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Reviewer of the Year: Judges’ Report

Book Publishers Association of New Zealand Reviewer of the Year Award & Best Review Page or Programme Award 2009 Judges’ Report

Judges 2009 – Stephen Stratford and Morrin Rout

Writers, publishers and booksellers are wholly dependent on readers and in a time of competing entertainment options, readers rely more and more on the information given by reviews to inform them about what’s been published and which book to spend their time and money on. The editors of review
pages are constantly under pressure for space so it is greatly to their credit that they fight to maintain the variety of books and quality of writing that were exhibited in the submissions.

Reviewing the reviewers is an interesting exercise. Firstly because it reinforces the vital role that reviews play in helping to complete what Margaret Mahy describes as the arc that joins the writer to the reader Secondly it forces you to concentrate on what constitutes a good review. We looked for good writing, of course, along with subject knowledge, wit, sympathy – all are good qualities. But many reviews,
however well written and entertaining, were more journalistic than critical. This was especially true of internet reviews, as the lack of constraint on space and the ability to add links allow a writer to expand the piece into something more akin to a magazine article. All the finalists stood out as good writers themselves whom any reader would trust as a guide to other good writers.

Book Publishers Association of New Zealand Reviewer of the Year 2009

Thirty two submissions were received for the Reviewer of the year and, apart from one broadcast reviewer, the rest were from the print media and the internet This is clearly not a reflection of the range of reviews available but more likely a straightforward appraisal of the chances of winning versus the
effort of submitting.

Maybe in these difficult times writers and editors are more concerned with fighting for their profession than in contemplating glory in competitions.

Our special acknowledgments in this section were:

Mick Ludden for Best Short Print Review
: It’s hard for a short review to be much more than an quick and efficient precis of the plot but in Mick Ludden’s case, his infectiously intelligent and droll voice enlivened and informed his short reviews in
the Wairarapa Times Age and was well suited to the target audience.

Iain Sharp for Best Long Print Review: We were captivated by Iain’s review of a travel and a poetry anthology in Landfall. His high intelligence and true wit in the service of illuminating the books underconsideration while placing their contents in context came marvellously together to inform and delight the reader.

Finalists for Best Reviewer of the Year 2009:

David Eggleton
David Eggleton brings an impressive depth of knowledge to his unfailingly perceptive reviews,
especially in the visual arts and poetry, yet he is never doctrinaire or patronising. When he offers criticism, he always backs it up with evidence so readers can judge for themselves. His poet’s facility with language always produces razor-sharp imagery that relates to the book under review. As a result,
each review is a joy to read, a pleasurable piece of writing in itself.

Clare McIntosh
It’s rare to find a reviewer who can write every bit as well as some of the authors she reviews, which we can see because she uses quotation so well to make her points, showing us rather than telling us what the author under discussion is doing. Everything she does is lively and fresh – it’s loose, in a good way. Her imagery is delightfully inventive; her touch is light. Whatever her subject, she is a
must-read reviewer.

Helen Watson White

Here we find a broad range of sympathies and a reviewer who excels at fully describing a novel without giving anything essential away. That is far harder than it sounds. In non-fiction too, she can describe and judge a book in a way that is informative but never merely journalistic. A most attentive reader, she conveys her findings with clarity and often a gentle humour.

The BPANZ Reviewer of the Year Award for 2007 goes to David Eggleton.

Book Publishers Association of New Zealand Best Review Page or Programme Award 2009

Eleven submissions were received. Ten of these were from the print media and one an internet site.

The numbers are up on last year’s paltry seven but down on 2007’s record number of twenty. It would be instructive but probably impossible to discover why numbers have reduced but it may again be a sign of straitened times.

The Finalists in the Best Review Page or Programme of the Year Award 2009 are:

NZ Listener

The Listener’s books coverage is serious but never dull. The writing is consistently engaging and stylish, and a pleasing balance is maintained between New Zealand and international books. Reviewers are carefully matched with the books they cover, and books that deserve fuller treatment get it. The
best Listener reviews are mini-essays, and it is telling that two of the three finalists for Reviewer of the Year are regular Listener contributors.

Landfall
This venerable literary magazine, now a bi-annual, lives up to its legacy in its review section. We expect from it considered, intelligent discussion at some length of New Zealand books, and in issue 216 (November 2008) especially, we get that and more. The reviews by Kim Worthington and Iain Sharp in particular stand out as being not just authoritative but fearless and, in Sharp’s case, brilliantly witty.

Otago Daily Times
Dunedin and Otago have a strong literary history and a lively arts community that is very loyal to the city and region’s history and surroundings. This could easily lead to parochialism, but not in the ODT’s books pages. There is a strong regional focus, in a good way, and what is even more impressive
is the care with which reviewers are chosen for their specialist knowledge of a book’s subject matter. This books editor casts a very wide net, and casts it well.

The BPANZ Award for Best Review Page or Programme for 2009 goes to NZ Listener