Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: A new (old) sensation

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  • Hilary Stace,

    Reading this (while I should have been working on yet another paper) set me into a mild panic. I realised I haven't read any fiction, let alone a New Zealand novel, for months or possibly years. My bedside and deskside reading are piled with books (and reports, and peer reviewed articles), all non-fiction. Among them two great NZ works, however: WB Sutch's Quest for security in NZ, recently returned by Giovanni, and Jen Birch's fascinating autobiography, Congratulations! It's Asperger Syndrome. Then I remembered that a couple of summers ago I did allow myself to read Kate de Goldi's The 10 pm question, which is not just for young adults, and it was wonderful and vivid and reminded me I could still feel anxious and troubled by a brave, imaginary kid.

    From what I recall Maurice Gee, Margaret Mahy and Patricia Grace are usually pretty reliable for memorable fiction to get lost in, but the last Gee I read was the one set on Tinakori Hill, which I live on, and I can't name a recent book from any of these writers (or perhaps they have quietly retired?) And for a one-time avid reader of new NZ fiction, I haven't read, and can't even picture, any of those you mention.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2074 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    I realised I haven't read any fiction, let alone a New Zealand novel, for months or possibly years.

    Tell me about it. I am terrified somebody will come to my house and strip me of my degree in, whatchamacallit, English Literature. Then they'll give it to somebody else who actually reads the stuff.

    Wait: maybe that's how those online PhDs work.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7357 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    While I still havent read “Guardian of the Dead” I am so sad that ANZ fiction is now very flat. It’s as though there has been a direction from overseas, “This way of writing will get your work right up there”

    as on the net-

    but the writers havent actually writen a story that will entrance us here because all the crap I HAVE read, is mucilagenously – anywhere-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    mucilagenously

    I had to look that word up. Thank you, Islander!

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1303 posts Report Reply

  • Lisa Black,

    Yes, Hilary, Maurice Gee has retired.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2010 • 61 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    The last fiction book I read was "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown, because I was after something lite and lolz to read when my computer was out of order in 2009. I dig trashy movies too.

    Other than that, I mainly read non-fiction. I like true stories better than made-up stories. Or rather, I find it really hard to latch on to fiction, where as non-fiction just fits better.

    I figure this is just how my brain works, and I'm not going to beat myself up about my lack of novel reading.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1855 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    And I too. I honestly can't remember reading any New Zealand long-form fiction since high school a decade ago. Poetry, in great measure, and short stories in collection.

    I made a thing of only reading fiction that had had glowing recommendations from people I knew in person, or whose judgement I trusted greatly. The quality improved, but the quantity diminished. I'm only recently arrived back in the country, and long stopped reading the Listener, so its books pages are gone to me. Does the Metro have review pages that illuminate, dissect and inspire?

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2132 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    Since September I've found it hard to hold a plot or complex cast of characters in my brain and consequently I'm finding it hard to engage with novels and each one takes ages for me to plough through. I think I'm going to have to resort to rereading comfortable and familiar kids/young adults books for a bit.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 705 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn,

    I used to read a lot of NZ writing as part of my job. Short stories, non-fiction books and fiction. "One of Ben's" by Maurice Shadbolt would have been one of the last NZ books I read and was immersed in - the story of the Shadbolt boys, convicted of petty offenses and transported - it was moving and horrifying and very well written. Pat Grace is one of my favourites. Maurice Gee too. Favourite short story writer - Owen Marshall. I like Charlotte Grimshaw's writing, and her dad's.

    Over the years, I would be sent new publications to see if they'd be good audio books. For the most part, they failed to engage me. They were a chore to read. I imagined it was because I was a bit jaded. Maybe though, in the light of what you say, Jolisa, I was a bit hard on myself. There were a couple which I thought were quite good, but for the life of me, at this point in time on a Saturday night after a couple of wines, I can't remember what their titles were, or who wrote them.

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • kiwicmc,

    I think you can expand your theory to the thesis of "What's wrong with novels?" I'm 2/3rds of the way through The Finkler Question and have been for 3 months. I haven't been helped in my quest when I asked my mother-in-law who has finished it - "Does anything happen?" to be told "No, not really"

    Sydney, Australia • Since May 2008 • 65 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Lisa Black,

    Yes, Hilary, Maurice Gee has retired.

