Whithering or withering?
Back in the day, literary couple Iris Murdoch and John Bayley used to speak of “whithering”. They were referring to international festivals at which they were asked to address the question “whither the novel?” At the dawn of e-reading, our 100th issue of New Zealand Books updates the enquiry to “whither the book?”.
We have no doubt the book will survive. It will survive as the paper, page-turning artefact alongside whatever e-forms may continue to emerge. From papyrus to illuminated manuscript to the Gutenberg mass-produced item, the book has always been wonderfully adaptable, and there’s no reason it should stop adapting now. (And if you think previous evolutionary steps were nowhere near as challenging as this one will be, take a look at this hapless monk struggling with the brave new world of the book after a lifetime of scrolls).
Earlier this year we carried our first e-book review. More are bound to follow. New Zealand Listener arts and books editor Guy Somerset discusses the challenge of such reviewing. Memoirist and young-adult fiction writer Penelope Todd has crossed the great divide by becoming this country’s first e-book publisher. She explores the idea of digitisation as a kind of corral or holding pen during this momentous transition. Metro magazine art director Jenny Nicholls looks at book design and how it must evolve to suit thumbnail-size e-book covers.
Donald Kerr of Otago University’s Central Library Special Collections, while acknowledging the virtues of digitisation, continues to relish the book as physical artefact. Julia Marshall launched Gecko Press just as e-publishing was born, but is nevertheless making a go of beautifully produced children’s books, while Peter Simpson of Holloway Press continues to act as midwife to hand-printed texts of literary and scholarly interest unsuitable for commercial publication.
Veteran writers Fiona Kidman and C K Stead look back on the experience of publishing their first books.
Also in this 100th issue, you’ll find reviews of work by Albert Wendt, Witi Ihimaera, Nicky Hager, James Brown and Paul Cleave, as well as young adult fiction and our usual prize-winning crossword. On a sadder note, we mourn the death of the great Margaret Mahy. Jack Lasenby shares memories of a good and brilliant friend. Ann Mallinson has been kind enough to allow us to include a characteristically ebullient letter, and Kathryn Walls celebrates Mahy as fantasist and realist.
In the spirit of the age, and thanks to a grant from the Lotteries Board, we are currently digitising our first 22 issues. These will be available next year via our website – a fascinating snapshot of 1990s New Zealand literary culture.
Harry Ricketts and Jane Westaway