NZ Post Book Awards 2010

The judges at the NZ Post Book Awards have put together their selection of the best NZ publications of the last year.

The only sections that standout are Illustrated Non-Fiction and Best First Book selection, both showing variety, depth and interest; an excellent showcase of NZ art publishing (a shame Dick Frizzell’s book didn’t make it, but the competition was fierce) and the promise of new writers in fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Fiction is disappointing but, overall, NZ fiction has generally been a bit disappointing this past year. So no huge surprises there. I have trouble seeing anyone beating Alison Wong’s very good As the World Turns Silver.  And The Poetry selection does itself justice without igniting the heavens (Michael Harlow seems the most likely choice there).

The real disappointment is the Non-Fiction section. It is two books shy of broad and three short of challenging. There are three history books by established and respected academics (though no James Belich, which is interesting as an aside) and two art books – one of which probably should have been in the Illustrated Non-Fiction category. All of which is fine – good, in fact; I wouldn’t want to imply that the books are anything less than excellent. The crippling problem is that they’re boring. There should have been greater pre-selection on the history, and better categorisation for the art. All of which would have allowed a greater breadth of titles to feature, thus better representing NZ publishing and authors. I was greatly disappointed not to see Double Rainbow: James K Baxter, Ngati Hau & the Jerusalem Community by John Newton on the list and the absence of Zone of the Marvellous by the excellent Martin Edmond is truly baffling.

Of course, second guessing such lists is part of the pleasure of awards but, in this case, I can’t help but feel that we’ve been a little let down by those judges who are meant to present a decent reflection of the supposedly vibrant NZ publishing scene.

If you listen really carefully you’ll be able to hear various authors, publishers and book pundits grinding their teeth and grumbling to their spouses.

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4 thoughts on “NZ Post Book Awards 2010

  1. button says:

    I agree, the non-fiction category is a snore. My pick is on Judith Binney. The finalists have reminded me to read Relief by Anna Taylor so I guess that’s a plus. I’ve now read every fiction and poetry Wattie/Montana award winner since 1975 so I guess I best do a clean sweep of these lot so I don’t break the pattern!

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    1. vicbooks says:

      I always find it interesting how many I happen to have already read before they make the shortlist; a kind of dipstick for my literature engine.
      35 years of reading winners is really impressive. It’s a comforting thing to know people not only care about such things, but have a continual, evolving engagement with NZ books.

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  2. alfredo says:

    And another insult to fiction writers that only three finalists are allowed. Where is the celebration of NZ publishing? Why reduce the number of publishers that are involved by cutting down the number of finalists so much?

    Is was considered a scandal a couple of years ago that only four fiction titles were chosen when five was possible. Now only three can be chosen. Does NZ really only produce three worthy contenders a year? I am not a big reader of NZ fiction and even I have read more than three good NZ novels in the last year. This is getting silly.

    What are the awards about any more? Certainly not doing the best thing by the trade, which is curious given the mandate of the organisation that runs the awards.

    Good on VUP, AUP, and Te Papa for being there as always. And grudgingly well done to Penguin. Here’s hoping the work in their finalists is all original …

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    1. vicbooks says:

      I think limiting it to 3 fiction finalists (ditto for ‘poetry’ and ‘best new books’) is a product of them streamlining the award from previous years (eight categories, 5 plus entries in each category). They may have gone too far, something easy to do when hacking away at a format (it makes me think of the lemon tree I over-pruned a few months back) but as a reflection of NZ publishing’s fiction quality, it might just be a scary truth. Yet if you don’t give the publishers something to aim at, in keeping 5 slots on the shortlist, why would they try harder? Three slots might be a step too close to surrender in the face of editorial and publishing apathy, rather than a spur to improve their standards.

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