24 March, 2015

Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2015, edited by Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew [Claire G, Grey Lynn Library]

This book brings together a mix of interesting topics and talented writers. It’s the kind of anthology we’ve seen from the small indie publisher Awa Press, which specialises in New Zealand non-fiction and has already brought out collections of sport and science writing. This one, though, is from Auckland University Press, and they have done a really good job.

We’re accustomed to columnists such as Steve Braunias and Joe Bennett, who appear in mainstream newspapers and magazines and produce whole books of their own. Indeed Braunias makes an appearance here, with his hilarious piece ‘About an Egging’ (I think he’s at his best when his daughter comes into the story, as she does here). But Tell You What – which is a great title, isn’t it? – is packed with information, insights and really nice writing, much of it from the web.

Among the first pieces are the compulsory (in the last five years) considerations of Christchurch and earthquakes, but these absorb the reader rather than invoking too great a sense of duty. Lara Strongman’s ‘Song from under the Floorboards’ I found particularly affecting and thought-provoking.

After that the collection ranges over such diverse terrain as carnivorous snails, Kim Dotcom, cultural appropriation, and intellectual disability (David Herkt, in the only essay I’d read before, just as good the second time around). A few pieces I found too earnest but maybe that’s my (middle) age, and anyway, one can’t expect to like everything.

A favourite of mine relates an Overseas Experience. That is Ashleigh Young’s delightful ‘Small Revolutions, or: On My Bike in London’, which I credit with enabling me
finally to understand and appreciate the bicyclic enthusiasms of one of my near relatives. And while I can’t abide patriotism of the flag-waving, chest-swelling variety, I’m a sucker for real from-the-heart writing about the nature of this country. So when Naomi Arnold’s ‘Mother’s Day’ surprised me with this –
I loved living under the black night skies, salted with stars that hung so close over the rooflines it seemed you could float up and swim through them... knowing I was cradled in the curve of a bay bordered with such untrammelled wilderness that people disappear in it every summer, and cavers are still plumbing its deep passages. There are no killer animals in New Zealand. It is the land that will swallow you whole.
– I fell in love with this book. Reckon I'll read it again.

Title: Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2015
Editors: Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew
Published: Auckland University Press, Auckland
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9781869408244

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