Saturday, January 28, 2017

Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2017

Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2017
Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood, editors

When I first flicked through Tell You What I was very keen to read it in depth because it promised to give me an in depth scan of New Zealand’s cultural, political and social landscape.
     I was not disappointed.
    The Editor’s Note tells us they were looking for ‘fresh voices’ when they selected the articles and they definitely delivered on that undertaking. The result was compelling reading.
    Each writer brought a fresh perspective to his or her article and every article rewarded the time I took to read it by delivering a new understanding or perspective on the topic discussed.
  These were wide ranging, from depression, poverty, the effect of natural disasters such as the Christchurch earthquake, environmental catastrophes and cultural issues.
   The editors selected courageous voices that never shied away from tackling challenging topics. On many occasions they shone a light on some dark corners by taking us deeper into the stories behind the five second sound bites we get on popular media.
  The writers put themselves in their stories and that made them accessible and enjoyable. It was like living vicariously through other people…feeling their joy and experiencing their struggles. And this book deals with most issues that concern us today, from historical misunderstanding to those events that will continue to occupy our thinking for a long time into the future. For example, what physical and emotional legacy will Christchurch earthquakes have, and will the environment recover from the MV Rena’s grounding on the Astrolabe Reef? How do we deal with historical land alienation and if we set up a Givealittle campaign to save one piece of land what does that say about how the land came up for sale in the first place?
Some articles were brutally honest and I really liked the Cost of Living article with the line, "...obesity is being presented as the latest sin of the poor". The article seemed to naturally flow on to Amber Essau’s article, On Having My Card Declined at Countdown.
    Now all of this might make this book sound gloomy. Far from it. It is honest and a word I keep hearing these days…authentic.
     It uncovers the veneer that we all like to think of as ‘normal’ and takes a look at real lives with all their triumphs, challenges, and passion (Hudson and Halls, Histories Intertwined) and complexity.
     There are no easy answers to any of the issues raised by these articles but that is why they should be discussed. The answers we agree on will shape the future of Aotearoa/New Zealand.
     I'm not saying that all articles were deeply serious. They were not. Many were funny and joyful like Nic Low's Te Matatini and Selina's Tusitala Marsh’s, Fast Talking PI Goes to London to Visit the Queen.
     Yes, every issue this book covers is complicated but that is why collections like this should come out every year. To make us look behind the headlines.

Flaxflower Review by Suraya Dewing
Title: Tell You What: Great New Zealand Non Fiction 2017
Editors: Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood
Publisher: Auckland University Press
ISBN: 978 1 86940 860 2
RRP: $29.99
Available: bookshops

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