, well this was all sparked by the Balfour Declaration.
The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace
Since a friend bought me The Devil’s Larder I have been addicted to Crace. He is my favourite sort of writer, a stylist, a miniaturist – basically a poet disguised as a novelist. Slim, taut and precise, his books are a lesson to modern writers in exactitude.
I re-read Crace all the time but only recently came across The Gift of Stones, which was hiding in my messy bookshelf waiting to be discovered. Crace writes like the stonemasons in his tale with a technical deftness that’s breathtaking.
My only issue with Crace is that he is always threatening to retire. He has recently been gifted two prestigious and lucrative literary prizes and – though this next assumption is based on not one single fact – I believe the benefactors of these prizes are good souls who, like me, are praying these awards might motivate Crace to once again sit before the great boulder of potential and chip away at it until he has sculpted another beautiful and perfectly-shaped novel.
Like Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory nibbling away on his one bar of chocolate a year, I do the same to the Paris Review Volumes.
They are the Greatest Hits of Paris Review interviews. To date there are only four volumes. And so over the year I try to parsimoniously space the articles out, reading one a month, but invariably find myself binging, only to realise I’ve finished yet another volume, and it’s not even June yet!
It’s hard not to gorge as there is gold in them thar volumes, such as the surreal piece where Vonnegut interviews himself –‘With utmost tenderness, I interviewed myself’ – then warns: ‘Literature should not disappear up its own asshole.’
There is also the blunt truth of Hemingway confessing to re-writing the ending to Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times and when pushed by the interviewer to explain – ‘Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?’ – Hemingway replies with a clean slap of truth that the real problem was simply – ‘Getting the words right.’
And the great Geoff Dyer discussing how weed used to help his writing – ‘Marijuana is so integral to But Beautiful it’s scandalous I wasn’t able to claim what I’d spent as a tax break’ – but that weed is now too strong to inspire anything useful.
They say writers are tight lipped about their work, style, their motivations. I suspect that’s a rumour circulated by writers themselves, who can’t resist mythologising their work into a black art. From my own limited experience, writers are usually desperately lonely folk only too happy to talk about their method with anyone who asks, or offers them a drink. Also there is something safe about the deceptively simple Q&A method of the Review that opens writers up to spilling all their sweet little secrets.
Doris Lessing was irritated by people asking what time in the day she wrote at, or whether she used a pen or typewriter, as she said it suggested they were searching out some trick to writing, when really the secret, as Lessing explained, to great writing is no secret at all – it’s just simple, boring, old fashioned, ‘hard work.’
Which I completely agree with but, also, who can resist having a nice nosey around the desk of another writer?
Great read for readers, even better read for all those writers out there.
Poet and scholar, New Zealand Book Council Board Member
Entangled Islands by Serie Barford
A stunning wandering through Oceania’s physical and ideological islands – we are all connected. Poignant, political, prodding poetry.
‘Chick Lit’ Pasifika-style and then some! One of three volumes (Scarlet Redemption is coming). I have the first two, am eagerly awaiting the third, and have a message to the ladies I lent Books 1 and 2 to: Give them back!!
The Blue Guitar by John Banville
John Banville is a master stylist and each sentence in this novel is original, acutely observed and full of sly humour. Not much happens in The Blue Guitar, yet it’s highly entertaining, and some bits are exquisitely funny.
The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante
My Brilliant Friend; The Story of a New Name; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of The Lost Child. I wrote about Elena Ferrante’s novels recently in an essay in The Spinoff. They are a masterpiece of storytelling, and I’m recommending them to everyone.
The Scene of the Crime by Steve Braunias.
Atmospheric, thoughtful and evocative accounts of criminal trials in New Zealand. This is Steve Braunias doing what he does best: he is a keen observer of human nature, he is imaginative and he has an eye for the detail that matters.
Reo Māori writer at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, New Zealand Book Council Board Member
Arms Race by Nic Low
This collection of Nic Low’s sharp, witty, dark, hillarious, intense and insightful shorts stories will make you laugh, think, imagine, ponder and wonder, “what the… ?”
Waitapu by Helen Waaka
But wait, there’s more… short stories. Helen Waaka debuts with stories about people of Waitapu. It’s small town NZ, with a Māori twist.
