Scoop Review of Books

Booker Winner Ditches Listener Sub

SRB Picks of the Week 25 April
Booker prize-winner Keri Hulme hasn’t exactly flooded the world with words since snapping up the Booker with The Bone People, but she took the time last week to announce on a local website she wouldn’t be renewing her Listener subscription.

Hulme was commenting on a post, on Poneke, discussing the Listener’s decision to get rid of its excellent Ecologic columnist, Dave Hansford.

A subscriber of 20 years standing, Hulme wrote she wouldn’t be renewing her sub because the mag had become, “tiresomely irrelevant”. But it was comments by former ACT Party MP Stephen Franks praising the mag’s shift from being an “Alliance Tablet” that Hulme credited with nudging her over the edge to non-subscription.

Talking of the Listener, former staffer Gordon Campbell this week launched Scoop’s coverage of Election 08. Looks like providing some of the most thoughtful reportage and analysis of local politics available.

And across the ditch, the man formerly known as Fred Dagg, John Clarke, has become the patron of the Australian Poetry Centre. The ABC’s Book Show reports Clarke is a dab hand at writing parodies of the Greats.

Christopher Hitichens has travelled a Listener-like trajectory from left to right in recent years but it hasn’t done his ability to stitch beautifully crafted sentences any harm. His review of Peter Ackroyd’s new biography of Newton is a fine example of his slightly rambling style.

And Prospect Magazine has profile the man himself.

Another fine wordsmith, Isabel Allende, is the subject of many a profile on the web this week due to the recent release of her memoirs, My Invented Country. The Guardian interview and ABC’s Bookshow are our picks of the bunch.

Marcus Garvey was to Afro-America what Theodore Herzl was to Jewish Europe. But the back to Africa movement – despite some initial successes – failed to take on the life of Zionism. The New York Times reviews a recent book on Garvey.

If Garvey was a Herzl-like figure, the people of Haiti were the Afro-American Bundhists: (East European Jewish internationalist socialists determined to stay put and create a world worth living-in) The stories of the Bundhists and the people of Haiti are as inspiring as they are tragic. Raj Patel, the author of Stuffed and Starved who visited NZ last year, comments on the latest chapter of the Haitian tragedy: the food riots.

George Monbiot has a fascinating account of the Murdoch and Chinese empires – and why you’re unlikely to read a review of Bruce Dover’s book, Rupert’s Adventures in China. (The SRB hopes to bring you a review of the book within the next couple of months.)

Author Nikolas Kozloff has a good backgrounder on the newly elected president of Paraguay.

The SRB’s not the only local book site to concentrate on photography this week, Beaties Book Blog has news of a couple of new photographic books.

Finally, the Aussies have announced a large new literary prize, and Kiwis are eligible.

To subscribe to the SRB Picks of the Week click here.


  1. Tessa and Sven, 26. April 2008, 15:42

    For many years we subscribed to the Listener. It was by the far the most consistently interesting, inciteful, relevant and balanced magazine in New Zealand. I recommened it to vistors from other countries and as an example of whats good about New Zealand.

    It is this history of quality that has caused me to delay cancelling my subscription. But like Keri Hulme we have had enough. Most of the better writers seem to have left (I still enjoy Jane Clifton on occasion). The editorials are regularily convulted and stupid – it is basically become boring, irrelevant and we are trying to keep an open mind on this – but it also appears to have become completely unbalanced.

    We can cope with change and have room to read reports from a range of political standpoints. But we have given this a chance – it is bascially poor reporting, with very little insight and considerable agenda driven drivel.

  2. Keri Hulme, 27. April 2008, 15:53

    I’ll add but 2 comments – in addition to tautoko’ing Tessa and Sven’s comments: 1: The Listener used to be the primary book review organ in this country, and used to support NZ literature. It isnt, and doesnt, any longer. 2: While, occaisionally, there have been meaty(=informative, intellectually satisfying) articles or commentaries over the past 3 years, they are now dismayingly rare. By totally misunderstanding the ‘babyboomer’ (gawd, I hate that term -) market, the Listener has lost, or is losing, its main readership. And, just incidentally, not gaining much support from later generations. That said, I have relished some continuing contributors, not least, Bruce Ansley, Russell Brown (but hey! he’s available on the net!), Jane Clifton, and the very occaisional book reviewer (I always enjoy David Eggleton’s energy-) but not enough to renew the subscription.

  3. Simon Lambert, 24. May 2008, 18:22

    Kia ora tatou,
    Reading this reminded me of first browsing The Listener’ during Xmas holidays at our bach on the Rakaia (southside…there’s a difference). It was a newsie-print thing, A5 in size, and I browsed as opposed to read because I was about 12 years-old and more interested in the fishing part of bach life. (I have fished there once in the last decade – a month ago to begin teach my boys how to catch fish for their supper – and now devour books there. Such is life).

    I then read it devotedly as an unemployed twenty something in the 1990s…forgive me, I lived in TImaru at the time. Now I agree with the comment above but would take it further: it’s a piece of dangerous crap, giving middle-class liberalistas their weekly jag of intellectual fodder. There are certainly exceptions to the rule (but as alluded to, almost everything and anything worthwhile is put on the net in some way, shape or form). Why did I stop buying it? Check out the piece by Joanne Black several years ago, on bike helmets…like, did they ever really reduce the fatalities and injuries of cyclists (um, why yes! ‘cos when you fall off your bike, you often knock your noggin in which is your brain which does lots of really neat things Joannie…).

    Maybe she was being ironic, or maybe irony is something added to her soy latte. I now read the web. although not as much as catching me post might suggest, buy an occasional edition of the TLS or LRB (is it pretencious to use acronyms for literary journals?!) and peruse secondhand book stores (currently reading WW2 history, especially the memoirs of old combatants published in the early 1950s. The writing style is what we insecurely call poncy but their classical education didn’t stop them from being ridiculously brave under fire, for better or for worse).

    Anyways, I mourn the loss of what carried the Listener, not the organ itself.

    Thanks for that Simon. Joanne isn’t alone in questioning the effectiveness of bike helmets. I wrote a piece for Consumer a few years back quoting an accident and emergency doctor who was also of the opinion that making the wearing of helmets compulsory was a bad mistake. In his opinion the benefits were minimal. The public health argument against helmets is based on people cycling less as a result of the law and the health benefits of cycling far outweighing the relatively small risk of injury.

    Jeremy Rose