    Good, because Access Road inspired stabbing disappointment that I never want to feel again about a writer I revere.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11906 posts Report Reply

  • Lara,

    I'll admit that I bought a book of 100 NZ short stories last year in an effort to read more NZ authors. I'm about halfway through (and have been for a while!).

    I’m finding it hard to engage with novels and each one takes ages for me to plough through

    This. I have misplaced my ability (and desire?) to read anything too complex at present. All last year (when I did Pols Hons) I only really read (& re-read) Harry Potter, Terry Pratchett & Star Wars. Does this make me a bad person? I used to love reading new books, now its a chore.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2009 • 75 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Since September I've found it hard to hold a plot or complex cast of characters in my brain and consequently I'm finding it hard to engage with novels

    There was a point a couple of weeks after the Feb earthquake where I suddenly thought, "Wait a minute, this book I'm reading, and have been quite enjoying, is utter bilge." My brain needed to mend. But since then I've largely been re-reading old favourites - partly due to the total lack of libraries.

    But one of the things I brought back from Mum's just before that was the copy of Barbara Else's The Warrior Queen that I gave her years ago, and we both loved. Not much happens in that either, but it's so delightfully, engagingly written. It's a warm book, despite its subject matter.

    I will say, I loved The Sound of Butterflies. It was atmospheric in a way that reminded me of Tanith Lee, and which I really enjoy. Though not right now.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4354 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Lara,

    All last year (when I did Pols Hons) I only really read (& re-read) Harry Potter, Terry Pratchett & Star Wars. Does this make me a bad person? I used to love reading new books, now its a chore.

    Nah. I make a policy of only purchasing books I know I'm going to re-read a lot.If you're hellishly busy and just want to be entertained and/or distrated, there's nothing wrong with reaching for something you know will do the job. Especially if you know what sort of mood it's going to put you in.

    But most popular were young-adult novels, especially by Margaret Mahy, Maurice Gee and Kate de Goldi. Why? Nostalgia, yes — but also, I suspect, a joyful re-engagement with stories about recognisable, complicated people on the cusp of brave action.

    Also, for me, at least, because YA NZ fiction is the only reliable way to get NZ-based SFF. There are NZ authors who write SFF, but that's not the same thing. If you want aliens in Auckland or enchantments in Christchurch, YA books are the way to go.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    Personally I've enjoyed, in one way or another, every New Zealand book read in the past year. This includes completing the Shadbolt New Zealand Wars trilogy, Kate De Goldi, Karen Healey and even LLoyd Jones latest. While I can see how the themes and narrative got a bit 'what I did and saw in Berlin', it held together as well as any northern hemisphere novel read during the same period.

    I am so sad that ANZ fiction is now very flat.

    Since Islander increased the sphere to Australia , I would also say the Australian novels read in the same period have been enjoyable reads too. Winton's Breath seems as pertinent to New Zealand's surfing, itinerant culture as it does to far north-western Australia. For indigenous resonance Adrian Hyland's Gunshot Road (thanks Bookiemonstor) was just bloody fantastic, IMhO.

    Thinking why we might feel a bit nonplussed by NZ fiction, it strikes me it could be a factor of expectation. This is a small place, with meagre history and a penchant, or propensity, to box above our weight. When I pick up a New Zealand novel I have to temper my expectation it will sing to me like a morning chorus of Tui and Kokako.

    Of course we shouldn't expect less of fiction written in New Zealand, and I'm not at all suggesting we give the books or Authors a pass because we're a bit small and a bit sensitive, but should we expect more?

    I'm 2/3rds of the way through The Finkler Question and have been for 3 months.

    +1

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to recordari,

    I think when Islander uses "ANZ", she is referring to "Aotearoa New Zealand".

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1303 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Deborah,

    I think when Islander uses "ANZ", she is referring to "Aotearoa New Zealand".