Māori Art for Kids by Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke
This beautifully illustrated and well designed guide on how to make Māori art with your kids is a winner.
Fiction writer and poet
I really loved Johanna Aitchison’s new work Miss Dust published by Seraph Press. I found it to be a very powerful book, one of those ones that is larger than its proportions – like the TARDIS. I loved the play between real and imagined and the complexity and fun of the language.
I also really enjoyed Carolyn DeCarlo and Jackson Nieuwland’s Bound: An Ode to Falling in Love published by Compound Press. Aliens, spacecraft, Kanye, Kim and North – this poetry book is such an exciting and fresh view on the world and the world beyond the world. This book is a blast to read first time but grows and grows through further reading.
In July, I did a Better off Read podcast with Natasha Dennerstein (whose new poetry collection Anatomize is also fantastic) on Geoff Cochrane’s The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow. It was so good to enjoy this book in conversation with another fan of Geoff’s work. I’m really looking forward to visiting Cochrane-land during the holidays with Geoff’s new collection Wonky Optics.
Writer and reviewer
Maurice Gee: Life and Work by Rachel Barrowman
They’ll be reading Maurice Gee next century. His narratives of marriage and social mores evoke NZ and NZers better than any history. Rachel Barrowman’s major study is meticulous, marvellously accessible; evokes Gee’s modesty and almost ferocious commitment; offers a terrific overview of his literary achievement.
Tramping: A New Zealand History by Chris MacLean and Shaun Barnett
We do this sort of oblique social history so well. This big, bright book with succinct text and splendid visuals covers huts and heroics, literature and landscape, routes and raptures. A genuinely definitive coverage, and it shows why e-books can never really replace printed products.
From The Cutting Room Of Barney Kettle by Kate de Goldi
It’s been a good year for NZ fiction, with impressive new work from Greg McGee, Ian Wedde, Sue Orr, Hamish Clayton, Patrick Evans, et al. Kate de Goldi’s Barney is probably 2015’s most endearing protagonist, vital, credible, fallible, directed towards a narrative master-stroke that would cleave your heart if it weren’t for the healing and reconciliation that follows.
Programmes Manager at the NZ Book Council
I am Rebecca by Fleur Beale
One of the most compelling books I have read for years. Got half-way through during my bedtime reading ritual, and couldn’t stop till I had finished in the wee hours. A difficult topic, sometimes shocking, yet sensitively written.
Shhh! I’m Sleeping by Dorothee De Monfreid
A gorgeous board book with a minimalist storyline and maximum entertainment in the illustration. Loved the oversized format, and the imagery. If I bought a copy, it would be in danger of never reaching the small child I used as an excuse for the purchase.
The Chimes by Anna Smaill
As a non-musician, it took a while to warm to the language, but the story dragged me in. Fantastic ideas, beautifully crafted sentences. The team here had the pleasure of working with Anna for a few months last year, and her voice rings so clearly, I almost felt like she was reading to me. Feel very proud to have shared office space with this amazing writer.
Editor and authour
The Writers’ Festival by Stephanie Johnson
In this sequel to 2013’s The Writing Class, we see some of the same characters behind the scenes at a writers’ festival in Auckland. Johnson knows the territory – she was a co-founder of the Auckland Writers’ Festival. I was involved too for many years and recognise several incidents, though not specific characters. For this is emphatically not a roman-à-clef. Not at all. No way. Perish the thought. But it displays all Johnson’s familiar virtues as a novelist – wit, intelligence, sympathy and an endless capacity to surprise.
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
The funniest book I have read in years. These are letters home from a wide-eyed 20-year-old from Leicester who has gone to London to be a nanny to the two young sons of Mary-Kay Wilmer, editor of the London Review of Books. Stibbe can’t cook and knows nothing about children. Heaven knows how she got the job, but she was clearly brilliant at it. Or, at least, her many failures were so amusing that Wilmers kept her on. Famous people (“Some real weirdos”) flit in and out – Claire Tomalin, Rik Mayall, Stephen Frears, Jonathan Miller and especially Alan Bennett, who lives across the road. He’s pretty funny, but Stibbe’s running commentary on the household is hilarious – and Wilmers’ caustic one-liners are a joy.
Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner
Subtitled “A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach”, this is part biography of the composer and part analysis of his music, specifically the cantatas. Such music can’t really be explained but Gardiner, who is one of the leading conductors of it, has a very good go. Along the way he details the cultural background, Bach’s working environment and the role of religion. It’s massive (629 pages), slow and serious – it has taken me a year to read it – but is unfailingly illuminating. Bach, we learn, could be grumpy – he called one hapless musician “a prick of a bassoonist” – which may be one reason why the famously bad-tempered Gardiner was drawn to him.
Subscriptions Manager NZ Book Council
The Chimes by Anna Smaill
I loved the language in this book, and find that some lines keep popping into my mind even now, months after I read it. Beautifully crafted, and exciting enough to make me stay up late to finish it.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan is one of my favourite writers, and while I don’t think this is his best novel, it is definitely thought-provoking.
All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket
I’ve just finished reading these four books in quick succession. I love clever, funny children’s books, and these didn’t disappoint. They also have links to The Series of Unfortunate Events series, which means I now need to reread those.
Elizabeth Harrower’s A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories collected the remaining unheralded and/or unpublished fiction of the 87-year-old Australian who has been receiving ridiculously belated recognition for her novels. As much as I wanted to gulp the stories greedily down, I had to restrain myself and read slowly, knowing there is unlikely to be any more in the cupboard from this remarkable writer.
For middle-aged (and older) malcontents everywhere, A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me was the long-awaited fourth book from American David Gates, 16 years after his previous short-story collection, The Wonders of the Invisible World. Now how about a third novel, to join Jernigan (1991) and Preston Falls (1998)?
American Adam Johnson won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2012 novel The Orphan Master’s Son, but as tremendous as that book is, I like to press upon people the glorious versatility of his 2002 short-story collection Emporium. I was therefore delighted when this year he published a second collection, Fortune Smiles.
As well as individual writers’ short-story collections, there were anthologies: the hefty Ben Marcus-edited New American Stories and the even heftier two-volume Philip Hensher-edited The Penguin Book of the British Short Story. With each volume costing nearly $100, I could only covet the latter on bookshop shelves, occasionally sneaking a read.
Finally, there was New Zealand-born, American-based Louise Wareham Leonard’s 52 Men, strictly speaking a novel, but comprised of discrete vignettes, so it could be said to blur the line in the same way it blurs the line between fiction and memoir. It was, as with her previous books, the novels Since You Ask (2004) and Miss Me a Lot Of (2007), a work of beautifully pared precision. Exactly the quality one finds in the best short stories.
Chief Executive of the New Zealand Book Council
The Antipodeans by Greg McGee was my stand out novel of the year. I loved the way that the book roamed around, both geographically and historically. I also enjoyed the broad cast of characters who were provocative, flawed and fascinating. It was particularly pleasing to see a novel dabble in social media without feeling clumsy or heavy-handed.
I read Ian McEwan’s The Children Act in January and it has stayed with me all year. It’s a haunting account of the difficult circumstances that a well-regarded high court judge finds herself in, both professionally and privately. A sombre and thoughtful read.
And just to remind myself of what all the fuss was about, I reread the book that was selected as the 2015 Great Kiwi Classic – Owls Do Cry by literary legend Janet Frame. It had been a number of years since I first picked it up and it was well worth a reread – a desperately sad story but so beautifully written that I ended it feeling strangely exhilarated.
Books & Culture Editor for the New Zealand Listener
Some people imagine I get to read a lot of books in my job. I do, though much of it is work-related. So rather than a list of really-enjoyeds I have a huge summer pile of looking-forward-to’s. It has a Grimshaw and an Orr in it, as well as the beautiful, wise (I’ve peeked) Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann (Little, Brown), Erwin Mortier’s memoir of his mentally fading mother, Stammered Songbook, and a small stack of apocalyptic fiction. If any of that gets too depressing, there’s always Clive James’ latest essays, and poetry.
Executive director of Shoreline Partners, New Zealand Book Council Board Member
The Invisible Mile by David Coventry
Beautiful prose as an ANZAC team battles through the 1928 Tour de France. Ambiguous characters flicker and fall in a fuelled peloton.
