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.