Week in Review

A full, frank and fearless critique of the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards longlist

ReadingRoom literary editor Steve Braunias makes a controversial assessment of the longlist for the 2020 Ockham New Zealand national book awards, announced this morning at 5am.

Seems fair, overall. The two books I'd most like to win in each category are marked in bold.


The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press)

Lonely Asian Woman by Sharon Lam (Lawrence & Gibson)

Necessary Secrets by Greg McGee (Upstart Press)

Auē by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press)

Moonlight Sonata by Eileen Merriman (Black Swan, Penguin Random House)

Pearly Gates by Owen Marshall (Vintage, Penguin Random House)

Attraction by Ruby Porter (Text Publishing)

A Mistake by Carl Shuker (Victoria University Press)

Loving Sylvie by Elizabeth Smither (Allen & Unwin)

Halibut on the Moon by David Vann (Text Publishing)


Women Mean Business: Colonial Businesswomen in New Zealand by Catherine Bishop (Otago University Press)

Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter (Victoria University Press)

Dead Letters: Censorship and Subversion in New Zealand 1914-1920 by Jared Davidson (Otago University Press)

Shirley Smith: An Examined Life by Sarah Gaitanos (Victoria University Press)

Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry by Paula Green (Massey University Press)

Finding Frances Hodgkins by Mary Kisler (Massey University Press)

Towards the Mountain: A Story of Grief and Hope Forty Years on from Erebus by Sarah Myles (Allen & Unwin)

The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa by Vincent O’Malley (Bridget Williams Books)

Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica by Rebecca Priestley (Victoria University Press)

Whale Oil: One Man’s Fight to Save His Reputation, then His Life by Margie Thomson (Potton & Burton)


Craven by Jane Arthur (Victoria University Press)

Listening In by Lynley Edmeades (Otago University Press)

Back Before You Know by Murray Edmond (Compound Press)

Under Glass by Gregory Kan (Auckland University Press)

Moth Hour by Anne Kennedy (Auckland University Press)

ransack by essa may ranapiri (Victoria University Press)

How to Live by Helen Rickerby (Auckland University Press)

Lay Studies by Steven Toussaint (Victoria University Press)

Because a Woman’s Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean by Sugar Magnolia Wilson (Auckland University Press)

How I Get Ready by Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press)


Crafting Aotearoa: A Cultural History of Making in New Zealand and the Wider Moana Oceania edited by Karl Chitham, Kolokesa U Māhina-Tuai, Damian Skinner (Te Papa Press)

Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance edited by Stephanie Gordon, Matariki Williams, Puawai Cairns (Te Papa Press)

Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys edited by Catherine Hammond and Mary Kisler (Auckland University Press and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki)

Funny As: The Story of New Zealand Comedy by Paul Horan and Philip Matthews (Auckland University Press)

The New Photography: New Zealand’s First-generation Contemporary Photographers edited by Athol McCredie (Te Papa Press)

We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa by Chris McDowall and Tim Denee (Massey University Press)

Louise Henderson: From Life edited by Felicity Milburn, Lara Strongman, Julia Waite (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)

McCahon Country by Justin Paton (Penguin Random House)

Colin McCahon: There is Only One Direction, Vol. 1 1919-1959 by Peter Simpson (Auckland University Press)

The Meaning of Trees: The History and Use of New Zealand’s Native Plants by Robert Vennell (HarperCollins)

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