Local colour

As you can see, Issue 119 of New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa comes to you in an exciting, new version, slightly smaller in size, but with eight more pages, and in colour throughout. We hope you like the results as much as we do.

This latest makeover in the journal’s 27th year seems an appropriate moment to reflect on and affirm why New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa exists and why it should continue to exist. The original “onlie begetters” of the journal saw it as a local, quarterly equivalent to the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. As its title suggests, they saw it as a space exclusively devoted to the lively and informed reviewing of our books, and a space committed to reviewing these at more than sound-bite or light-snack length. Through several changes of format and editors, this has remained, and remains, the raison d’être of New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa. When the journal started (although there was a much broader reviewing culture then), its concentration on the local and homegrown, and its championing of the longer-form review, were unique; they still are.

It is here that local reviewers can learn their craft. In the long-form review, you have to have something to say. You cannot get away with a brief plot summary or description of contents, a quick scattering of brilliant bon mots, a patchwork of quotations neatly stitched together, however telling or apt. Analysis is necessary; so is judgement. The reader of a review should end up knowing what the reviewer thinks of the book: good, bad or indifferent.

A reviewer, as Fiona Kidman once put it, should be “bold, honest and fair”. A reviewer, unlike a biographer, is not “an artist on oath”; but they should write what they really think about a book, not what they ought to think, not what will give a verbal shoulder-massage to the author or publisher. Reviewing is not a branch of the publishers’ marketing arm, though snippets from past reviews are sometimes used for blurbs. (It is a marker of our present reviewing waste land that “endorsements” by more celebrated authors or pundits are now increasingly employed.) To those who say: “But shouldn’t our reviewers support our writers?”, the answer is: “Yes, but not at the expense of knowingly puffing a book that does not deserve it.” And, hard as a less-than-enthusiastic review always is to take, writers can cheer themselves up with the thought that they are contributing to the health of a robust critical and intellectual culture.

Thanks to all those who contribute so much and give such generous support to New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa. We really appreciate it.

Harry Ricketts and Louise O’Brien

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