Letters – Issue 97

New Zealand Books is now accessible to blind and partially sighted readers. Our 20th anniversary issue (Summer 2011) was the first to be made available to 2,900 sight-impaired magazine borrowers through the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind.

It is also the first externally published magazine the foundation has sent out in synthetic speech format.

Acquisitions, Interloans and Telephone Information Services Librarian Veronica Hogan welcomes the move. “Thank you and your team for going the extra mile to make this work for our blind and partially sighted readers,” she says. “It’s very exciting to be able to work with you with new technology that allows our members to read print material at the same time as their sighted peers.”

Camille Guy writes on p27 about reading when you can’t see.



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Having purchased a copy of the New Zealand Books anniversary issue, I wish to make a small criticism of one review, and a wider observation on political history writing.

In his review of A Great New Zealand Prime Minister?, an essay collection on W F Massey, Doug Munro claims that New Zealand political biography writing is in good shape. This is in reference to previous biographies, almost all written by two Auckland-based, retired academics, not the essay collection. And he then goes on to criticise the work of a Bruce Farlane [sic], who apparently isn’t in the same league as Drs Bassett and Gustafson. It is actually Bruce Farland, a former history teacher, whose self-published efforts on Coates and Massey are seen as inferior, though one doubts that Munro has actually read them.

Mr Farland was at the conference on W F Massey, held at Massey University, and tried to present his work within the confines of an academic setting. This essay collection is based on the conference, but all of the lesser presenters are not included, and only the academic elite remain. This partly explains why the focus of the essay collection appears so narrow, and certain larger questions of political history are not addressed in the book.

If we do need a “full-scale” biography of Massey, that is not self-published and does include references, I submit that it is unlikely to come from the academic elite. As Dr Munro should know, such a biography would need in-depth archival research, and this is unlikely in the modern academic setting. Nor are the books by Bassett and Gustafson good examples of in-depth archival research. Surely a “full scale” account of a political career would have to take into consideration policymaking, and the role of government departments’ extensive policy archives.

None of the political biographies published in New Zealand have adequately addressed policymaking in any depth, because the authors rely on personal papers, and don’t engage with departmental records. This is particularly the case with finance ministers such as Muldoon, with regard to the role of the Treasury and Reserve Bank. Until the universities and other public funders address the need for in-depth archival research, political biographies will remain narrow and based largely on the author’s political opinions. If there is not a New Zealand publisher willing to do a “full-scale” biography, then the non-academic self-publishers can always fill the vacuum.


Simon Boyce, Wayside Press


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