Week in Review

Steve Braunias, on a mission to serve readers

Steve Braunias, literary editor of Newsroom’s newly established books section, rolls up his sleeves and introduces ReadingRoom.

Right at this very second – midday, 12 sharp, the exact time of the launch of ReadingRoom, the new books section set to take New Zealand literature by storm, or whatever resembles a storm in the placid estates of New Zealand literature – a rare and great convergence of many of our most distinguished authors is taking place in an apartment in downtown Auckland. Paula Morris is hosting the finalists of the 2019 Ockham New Zealand national book awards. She is having them over for lunch at her place. There will be food, there will be refreshments, there will be interesting conversations. And there, too, will be ReadingRoom, incognito, in a capacity which is at once practical and symbolic: as the lunchtime soiree’s waiter, we aim to serve New Zealand literature.

A books section is at the service of books. It wouldn’t exist without the creative efforts of authors, the commitment of publishers, the existence of shops, the various deep cravings of readers. These things come first; a books section trails behind, really quite inessentially, but actually it offers something crucial and important. It provides the same thing that Paula Morris is providing right this very second: a space to hold interesting conversations. ReadingRoom will feature all the usual literary things – reviews, essays, interviews, yarns, etc – that a good, lively books section aspires to publish.

There are already some very good books sections and publications. God bless New Zealand Books, that stately quarterly edited by Harry Ricketts and Louise O’Brien. Landfall, in both its print and online operations, remains a nimble and alert witness to contemporary literary practice. But the more, the merrier; and ReadingRoom, in part, is a response to the diminishing coverage of books in New Zealand. Magazines and newspapers used to have page after page of reviews and such. Literary editors used to be book devotees like Guy Somerset, Andrew Johnston, Andrew Mason, Margo White, Michael King, Vanya Lowry, Philip Matthews, Vincent O’Sullivan. O the good old days! O whatever. In 2019, ReadingRoom has modest ambitions and good intentions to publish quality writing, at length, about books and authors and ideas.

We start today because today, or tonight, is the announcement of the 2019 Ockham awards. We will publish a full list of winners – with commentary – on the stroke of 9pm. We will also furnish the books section today with a sample of previous Newsroom pieces from author interviews. We will do this and do that but right now we had best roll up our sleeves and pour the wine chez Paula Morris. These are exciting times for New Zealand writing, as the shortlist of the Ockhams confirms; the novel is in good shape, poetry is fizzing along, although non-fiction, frankly, could do with a bit more seriousness and oomph and wit; Pasifika and Maori writing continues to flourish; and ReadingRoom aims to serve the lot, but mostly we aim to satisfy or excite the various deep cravings of readers. Onwards!

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