The reading public show better judgment than the Ockham awards

The people have spoken. Last week’s ReadingRoom book giveaway of all 16 titles shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand national book awards asked readers to name the books they wanted to win the four categories – and the only instance where their popular vote matched the judging decision was Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka, winner of the $60,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at Wednesday night’s Ockham ceremony.

The results suggest that the judging of the other three categories was wildly out of step with popular sentiment. No great surprises there – I already regarded the judging of other three categories as generally totally wrong, and wilfully stupid in one instance – but it may provide a small measure of consolation for the authors and publishers of books which an intelligent reading public much preferred to the judges’ selections.

There were 197 entries for the 2022 ReadingRoom Greatest Book Prize of All Times. To win, readers were required to provide a few words in support of their choices as best novel, best collection of poetry, best book of non-fiction, and best book of illustrated non-fiction. The request for some kind of commentary was to indicate they weren’t just in it for reasons of greed and avarice (the 16 books have a combined value of oh about $750). It was ruled that the winner of the giveaway would be a reader whose selections matched the judging of the four categories.

Not one reader – not one! – matched the judging of the four categories. The votes from the 197 entries showed far wiser judgment, better taste, and a stronger sense that they live in the real world than the judging panels of non-fiction, illustrated non-fiction, and poetry – again, not surprising, considering the calibre of some of the judges. An average poet, a mediocre book reviewer….”There they go again,” VS Naipaul used to say of idiot judges who ignored his novels, “pissing on literature.”

Many readers didn’t match any of the judging decisions. They included Tiffany Matsis, who wrote, “I confidently predict that this year will be a complete wahine sweep of all categories. These four books are all sublime and I can just sense it in my uterus.” One doesn’t wish to question the sensibility of a uterus but suffice to say the 2022 Ockhams did not witness a complete wahine sweep of all categories.

But readers and judges of the fiction award were on the same page. Ockham best novel Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka received 105 votes. Bren MacDibble wrote, “Everything Whiti touches turns to gold under her romantic, intelligent and creative eye, including this immersive historical tale of a bird-woman.” Nikki Hurst: “Just so stunningly engineered, and who hasn’t been obsessed with Kurangaituku since mat-time in the primers?” Patea writer Airana Ngarewa, who entered on behalf of Te Kura Tuarua o Ngāmotu / Spotswood College: “There’s a reason people keep writing the story of Kurangaituku. It’s innately compelling. Somehow Whiti has managed to make it even more so.”  And this fantastically enthusiastic assessment, from Rebecca Anderson: “I think this might be the best book I’ve ever read?? I had to have a good sit and think about it for a long time after I finished, and then immediately told everyone I know that they have to read it.”

In second place was Greta and Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly with 40 votes. Damien Holder, of whom we will hear more later:  “This was a real struggle for me. It was between G&V and Kurangaituku but I think G&V has it. I adore this book to no end. It reflects who I am and how I exist in the world as a queer Māori person. Reading this book and hearing it on everybody’s lips across the country, I felt a real shift in what a New Zealand novel could be. “

Gigi Fenster’s A Good Winter got 14 votes, and Entanglement by Bryan Walpert got 18  – Walpert’s novel also received the most intriguing comments, viz Donna Robertson (“This book justifies the amazing reviews. It is so compelling I read it two sittings. Nearly one. It uses a circling kind of style, coming back to key moments and themes”) and Helen Anderson (” The multilayered, interwoven story grasps us by the multiple tentacles of the experience of grief.”)

Bravo, anyway, to fiction judges Rob Kidd, Kelly Ana Morey and Gemma Browne, for living in the real world. I have nothing much good to say about the other nine judges in other categories, although I had a nice chat with a couple of them on Wednesday night, and respect their terrible decision to award the non-fiction prize to Vincent O’Malley for Voices from the New Zealand Wars | He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa. Good book, and of its time; but it was no work of art, and that’s what ReadingRoom readers wanted in their overwhelming vote for The Mirror Book.

Charlotte Grimshaw’s memoir got 108 votes. I loved this comment, from Nat Baker: “I attended an NZ Society of Authors event late last year. It was at the Coffee Club on High Street. The place was totally packed out and Paula Morris interviewed Charlotte Grimshaw and it was mesmerising…It was like neither could believe the book was out there ‘in the world’, laid bare.” And this, from Sally O’Neill: “Charlotte Grimshaw wrote the book of the year for every middle aged woman, every fan of NZ fiction as well as anyone with an interest in the truth and laying the ghosts of dysfunctional families to rest.”

