Last year an unholy row broke out on the announcement of these awards because of the inexplicable decision of the judges to name only four shortlisted fiction titles instead of the customary and expected five titles.
This year there is unlikely to be any major controversy of the kind seen last year although there are some unusual aspects to the shortlist which need comment.
First off here is an analysis of the shortlisted titles by publisher, including the best first book awards:
Victoria University Press - 8 titles
Auckland University Press - 8 titles
Random House - 5 titles
Penguin Books - 3 titles
David Bateman - 3 titles
Longacre Press - 2 titles
And then with one title each:
Allen & Unwin, Geological Society, Lopdell House Gallery, Te Papa Press, Otago University Press, Oxford University Press.
Clearly this shortlist is a triumph for the university presses ; if you add the one each given to Otago & Oxford to the dominant Victoria & Auckland haul then the university presses have 18 titles between them just under half of the entire shortlist.
This in turn means that the list has a more serious/literary/academic feel to it than normal. I have been phoning around booksellers this morning and most of them feel that the shortlist is considerably less commercial than in previous years.
The fiction shortlist is perhaps the most surprising. I see three of them being bolters:
The Crocus Hour by Charlotte Randall, and Acid Song by Bernard Beckett – both worthy but not their best work by a long shot. This view of The Crocus Hour was shared by John McCrystal in his review in the NZ Listener in May 2008.
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, reasonably unusual for a first novel to make the list. Although the book has sold well to overseas publishers, it is a very literary novel, a difficult read for most. Certainly the least commercial of the fiction shortlist.
Then there is The 10 PM Question, an interesting one because it was written and published for the Young Adult market, and while a brilliant read one must wonder at the inclusion of a YA novel ahead of all the other New Zealand adult fiction published last year. Read what Paula Morris had to say on this subject in her review in NZ Books.
Random House and Penguin Books must both be disappointed with their showing. 2008 was a golden year for Random House’s New Zealand publishing and they could have expected to reap a bigger reward.
On the other hand indie local publisher David Bateman with three titles must be delighted. As would be the Otago indie, Longacre Pres with two titles.
The Montana New Zealand Book Awards were formed by a merger of the Montana Book Awards and the New Zealand Book Awards. The latter always had a more literary bias than the more commercial Montanas and in recent times more serious authors and publishers have occasionally voiced the wish that the two separate awards were still in existence to give those more serious writers more chance of recognition. This year the pendulum has swung strongly the other way with the more serious and literary work pushing aside the more popular. This clearly has much to do with the makeup of the judging panel headed by senior academic Dr.Mark Williams, professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington.
Auckland University Press has seven finalist authors of six finalist books – more finalists than any other single publisher – in the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards shortlist announced today.
This is the second year that Auckland University Press has had the most nominations of any publisher in the shortlist field.
“At Auckland University Press, we are enormously proud to have published another great crop of Montana Book Award finalists. From poetry to biography, history to reference, it’s a big bag of outstanding titles,” said Auckland University Press Director Sam Elworthy.
“I’m grateful to our wonderful authors and to the Press team who excel at the editorial, design, and publicity work that turns a good idea into a truly great book.”
The AUP finalists are spread across Montana NZ Book Award categories: Get Some by Sonja Yelich (Poetry); The Lakes of Mars by Chris Orsman (Poetry); Heaphy by Iain Sharp (Biography); First Catch Your Weka: A Story of New Zealand Cooking by David Veart (History); Peter Peryer: Photographer by Peter Simpson and Peter Peryer (Illustrative Arts); and Collected Poems 1951–2006 by C K Stead (Reference and Anthology).
Auckland University Press also has two finalists in the NZ Society of Authors (NZSA) Best First Book Awards; the winners of which will be announced as part of the Montana NZ Book Awards ceremony: Everything Talks by Sam Sampson (Poetry) and First Catch Your Weka by David Veart (Non-Fiction)
“Finding talented new writers is one of our key aims at Auckland University Press and it’s a great achievement for Sam Sampson and David Veart to have their first books recognised in the Awards,” said Dr Elworthy.