Give us this day. Helena Wisniewska Brow Revisiting her father’s footsteps from Poland to Pahiatua.
Moving family reflections and discovery. His journey to an unchosen destination. The uncontemplated life of one of NZ’s first refugees.
A History of the World in 100 objects. Neil MacGregor
Chronologically tracing the history of selected objects from the British Museum’s collection. A reminder of our similarities in a time where some seek to exploit our differences.
Marketing Communications Manager at the New Zealand Book Council
Murder and Matchmaking by Debbie Cowens
PD James eat your heart out – you have been owned. This detective story set in the world of Pride and Prejudice is both entertaining and clever. It keeps the spirit of Pride and Prejudice, staying true to the characters and Austen’s world, while at the same time bringing its own unique voice and story.
Debbie Cowens has seamlessly blended Fitzwilliam Darcy and Sherlock Holmes into a proud, disagreeable, logical, observant (and hot!) character; and sparks definitely fly between himself and Lizzy Bennet! And not to give any spoilers – but what Debbie has done with Lydia Bennet’s character is truly spectacular.
I also loved the cameo appearances of characters from Austen’s other novels – you will see Fanny Price, Sir John Middleton, and Emma Woodhouse amongst others
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Okay confession time… I hadn’t read a Terry Pratchett novel until a few months ago. How has this happened? I’ve made up for it now though, having devoured a good portion of his Discworld books. Wyrd Sisters, which pokes fun at MacBeth, is my favourite so far.
The Fool was the most interesting character, wrestling with the ill-fitting role he’s been assigned in the Shakespearean-esque world he inhabits. The bard references are epic, and tipping it into another dimension of enjoyment is the always irreverent Granny Weatherwax. I loved it. I want more. Thank goodness there is more! Pratchett’s writing is so brilliant and I love it more with every book of his that I read.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
I have never laughed out loud so much reading a book. And I don’t just mean the odd chuckle or repressed giggle – I mean completely losing it, tears-in-my-eyes, belly laughing. David Sedaris is directly responsible for the morning commuters on the Wellington number 3 bus route thinking I’m a crazy person. He reflects on concepts such as speech and family, and several of his pieces draw inspiration from his experience as an American living in France. Everyone needs to read David Sedaris. Now. Or if you’ve already read him, tweet me so we can gush over how funny he is!
Peter Biggs CNZM
Chair of the New Zealand Book Council
The reading World Cup final for me in 2015 was the four-volume set of James K. Baxter: Complete Prose. Edited with great skill by John Weir, it reveals another fascinating dimension of, arguably, our greatest poet. Harry Mount’s Odyssey took me on absorbing and sharply observed journey which explored Homer, Odysseus and Ancient Greece – as well as the writer’s inner life. Glyn Harper’s Johnny Enzed and The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing by Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean are wonderful contributions to our understanding of the experience of our country and our people in time of war. Finally, two gems of New Zealand fiction – Anna Smaill’s The Chimes and Greg McGee’s The Antipodeans – bravo to both!
Gavin Bishop ONZM
Picture book author and illustrator, New Zealand Book Council Board Member
Alone on the Great Wall by William Lindesay
First published in 1989 it is written by one of the world’s leading experts on the Great wall of China. The author is British and lives in China not far from the wall. He was our guide when we visited the wall in October this year. I was also interested to hear from the author that his grandparents owned a book shop in Colombo Street in Christchurch in the 1880s and he was visited the South Island of New Zealand for the first time in February 2011 and of course experienced the earthquake on the 22nd.
Alphabetical – How Every Letter Tells a Story by Michael Rosen
A book to revisit over and over again.
The Woods at the End of Autumn Street by Lois Lowry first published in 1980. I re-read this book for the first time since 1988 and was astounded by its depth and bravery. It is a junior novel of 159 pages that deals with very big issues such as racism, old age, war and most disturbing of all, the murder of a child, a black child in the woods at the end of Autumn Street. The story is told directly, without artifice by a young girl.
The Sound Of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan
Written by the author of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2014. Wonderfully written and deeply moving, even more so because it is set in this part of the world; well almost. It is set in Tasmania. The sense of place was something I could relate to easily.