But I also liked this comment, from Samuel Lewis, who voted for O’Malley’s book: “It should absolutely win. Vincent O’Malley is one of the best Aotearoa NZ historians of our time, rivalling Belich in influence, I’d argue, and his books have bloody saved me from failing History at Uni this year.” Voices from the New Zealand Wars | He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa got 21 votes. Dave Lowe’s The Alarmist got 19. In second place was From the Centre by Patricia Grace, with 49.

Ockham judges gave the best illustrated book of non-fiction prize to Dressed, by Claire Regnault. ReadingRoom readers placed it last, with 11 votes, but they included a wonderfully sensual comment  from Cristina Sanders: “There’s dust on hems, smudges of lipstick. Creases. Has there ever been an Ockham winner of such glorious tactile womanly history?” Bridget Hackshaw’s beautiful book The Architect and the Artists: Hackshaw, McCahon, Dibble got 17 votes.

I thought the Ockham award ought to have gone to Shifting Grounds, a masterpiece by Lucy Mackintosh. The ReadingRoom vote came close to agreeing with my opinion. Shifting Grounds got 69 votes – but the most popular book was the simply awesome NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women by Qiane Matata-Sipu. It received 87 votes. Anne Coppell: “This is a taonga – a complete thing of beauty. I am very judicious with my book spending, and this is one I have bought. The recipient is very judicious with the items in their tiny space, and they were very happy to have this added. High production values, the feel of the paper, the words of the page, the photography all combines into one glorious whole.” Kate Roche was succinct: “I am so in awe of Qiane Matata-Sipu that I’d likely be dumbstruck if I met her and that takes some doing.”

The winner of the Mary and Peter Biggsy award for poetry at Wednesday’s Ockhams was Tumble, by Joanna Preston.  15 readers agreed with judges and although several comments were kind of meaningless (Nicola Thorstensen: “Because it’s an OUP book and I’m from Dunedin”), it also attracted this close reading, by Jessica Ensing: “One of the poems in it, ‘Lucifer in Las Vegas’, is one of my favourite poems and an absolute masterpiece.”  Serie Barford’s Sleeping with Stones got 14 votes, and Anne Kennedy’s The Sea Walked into a Wall got 47.

The best book of poetry according to the popular vote was – inevitably, rightly – Rangikura, by Tayi Tibble. “Shamelessly promoted by her boyfriend,” commented Barb Austin. As a declaration of considerable interest in her, I love Tayi. I also love her writing, a notion shared by the largest majority in the ReadingRoom giveaway contest – 121 votes. Sally O’Neill: “Tayi Tibble writes with the lushness of a Pacific island and the sharpness of a Pounamu mere.” Melissa Wastney: “These poems kicked me around.” Debbie Snell: “Raw, sometimes shocking but provocative,  intense .” Rebekah Galbraith: “Because Poūkahangatus was robbed in 2019.” Sam Ellis was succinct: “Tayi fucking rules.”

So. Anyway. There was a bit of blather on social media after the awards that there should be a new category for creative non-fiction – memoir, essays, etc – to reward books such as The Mirror Book. Certainly it ought to have won on Wednesday. But yet more categories will only invite yet more terrible judging decisions. That’s enough judges; that’s enough little elite panels, so often made up of average poets and mediocre book reviewers; that’s enough wilful stupidity. No more, por favor! But I do think there could be a new category – the people’s choice award, as voted by the public, by readers, by people who go out and buy books.

People like the winner of the 2022 ReadingRoom Greatest Book Prize of All Times: the aforementioned Damien Holder. His selections didn’t match any of the judging decisions. Well, good for him. His commentary – passionate, intelligent, engaged – revealed him as someone who loves a good book and who cares about what a good book means. He voted for Greta and Valdin, Rangikura, The Mirror Book, and NUKU. They are among the 16 books on the Ockham shortlist that will soon be lining his bookcase. Sweet! Or, as he wrote in praise of Rangikura: “Tu meke.”  
 

Tomorrow in ReadingRoom: A self-portrait by Jordan Hamel, who is holding launches in Wellington and Auckland this week for his first book, Everyone is Everyone Except You (Dead Bird Books, $30).

