Blog Archives

Going high, Julia Millen

To the Mountains: A Collection of New Zealand Alpine Writing
Laurence Fearnley and Paul Hersey (eds)
Otago University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781988531205

Since the arrival of Pacific peoples, New Zealand’s mountains have enthralled and enchanted. Māori revered the craggy peaks from afar while they forged ways through the hinterland. The first European explorer, Abel Tasman, sailing to the Southern Ocean in 1642, recorded the sighting of “a large land, uplifted high”. Captain Cook’s crew were bent on “conquest” in more ways than one. This collection features the 1998 re-enactment by 13 climbers of the 1773 ascent of Mt Sparrman in Fiordland, made by a party from Cook’s second voyage on the Resolution.

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Posted in History, Literature, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Unpleasant truths, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins

Theo Schoon: A Biography
Damian Skinner
Massey University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9780995100176

Hudson and Halls: The Food of Love
Joanne Drayton
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781988531267

There has long been an uneasiness on the part of local biographers when it comes to homosexual subjects. In literary terms, this can be traced to Michael King’s Frank Sargeson: A Life (1995), the first major biography of this type. King, then not yet a literary biographer, but a consummate researcher of Māori subject matter, demonstrated the standard Kiwi male’s distaste for homosexuality. The result was a tepid and unsatisfying work that has done Sargeson’s cultural longevity no favours. Without any active influential queer voice to argue the contrary, Sargeson entered the canon of modern biography, and King was lauded as the nation’s literary biographer.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

The games we play, Owen Mann

Sport and the New Zealanders: A History
Greg Ryan and Geoff Watson
Auckland University Press, $65.00,
ISBN 9781869408831

On Christmas Day last year, many people around the country would have ripped open a well-wrapped gift to discover a sportsperson’s biography in their hands. A popular genre in New Zealand for many decades, these publications often span the brief career of the sportsperson and the figures who have influenced their lives. This Christmas it was NBA basketball star Steven Adams and league veteran Simon Mannering that were amongst the bestsellers. These books can, at times, be interesting and perceptive, but rarely explore beyond the biographical. If they do delve into the nature of sport and why it plays such an important part in New Zealand’s culture, then it is only for the particular sport the individual has excelled at, rather than sporting activities more generally, or how sport ties into the fabric of our society and culture.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sociology, Sport

Looking forward, Tim Hazledine

The Big Questions: What is New Zealand’s Future? 
Various authors
Penguin Random House, $38.00
ISBN 9780143772378

I’ve been worrying about Trump. Not the man – a lost cause, that – but the movement: Trumpism – the apparently bigoted, intolerant, resentful roilings that are driving apart, not just nations, but people within nations. Why has this happened? What, exactly, has happened? Could something similar arise in New Zealand?

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Whose history? Simon Hay

The Expatriate Myth: New Zealand Writers and the Colonial World 
Helen Bones
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781988531175

The Expatriates 
Martin Edmond
Bridget Williams Books, $50.00,
ISBN 9781988533179

Helen Bones aims to dismantle the “myth” that New Zealand writers, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had to leave New Zealand to pursue careers as writers. She argues that this myth is wrong in at least two directions: first, that many New Zealand writers stayed and wrote and published, in New Zealand – that New Zealand was at this time not the cultural wasteland that it was made out to be by the generation of scholars she calls the “cultural nationalists”; and, second, that writers who did leave had neither an easier nor a harder time of it than those who stayed. Her book is a quantitative study, insofar as it can be: not interested in the “content” of books, but in “comprehensive data collection”, “literary empirical techniques”, and “a dataset of publications”. Her goal is to “quantify the significance of literary expatriatism”.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

At a crossroads, Max Harris

Unquiet Time: Aotearoa/New Zealand in a Fast-changing World Colin James Fraser Books, $39.50, ISBN 9780994136015 Last year, Colin James published his final weekly column with the Otago Daily Times, after over 50 years of work as a journalist. In a

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Grudging nationalist, Mark Williams

Charles Brasch: Journals 1945-1957
Peter Simpson (ed)
Otago University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781927322284

I approached this book rather in the spirit of someone visiting a civic monument to a figure august and admired, but obscurely known. In the late 1980s, as one of the many editors of Landfall in that period, I spent time in the Caxton Press checking proofs, following a tradition of care established by Charles Brasch 40 years earlier. But the strong ghosts I recall in a building filled with reminders of eminence were those of Janet Frame, whose visits and material remnants still held occult power, and Robin Dudding, veiled in a scandalous story that I gathered had more than one way of telling. Brasch’s presence was fainter somehow, less detectable in the busy workings of the printing house that had hosted him and sacked his heir, Dudding.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

“An area of increasing need”, Sylvan Thomson

Representing Trans: Linguistic, Legal and Everyday Perspectives 
Evan Hazenberg and Miriam Meyerhoff (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776561759

 

The day before this review was due, my mother messaged me to say that she had heard an interview on RNZ featuring my former endocrinologist, Dr John Delahunt. Curious, I looked the segment up, and discovered that it was prompted by an article published the same day in the New Zealand Medical Journal. The article, snappily titled “Increasing rates of people identifying as transgender presenting to Endocrine Services in the Wellington region”, describes a marked jump in those seeking referrals for therapy related to gender-reassignment, and a particularly steep increase in referrals for those under the age of 30. The study claims that the climb in numbers is “likely to be related to the increasing societal awareness and acceptance of gender diversity”, and Dr Delahunt, one of the study’s authors, concluded that the article was largely directed at health professionals, intended to “highlight an area of increasing need”.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Getting the news out, James Norcliffe

Surviving 7.8: New Zealanders Respond to the Earthquakes of November 2016
Phil Pennington and Radio New Zealand
HarperCollins, $35.00,
ISBN 9781775541103

 

New Zealanders, Cantabrians in particular, have, over the last half-dozen years, become reluctant experts in earthquakes. We have experienced the wobbly ones, the shuddery ones, the bumpy ones, the noisy ones that just go whack – a whole hitherto unknown taxonomy of geomorphological effects. The Richter scale has become as familiar as the bathroom scales and referred to as often. One of our favourite websites is Geonet, and glib, hackneyed epithets like earth-shattering and world-shaking have taken on a whole new oh-so literal meaning.

Thus, when, just after midnight on November 14, 2016, we were woken by a long rolling shake that seemed to go on and on forever, my wife and I knew at once that we were experiencing another Big One, but we knew, too, that it wasn’t Christchurch this time; it was farther away. Our first thought was the Main Divide, our second thought was Wellington, and we were immediately concerned for friends and family in the capital.

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Posted in History, Media, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Larrikins past, Nick Bollinger

Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand
Chris Brickell
Auckland University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781869408688

 

In 1971, I became a teenager. It was the start of a complicated, confusing, exciting time. Over the next few years, I would immerse myself in music, experiment with sex and drugs, form lifelong friendships and explore various kinds of rebellion, as I tried to figure out what this adult world was that I was growing towards, and what my place in it might be.

If there’s a personal message I can take from Chris Brickell’s Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand, it is that my experience was far from unique. The adolescent’s quest to define him- or herself as they navigate the path from childhood to adulthood has been taking place in various forms since the earliest days of New Zealand society. Yet the teenage experience has had little written about it, at least by historians. When teenagers are acknowledged, Brickell notes, it is usually in terms of adults’ condemnation.

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