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Happy birthday Gecko Press

Publisher Julia Marshall reflects on a decade of readers and reading.

Gecko Press is turning 10 this year. It is banal to say that in these 10 years there has been a lot of change (though of course it is true). But 10 years is not long to gain much in the way of perspective. I can’t imagine what it was like to be publishing books back when booky people at least were reading every novel published by a New Zealand writer, for example. Or, when no books were being published by New Zealanders, or the period of the long lunch. (We are pretty hard pressed to get lunch at all these days.)

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Reading, writing and arithmetic, Barbara Else

Speed of Light
Joy Cowley
Gecko Press, $20.00,
ISBN 9781877579936

Teddy One-Eye: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear
Gavin Bishop
Random House, $35.00,
ISBN 9781775537274

The ACB with Honora Lee
Kate De Goldi (drawings by Gregory O’Brien)
Longacre, $25.00,
ISBN 9781869799915

Three stars of New Zealand literature, three award-winning books, three very different approaches and audiences: how is any reviewer to manage this daunting assignment?

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review

For us there is only the trying, Paul Morris 

Tell You What: Great New Zealand Non-Fiction 2015
Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew (eds)
Auckland University Press, $30.00
ISBN 9781869408244

Greatest Hits: A Quarter Century of Journalistic Encounters and Notes from Lost Cities
David Cohen
Mākaro Press, $35.00
ISBN 9780994106544

In their introduction, editors Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew ask why “doesn’t New Zealand have its own equivalent of the Best American Essays or Best Australian Essays series?” Their selection of 29 “essays” is expressly designed to address this very real lacuna. As one who has long lamented the priority given to the New Zealand short story, the short poem, and the long novel over the essay, I had high expectations for this collection. What was it that I was anticipating? If not the wisdom of Montaigne, Hazlitt, Lamb, Orwell, James, Hunter S Thompson, Hughes, Baldwin, Epstein, Ozick, E B White or, more recently, Daum, Jamison, D’Ambrosio and Zadie Smith, then at least reflective first-person narratives about experience that deeply engage the reader, not as moral fable or advice, but as dialogue, a conversation that suggestively and subtly indicates some shared and significant experience and understanding. They should, of course, also be superbly written and entertaining.

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Posted in Essays, Media, Non-fiction, Review

Those are pearls that were his eyes, Lindsay Missen

Fingers: Jewellery for Aotearoa New Zealand: 40 Years of Fingers Jewellery Gallery
Damian Skinner and Finn McCahon-Jones
David Bateman, $60.00,
ISBN 9781869538620

Place and Adornment: A History of Contemporary Jewellery in Australia and New Zealand
Damian Skinner and Kevin Murray
David Bateman, $70.00,
ISBN 9781869538200

If you have an interest in New Zealand craft jewellery, it’s very likely you’ll enjoy Fingers: Jewellery for Aotearoa New Zealand: 40 Years of Fingers Jewellery Gallery. The layout is a scrapbookish mélange of photos of work, reproductions of associated print design, and numerous group shots of the principal craftspeople involved. If you’re old enough to recall the four decades covered, here is a treasure trove of illustrative material to be searched through and remembered.

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Posted in Art, Non-fiction, Review

Poem – Fiona Kidman

Grass Street 2000-2015

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Telling stories, Jane Westaway

In the Neighbourhood of Fame
Bridget van der Zijpp
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780864739247

Sleep Sister
Karen Breen
Eunoia Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780994104755

These two new novels appear from what – not long ago – would have been opposite ends of the local fiction-publishing spectrum. One is published by a university press whose literary fiction is widely seen as its crowning glory, and whose novelists and short-story writers – think Knox, Catton, Perkins – often go on to garner glittering prizes both here and overseas. Just as often, these writers and their first works have been nurtured in an International Institute of Modern Letters workshop – a title made grander by rarely being seen unaccompanied by the adjective “prestigious”. Bridget van der Zijpp is one such writer. A couple of years after she emerged from the institute, Victoria University Press published her first novel, Misconduct. This was shortlisted for the regional section of the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book Prize and for the 2009 Montana New Zealand Society of Authors Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction. Her latest is In the Neighbourhood of Fame.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Letters – Issue 110

Neuropathic not neurasthenic pain

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Genesis of a Māori writer, Tina Makereti

Māori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood
Witi Ihimaera
Vintage, $40.00,
ISBN 9781869797263

It is sometimes useful, in reading a review, to have some sense of the reviewer’s positioning in relation to the material. After all, the New Zealand literary community is small, and it is not uncommon to read a review that says as much about the reviewer’s biases and assumptions as about the book in question.

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Editorial – Issue 110

Obligatory piety

We don’t know whether, like us, others are feeling a certain uneasiness at the direction the WWI/Anzac centenary commemorations (often celebrations) are taking. That the platoons of books regularly pouring off the presses, here and overseas, that the many WWI websites and other online aids are potentially making readers better informed about what actually happened is good. That many, as a result, have been led to explore their genealogy or whakapapa is valuable. It is worthwhile to learn under what circumstances at Gallipoli or Passchendaele, in Egypt or elsewhere your great grandfather, your great great uncle or your distant cousin died or was wounded. It is rewarding to read their letters or diaries, if these survive. It is important to reaffirm that history did not begin with your own birth, that it’s not all just “back in the day”, some timeless zone called Who Cares? A country without a sense of history, a country without cultural memory, is a country with Alzheimer’s.

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Poppy lopping and cultural cringing

Novelist Chris Else reflects on “the Eleanor Catton affair”

Among the matters raised by the Eleanor Catton affair, two seem to have been given short shrift: our treatment of our tall poppies and whether or not we suffer from cultural cringe. The Dominion Post editorial for 30th January 2015 denied the existence of a tall poppy syndrome: “New Zealanders are kind, sometimes excessively so, to their achievers. Keri Hulme says she got enormous support when she won the Booker, and this is the usual pattern.” In a similar vein, the New Zealand Listener editorial for 7th February 2015 came close to denying the existence of a cultural cringe:

It is simply not true to say that we don’t embrace our literary successes. The Listener has always championed excellent writing; in fact, we put Catton on the cover before her Booker win. By contrast, sports stars almost never make our cover.

These claims are no doubt true; however, they are also beside the point. We laud our successful people; we also sometimes cut them down. The grosser form of the cultural cringe may be on the retreat, but there is a subtler, more insidious form that is as deeply ingrained as racism or sexism. The tall poppy syndrome is its inevitable consequence.

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