The reading public show better judgment than the Ockham awards

The people have spoken. Last week’s ReadingRoom book giveaway of all 16 titles shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand national book awards asked readers to name the books they wanted to win the four categories – and the only instance where their popular vote matched the judging decision was Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka, winner of the $60,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at Wednesday night’s Ockham ceremony.

The results suggest that the judging of the other three categories was wildly out of step with popular sentiment. No great surprises there – I already regarded the judging of other three categories as generally totally wrong, and wilfully stupid in one instance – but it may provide a small measure of consolation for the authors and publishers of books which an intelligent reading public much preferred to the judges’ selections.

There were 197 entries for the 2022 ReadingRoom Greatest Book Prize of All Times. To win, readers were required to provide a few words in support of their choices as best novel, best collection of poetry, best book of non-fiction, and best book of illustrated non-fiction. The request for some kind of commentary was to indicate they weren’t just in it for reasons of greed and avarice (the 16 books have a combined value of oh about $750). It was ruled that the winner of the giveaway would be a reader whose selections matched the judging of the four categories.

Not one reader – not one! – matched the judging of the four categories. The votes from the 197 entries showed far wiser judgment, better taste, and a stronger sense that they live in the real world than the judging panels of non-fiction, illustrated non-fiction, and poetry – again, not surprising, considering the calibre of some of the judges. An average poet, a mediocre book reviewer….”There they go again,” VS Naipaul used to say of idiot judges who ignored his novels, “pissing on literature.”

Many readers didn’t match any of the judging decisions. They included Tiffany Matsis, who wrote, “I confidently predict that this year will be a complete wahine sweep of all categories. These four books are all sublime and I can just sense it in my uterus.” One doesn’t wish to question the sensibility of a uterus but suffice to say the 2022 Ockhams did not witness a complete wahine sweep of all categories.

But readers and judges of the fiction award were on the same page. Ockham best novel Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka received 105 votes. Bren MacDibble wrote, “Everything Whiti touches turns to gold under her romantic, intelligent and creative eye, including this immersive historical tale of a bird-woman.” Nikki Hurst: “Just so stunningly engineered, and who hasn’t been obsessed with Kurangaituku since mat-time in the primers?” Patea writer Airana Ngarewa, who entered on behalf of Te Kura Tuarua o Ngāmotu / Spotswood College: “There’s a reason people keep writing the story of Kurangaituku. It’s innately compelling. Somehow Whiti has managed to make it even more so.”  And this fantastically enthusiastic assessment, from Rebecca Anderson: “I think this might be the best book I’ve ever read?? I had to have a good sit and think about it for a long time after I finished, and then immediately told everyone I know that they have to read it.”

In second place was Greta and Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly with 40 votes. Damien Holder, of whom we will hear more later:  “This was a real struggle for me. It was between G&V and Kurangaituku but I think G&V has it. I adore this book to no end. It reflects who I am and how I exist in the world as a queer Māori person. Reading this book and hearing it on everybody’s lips across the country, I felt a real shift in what a New Zealand novel could be. “

Gigi Fenster’s A Good Winter got 14 votes, and Entanglement by Bryan Walpert got 18  – Walpert’s novel also received the most intriguing comments, viz Donna Robertson (“This book justifies the amazing reviews. It is so compelling I read it two sittings. Nearly one. It uses a circling kind of style, coming back to key moments and themes”) and Helen Anderson (” The multilayered, interwoven story grasps us by the multiple tentacles of the experience of grief.”)

Bravo, anyway, to fiction judges Rob Kidd, Kelly Ana Morey and Gemma Browne, for living in the real world. I have nothing much good to say about the other nine judges in other categories, although I had a nice chat with a couple of them on Wednesday night, and respect their terrible decision to award the non-fiction prize to Vincent O’Malley for Voices from the New Zealand Wars | He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa. Good book, and of its time; but it was no work of art, and that’s what ReadingRoom readers wanted in their overwhelming vote for The Mirror Book.

Charlotte Grimshaw’s memoir got 108 votes. I loved this comment, from Nat Baker: “I attended an NZ Society of Authors event late last year. It was at the Coffee Club on High Street. The place was totally packed out and Paula Morris interviewed Charlotte Grimshaw and it was mesmerising…It was like neither could believe the book was out there ‘in the world’, laid bare.” And this, from Sally O’Neill: “Charlotte Grimshaw wrote the book of the year for every middle aged woman, every fan of NZ fiction as well as anyone with an interest in the truth and laying the ghosts of dysfunctional families to rest.”

