Friday, March 22, 2013

An awkward NZ Book Month moment

As advertised here I went to Hamilton Library on Tuesday evening to appear on a panel for a NZ Book Month event, discussing book reviews. Carole Beu was a no-show, sadly, so the panel was me and Kate de Goldi plus local writers and reviewers Peter Dornauf and Gail Pittaway. There were 25 people in the audience, which isn’t bad for these events.

It all went well. Kate is brilliant, of course, and Peter and Gail had good stories about their experiences as reviewer and reviewed. I told my story about reviewing live on national TV a book I had never seen until 30 seconds  before the cameras rolled. This was for Good Morning with Mary Lambie, 10 or so years ago. I was expecting the new collection of Owen Marshall short stories from Random House so had read it twice and prepared some clever-sounding things to say. But as the sound guy was putting the mike on me I noticed on the coffee table where the books were laid out one I had never seen before. It was an anthology of NZ short stories Owen had edited for Random House. Same author, same publisher, totally different book.

On live TV one mustn’t panic. I had 20 seconds to skim the contents page. Fortunately I recognised most of the titles. The red light on the camera went on, and we were live. Apparently I was just as plausible reviewing this hitherto unseen book as I had ever been reviewing ones I had read and thought about. This was not entirely reassuring.

It was all very jolly until Gail, who was chairing, asked us about the books we were currently reading. This was the awkward moment: I had to be honest and say that apart from a two-week burst in January I don’t read books. During the day I edit books and I assess manuscripts for authors and publishers. Non-fiction is OK but with a novel I need to keep it all in my head so when I get to page 157 I recall what happened on page 3. Can’t do that if I’m reading another novel, or even a biography.

Because Kate had mentioned a novel set in Wellington’s Happy Valley, I used the example of a novel I recently edited for VUP, Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan. I said that I found it very funny even on the third reading, but its plot was more complicated than War and Peace so when editing it there was no way I could read anything more challenging than the letters pages of the Waikato Times.

During question time one member of the audience asked for the novel’s title again and how to spell the author’s name; several others wrote all this information down. I said that the book wouldn’t be out until July but she said, “I can wait.”  I think that book will be OK. 

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