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BooksMay 14, 2019

Chris Tse was bloody robbed – your verdicts on the Ockham shortlist


The deadline for our lavish Ockhams giveaway – a stack of all 16 books on the shortlist – has rolled on by and it’s time to announce a winner.

Rant, we said. Tell us about the book that dipped out, the one that should’ve made the shortlist. Tell us why the judges are know-nothing nincompoops. The real awards will be announced in a couple of hours but this right here is where the action is.

Points to Sean, who spent a Wednesday afternoon constructing a satirical review of “firestarting book” And then a Cat Purred, by one Patrick Jebsworth.

Sean made this book – which does not exist – sound like one I would like to read. Whoa, don’t tell old mate Ian McEwan but it sounds like a sci-fi mixed with people’s actual feelings?

The story follows Philly John and her nemesis Victor Jum as they seek to annihilate each other in a post social media world…

Tight control of the internet by the internet has occurred with AI now using nano-synaptic methods to project people’s real time thoughts onto a personal thorax screen for authorities to review and cull in a program of population thought control… They then fall in love…”

Sean you should be selling your wonderful bullshit to publishers wanting blurbs or fake Goodreads reviews.

Chris Tse. Image: Rebecca McMillan

Gemma, you get points too for best adherence to a brief. Strident is what we asked for and strident is what you gave:

“It’s bloody obvious, isn’t it? The book which should have been top of the list for the poetry prize this year is Chris Tse’s He’s so MASC. The cover alone is incandescent. But the poems in this incredible collection! They are important, they are beautiful, they throb with life and energy and emotion. They writhe from the page and into your soul. They are the wolves chasing you in the dark, the frenetic strobe lights, the glitter of the disco ball, the broken-hearted tears. It’s a travesty that He’s so MASC missed out on a nomination. The judges have robbed us of an Ockham ceremony Chris Tse outfit. They know not what they have done.

Chris Tse is kindly writing an essay for us right now so we here quote in full another eloquently passionate, pissed-off rave on his behalf, via Francis:

“It is an honest-to-god outrage that Chris Tse’s HE’S SO MASC – a book as beautiful and dazzling inside as its cover is on the outside – wasn’t shortlisted for best poetry book of the year. All of the poetry nominees this year are wonderful, and I hope that Tayi Tibble will be rightly crowned as the queen of New Zealand letters on Tuesday, but the failure to recognise such an important (not to mention brilliant, funny, romantic, lyrical) book by one of our best poets is an unforgivable oversight.”

Anne, you get points for writing a poem. Semira, you get points for your whole slightly cuckoo email, but mostly this bit:

Walking to Jutland Street by Michael Steven should have made the short-list.

Why? Because drugs.”

Dear Spinoff readers, we love that you went in to bat for Ko Taranaki Te Maunga by Rachel Buchanan – “Is it because it is just over 150 pages long? Has it been discriminated against because of size?” – and for Rob Tipa’s Treasures of Tāne:

“It is a veritable treasure trove that helps build Ngāi Tahu mana even more. A taonga that was robbed for sure!”

You nominated Te Awamutu’s finest: “Heather Morris not even a finalist for The Tattooist of Auschwitz ?! Madness.”

And you defiantly – surely knowing there’s a whole separate series of awards for children’s and Young Adult books – held books for our young people up to the sun.

Alexandra, who has a one year-old son, wrote a very polite and compelling note extolling the definitely excellent Dig, Dump, Roll, by Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock – citing metre, a gentle plot, onomatopoeia – and the mum in me wanted to stick a rosette on her email immediately. She very nearly sealed the deal with her last line:

“This was the book that I packed in our carry on for a 12 hour international flight last month and it was worth its weight in gold.”

 Do you know how many times you can read Dig, Dump, Roll in 12 hours? Alexandra does. Solidarity.

But then landed an email from John Valentine of Hurunui College. It was 3.02pm on a Thursday. The bell had just rung, the kids had bolted and John had dived for his phone. Or maybe the bell was about to ring, and it was nearly the end of the week, and John was knackered and burned-out and underpaid and so for the last few minutes of class he held his phone behind his Year 12 English textbook and he sought solace on the Spinoff Review of Books and he sent me this:

“Flight of the Fantail by Steph Matuku. The first chapter makes teenagers want to read the second and third. What more should we ask of a book?”

Indeed, John. We’re chucking out the brief. You win. (And we hope you also get a payrise and a cap on class sizes and that the NCEA changes take some pressure off – and that you manage to ringfence some serious time to yourself for reading.)

Gemma and Alexandra, we’re sending runner-up prizes to you too.

Thanks to all the entrants, and to the good folk at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for the sweet sweet stack of books.

Keep going!