But I also liked this comment, from Samuel Lewis, who voted for O’Malley’s book: “It should absolutely win. Vincent O’Malley is one of the best Aotearoa NZ historians of our time, rivalling Belich in influence, I’d argue, and his books have bloody saved me from failing History at Uni this year.” Voices from the New Zealand Wars | He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa got 21 votes. Dave Lowe’s The Alarmist got 19. In second place was From the Centre by Patricia Grace, with 49.

Ockham judges gave the best illustrated book of non-fiction prize to Dressed, by Claire Regnault. ReadingRoom readers placed it last, with 11 votes, but they included a wonderfully sensual comment  from Cristina Sanders: “There’s dust on hems, smudges of lipstick. Creases. Has there ever been an Ockham winner of such glorious tactile womanly history?” Bridget Hackshaw’s beautiful book The Architect and the Artists: Hackshaw, McCahon, Dibble got 17 votes.

I thought the Ockham award ought to have gone to Shifting Grounds, a masterpiece by Lucy Mackintosh. The ReadingRoom vote came close to agreeing with my opinion. Shifting Grounds got 69 votes – but the most popular book was the simply awesome NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women by Qiane Matata-Sipu. It received 87 votes. Anne Coppell: “This is a taonga – a complete thing of beauty. I am very judicious with my book spending, and this is one I have bought. The recipient is very judicious with the items in their tiny space, and they were very happy to have this added. High production values, the feel of the paper, the words of the page, the photography all combines into one glorious whole.” Kate Roche was succinct: “I am so in awe of Qiane Matata-Sipu that I’d likely be dumbstruck if I met her and that takes some doing.”

The winner of the Mary and Peter Biggsy award for poetry at Wednesday’s Ockhams was Tumble, by Joanna Preston.  15 readers agreed with judges and although several comments were kind of meaningless (Nicola Thorstensen: “Because it’s an OUP book and I’m from Dunedin”), it also attracted this close reading, by Jessica Ensing: “One of the poems in it, ‘Lucifer in Las Vegas’, is one of my favourite poems and an absolute masterpiece.”  Serie Barford’s Sleeping with Stones got 14 votes, and Anne Kennedy’s The Sea Walked into a Wall got 47.

The best book of poetry according to the popular vote was – inevitably, rightly – Rangikura, by Tayi Tibble. “Shamelessly promoted by her boyfriend,” commented Barb Austin. As a declaration of considerable interest in her, I love Tayi. I also love her writing, a notion shared by the largest majority in the ReadingRoom giveaway contest – 121 votes. Sally O’Neill: “Tayi Tibble writes with the lushness of a Pacific island and the sharpness of a Pounamu mere.” Melissa Wastney: “These poems kicked me around.” Debbie Snell: “Raw, sometimes shocking but provocative,  intense .” Rebekah Galbraith: “Because Poūkahangatus was robbed in 2019.” Sam Ellis was succinct: “Tayi fucking rules.”

So. Anyway. There was a bit of blather on social media after the awards that there should be a new category for creative non-fiction – memoir, essays, etc – to reward books such as The Mirror Book. Certainly it ought to have won on Wednesday. But yet more categories will only invite yet more terrible judging decisions. That’s enough judges; that’s enough little elite panels, so often made up of average poets and mediocre book reviewers; that’s enough wilful stupidity. No more, por favor! But I do think there could be a new category – the people’s choice award, as voted by the public, by readers, by people who go out and buy books.

People like the winner of the 2022 ReadingRoom Greatest Book Prize of All Times: the aforementioned Damien Holder. His selections didn’t match any of the judging decisions. Well, good for him. His commentary – passionate, intelligent, engaged – revealed him as someone who loves a good book and who cares about what a good book means. He voted for Greta and Valdin, Rangikura, The Mirror Book, and NUKU. They are among the 16 books on the Ockham shortlist that will soon be lining his bookcase. Sweet! Or, as he wrote in praise of Rangikura: “Tu meke.”  
 

Tomorrow in ReadingRoom: A self-portrait by Jordan Hamel, who is holding launches in Wellington and Auckland this week for his first book, Everyone is Everyone Except You (Dead Bird Books, $30).

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