    Oh well. Still enjoyed them though. Seems the great Australian Novel could fall foul of the same sentiments as expressed here about New Zealand. Or is the general consensus that they write better? (ducks)

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Because I have such a dire memory, I've had to resort to the Library "My Reading History" function to see what, if any, NZ novels I've read in the last 5 years. Paul Shannon's Davey Darling, which I loved, loved, loved. And a bit further back, about 4 years ago, I discovered Deborah Challinor. And that appears to be it for NZ fiction, lately. Because my mum buys every new book ever published - including all the NZ ones that get goodish reviews - I have them at my fingertips. But haven't accessed her collection for a number of years. I have read alot of NZ fiction writers' works but not for some time - and it took talking to you to realise it. Something else to think about. Boo.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Tamsin6,

    I think the last NZ novel I read was Master Pip, partly because of all the fanfare. I sort of enjoyed bits of it, but it left me underwhelmed. But then so much literary fiction does these days. The last fantastic absorbing book I read that I couldn't put down was Wolf Hall, and that is going back a bit now. I've got into the habit of reading fiction I don't have to think about, as a comfort thing, a bit like a nice comfy pair of jammies, a hot chocolate and a few biscuits. That's not to say I haven't read things that are supposed to be good: I so, so, so wanted to LOVE The Children's Book (Byatt) but didn't ever really feel that bothered - I live in the borough of Waltham Forest, for goodness sake, the William Morris museum is just up the road, the whole thing should have been sparking off recognition, I don't know, something. But I just couldn't be faffed with it. I visited the library today and brought home some appalling US mumsy novel thing full of fluff, another English complete chicklit thing, some new SF novel (actually probably not new, just new to me) and another one which I can't remember just now. This is all to interrupt my attempt to read the 2nd dragon tattoo book, which I want to read to find out what happens, but just gets me so irritated by the quality of the translation, or something - you see? I just can't be bothered being constructively critical. I don't want to read worthy books, I just want a nice wee story to keep me entertained - I just wish that some of the fantastically written and critically acclaimed books could deliver that as well.

    I honestly don't think it is an attention span thing. And it's not pure nostalgia - although I make recommendations of my old favourites to friends with children of the appropriate ages, I'm not driven to re-read them all. I may make an exception for the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones though.

    I'm tired of things being clever clever - I just want to be blown away by pure talent. I'll have to keep reading to find that I suppose?

    London • Since Dec 2007 • 123 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    I've read only a handful of NZ writers over the last few years, and at least half of those were young adult novels (reading my daughters' books). I thought that The 10pm Question by Kate de Goldi was excellent. The story was a lovely slow reveal, little bit adding to little bit, until I became aware of what was going on. There is a resolution, but not a trite one, at all. I've also enjoyed various books by Margaret Mahy, and more recently, on my elder daughter's recommendation, The Transformation of Minna Hargreaves by Fleur Beale. A great coming of age story. I also enjoyed her Juno of Taris, to which there is apparently a sequel (this news has Ms Twelve squealing with delight).

    I think this taps into what Jolisa said, that there's something joyful about young adult fiction. Especially young adult fiction without a vampire in sight.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1303 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg, in reply to recordari,

    Thinking why we might feel a bit nonplussed by NZ fiction

    Sorry for the off-topic, but this is a pet peeve of mine. Are you utterly perplexed or the opposite (whatever that is) by NZ fiction?

    /pedant.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 796 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Tamsin6,

    I'm completely in agreement with you, Tamsin. I do tend to steer away from clever or "worthy" fiction. As a matter of fact, at the moment I have Martin Amis' newest - The Pregnant Widow - sitting by my bed and I am avoiding it completely. I'll give it a go, I'm just not sure why I requested it from the library.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    As a matter of fact, at the moment I have Martin Amis’ newest – The Pregnant Widow – sitting by my bed and I am avoiding it completely.

    I'd continue avoiding it if I were you.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 642 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    /pedant.

    Fair enough. If you can get Obama to use it properly, I will too.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to philipmatthews,

    Oh, phew. Thanks Philip. That was my natural inclination. I'm just waiting till the library opens at lunchtime to collect the latest couple of Armistead Maupin books and a couple of memoirs. Will return it forthwith!

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

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