Sunday, May 10, 2015

Are we in danger of becoming disconnected from our own literature...

It was too sad/frustrating/maddening/insert your emotional response here, to find out that NZ Book Month will not be going ahead this year. It seems so few outside of our own community want to invest in New Zealand literature, or celebrate it. Maybe books are bad for people, and reading is a waste of time and should be discouraged. Maybe having a literature that shines a light on our own experience, that celebrates our own unique culture, and values, and concerns is not worthwhile. Maybe we just can't write 'good' books here in New Zealand like people from other countries do. Or are books just a frivolous indulgence, a luxury that can be set aside when times are tight? 

No, of course not! Reading can be the best escapist fun /entertainment /enlightenment /thought provoking experience, and you get heaps of added bonuses. Literacy is the cornerstone of education. Reading improves our cognitive abilities, and enhances our emotional and academic intelligence. And reading can just make you feel good. We make some incredible books here in New Zealand but we constantly face an uphill battle to tell the public about them.

Are we in danger of being disconnected from our own literature? Because the longer you expect the cord between the public and local creatives to stretch, the less elastic, and more brittle it will become.

Perhaps it is assumed the book industry, and more particularly the creative folk providing content, will survive and persist regardless. That we do not need to be promoted or feted. Money can be cribbed from this, the logic might go, because books will still be made and be available to readers (and if our local literature diminishes, hey there are just so many books coming in from overseas). And lets face it, so many writers continue to write despite poor returns.

When NZ Music month began it was about giving NZ music more radio airtime. Radio plays are not sales to the public (there is income to the artist but not to the radio station) but NZ music received way more exposure.  Radio stations didn't want to play more local songs but the government of the day (go Helen Clark!!) made them and in the end it has been a win/win. The current government does not seem keen to encourage promotion/exposure of NZ books in the same way but I think we need this kind of help. The industry and authors themselves do what they can but there is limited nationwide exposure. Perhaps the media, especially tv, are our 'radio' equivalents. We struggle to get the same kind of coverage that NZ Music month and the NZ music awards get (the most recent music awards had daily tv coverage of finalists leading up to the awards night). If media were encouraged to provide a quota of coverage daily during NZ book month the connection between the industry and the public might be strengthened. First you have to showcase the books. And encourage people to take pride in reading and owning NZ literature. Sales will come down the track. Long game people, long game.

So why do we need a NZ Book Month? Because no one else does NZ literature! Because New Zealand should be proud of the literature that is created by us and for us. Because too few opportunities currently exist for the wider public to learn about and be exposed to our books. Because reading is good for everyone and here is a chance to encourage everyone to pick up more books than they usually would. How amazing it would be to have some cheerleaders for NZ literature, just because they are New Zealand books. How cool would it be if these cheerleaders came from outside the book industry, because like, you know, the rest of us are already converted to the benefits. How about we grow some new fans!

The fantastic Rachael King (author of great NZ books you should read - The Sound of ButterfliesMagpie Hall, and Red Rocks) has started a brilliant twitter campaign this month to promote New Zealand books with the hashtag #NZBookMonthMay. We are doing what we can. But really, we need your help. Let's not go another year without a NZ Book Month.

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