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October 5, 2014 | by  | in Arts Books |
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Best New Zealand Books of 2014 (so far)

Lamplighter, Kerry Donovan Brown
Lamplighter has been called a ‘crossover’ novel complex enough for adults and teens alike, but I think that’s a bit condescending, as if all YA books must be ‘easy’. Lamplighter is never easy. It goes far deeper than your average coming-of-age and coming-out tale. It asks questions about fear, identity and prejudice. It invents a richly layered alternate universe. And it grapples with darkness in a compelling and beautiful way that’s rarely been done in New Zealand fiction for young adults before. It feels like it could be the first in a series – let’s hope it is.

Horse with Hat, Marty Smith
This book won Marty Smith the Best First Book Award for poetry at the NZ Post Book Awards last month. It’s well deserved; I knew as soon as I read it that these poems would stick with me. Her poems trace footprints of family history (or should I say hoofprints?) and childhood memories with measured force and beautiful poetics. Her images are raw and intense, often giving the impression of standing by the side of the road when a car swooshes past and shakes the air in front of your face, tipping you backwards. This is a gutsy book of poems that deserves to be read.

Where the Rekohu Bone Sings, Tina Makereti
Tina Makereti currently teaches a new creative-writing workshop for Māori and Pasifika writers at the IIML. Her critically acclaimed debut novel lives up to her brilliant short-story collection, Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa. It traces the stories of two young couples: one in the 1880s in the Marlborough Sounds, one in the 21st century. The mythic and the domestic collide, as do different kinds of identity: what does it mean to be Pākehā, Māori and Moriori across generational, cultural and geographical divides? As well as a terrific story, the historical aspects are especially compelling.

Rough on Women, Dame Margaret Sparrow
“Stories of the women who died are important because otherwise their voices remain silent.” This account of abortion in 19th-century New Zealand is pieced together from newspaper clippings, advertisements, diaries, letters, court reports, catalogued objects and photographs. This evidence unearths the silenced voices of women who underwent abortions at a time when it was dangerous, inaccessible, and rarely spoken of. Margaret Sparrow writes factually and simply, making for a quick read. Rough on Women is an essential addition to the study of New Zealand history. It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of women’s reproductive rights, but also that the fight’s not over yet.

Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English, edited by Robert Sullivan and Reina Whaitiri
This recently released anthology is the first of its kind. It collects new poets, old poets, Māori poets in New Zealand, and Māori poets abroad. Famous prose writers feature, such as Keri Hulme and Witi Ihimaera, as well as accomplished poets Hinemoana Baker and Apirana Taylor. In subject, voice and poetic form, the poems are diverse and surprising. Hopefully, this book marks the beginning of more Māori voices included in English-literature courses at schools and universities, and a greater understanding of the importance of poetry in historical and contemporary Māori culture.

Incomplete Works, Dylan Horrocks
This beautiful collection of comics draws from Horrocks’ 30-ish years of writing. It’s a collection full of stunned pauses that leave you marvelling at how well-crafted the thing is. It moves through scratchy zines, the angularly surreal, and ending somewhere in the not-too-distant future, with an illustrated diary entry in part documenting the writing of an upcoming graphic novel. Incomplete Works is not only a great introduction to Horrocks’ writing but to New Zealand comics as a whole.

The Inequality Debate, Max Rashbrooke
Max Rashbrooke’s slender yet well-researched book lays bare the global problem of income inequality, confirming that New Zealand is one of the OECD’s worst offenders. It makes for grim reading. Of the 2.9 million working adults in New Zealand, just 29,000 control 16 per cent of the country’s combined wealth. Rashbrooke breaks down what income inequality actually is and how the world and New Zealand has descended into such an unequal quagmire. The Inequality Debate is fascinating and horrifying. Published as part of Bridget Williams Books’ BWB Texts series, it’s so short that you’ve got no excuse.

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  1. Katie Hardwick-Smith says:

    A small matter of spelling: Kerry Donovan BrowN.

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