Thursday, October 8, 2009

Do we read enough Kiwi-made?

The Sunday Star Times recently did a piece for NZ Book Month called Why Don't We Read Kiwi-Made?  

The piece begins by saying "...only 5% of the fiction we choose to buy is published in New Zealand," which seems to contradict the assertion we don't read Kiwi-made.

5% isn't nothing.  It could be a lot more.  But then the percentage of NZ books borrowed from libraries could be higher.  Maybe that's why Brian Edwards was so pissed off a few weeks ago.

[Aside: Took me a while to find the link to Brian's brain explosion as he later removed all traces of it from his website (and conspiracy theories abound about the affair's disappearance from wikipedia).  More info on the saga here.  Got to love a) Google's caching abilities and b) a classic case of blogger's remorse].

Who cares about the percentage, anyway.  The real question we should be asking, once we've decided what a Kiwi-made book is (NZ author? published in NZ? printed in NZ? about NZ? some combination of these?), is: What do NZ books do that books from elsewhere don't?

There's that whole 'Telling Our Story' boilerplate which underpins so much of our arts funding, but I think there's something less tangible that comes with reading work by local writers.

After graduating from university with (amongst other things) a BA in English Lit, I could still probably count on my fingers the books I had read by New Zealand authors.  I purposely avoided the NZ lit paper without ever thinking through my prejudice.  Shame on me.  As a late-teens, early-twenties male I felt NZ literature was staid and unexciting.  I know now I hadn't read widely enough.

Then I moved to Australia and I could walk around as if NZ books didn't exist.  My time in Australia was punctuated by a nine month stint back in Wellington where I got a taste of the local writing scene and discovered a few more local writers, but the desire to read NZ authors only really struck me while living in the UK. Blogging about writing and books and reading other NZ lit-bloggers had something to do with it. Getting published in NZ literary journals and websites had something to do with it. The Scottish Poetry Library's great collection of NZ poetry had something to do with it.

These all seem like entirely personal reasons, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

All I can say is: why not make 5% of your books this year Kiwi-made, and if you like it, go from there. I'm ready and willing with some recommendations.

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