Our favorite New Zealand books

Tessa Duder, author

As with the late John Le Carré’s multiple bestsellers, there is little consensus on which of Margaret Mahy’s brilliant young adult novels is her absolute best. Mine is her only young adult short story book, The door in the air and other stories, with two favorites “The Bridge Builder” and “The Magician in the Tower” – both haunting fantasies, Mahy in his most powerful, deepest, and most memorable form.

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Harriet Allan, fiction editor, Penguin Random House NZ

It’s impossible to pick just one favorite so many books have touched me over the years in so many different ways. However, the novel by Patricia Grace Potiki was released a month after I moved to New Zealand in 1986 and has left a huge impact.

It gave me invaluable insight into what was for me a new way of thinking, as well as an explanation of the tensions and crucial issues. It shaped my understanding of my new country and made me discover a distinct voice. I had no idea, how delighted I was with the lyricism, humor and determination, that one day I would publish its author.

Patricia’s memories Of the Center is his latest powerful work, published in May. I remain in awe.

Paula morris, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Manuhiri, Ngāti Whatua, novelist, essayist and short story writer

Creeping dragon by Robin Hyde, a visceral account of what she witnessed on the frontlines of the Japanese invasion of China in 1938 – bombings, brutality, escapes. She published the book in London in 1939, sounding an alarm that few were interested in hearing at the time. I first read it two years ago and I remain in awe of its power.

Michelle Hurley, editor, Allen & Unwin

Memoirs of Peter Wells, Long welcome loop. Such tender but lucid memoirs of Peter and his brother, both of whom faced the torment and shame of growing up gay in Auckland in the 1950s. I read it shortly after moving to New Zealand , and he always stayed with me.

Patricia Grace's favorite New Zealand book is No Ordinary Sun, by Hone Tuwhare.


Patricia Grace’s favorite New Zealand book is No Ordinary Sun, by Hone Tuwhare.

Patricia Grace, Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Ati Āwa, author

My choice would be No ordinary sun (1964) by Hone Tuwhare. Here is a Maori man, a boilermaker by trade, working in the construction of the hinterland, writing words that linked mankind to the land, heart and soul.

Mary Varnham, editor Awa Press

Mihipeka: early years by Mihipeka-Rukuhia Edwards. Mihi Edwards started writing this book at the age of 70, determined, in her own words, to “let people know how important it is to hold on to your identity, because without your reo you won’t. ‘es nothing’.

Thirty years ago, when I read her story of growing up as a Maori girl in a small rural town, I felt like I had been hit by a shock wave. It was Aotearoa, a place I shamefully knew nothing about. The book was brilliantly recorded for RNZ by Tungia Baker. A real taonga.

Rose Carlyle, author of The girl in the mirror

I read Stay at home and To be rotten for the first time as a teenager, and it opened up a whole new world to me. Shonagh Koea’s masterful storytelling kept me awake all night, desperately turning the pages, heart in mouth. The novel is full of realistic details, but it feels like a feverish dream. Koea engulfs you in his story and you come out different.

Rose Carlyle: “Shonagh Koea's masterful storytelling kept me awake all night.


Rose Carlyle: “Shonagh Koea’s masterful storytelling kept me awake all night. “

Sue Orr, author of Loop tracks and professor of creative writing at Victoria University

So many fabulous books have been published in New Zealand this year, but Where we swim by Ingrid Horrocks (VUP) is the one I keep handy.

This collection of essays, with its swirls of ecological, personal and social concerns, reveals more with each reading. His quiet curiosity for bodies in and water is both a persuasive call to environmental action and a balm for troubling times.

Sue Orr, author of Loop Tracks, votes for Where we Swim, by Ingrid Horrocks.

Ebony lamb / Supplied

Sue Orr, author of Loop Tracks, votes for Where we Swim, by Ingrid Horrocks.

Paula Browning, Managing Director, Copyright Licensing New Zealand

I’m not sure I can choose one of his books, but I’ve been a Lynley Dodd fan forever! It probably started with the Nickel Nackle Tree and pair reading with the youngest from Three Kings Elementary School.

Brannavan Gnanalingam, author of the award-winning book Strands

There are a number of New Zealand books that blew my mind – especially the autobiography of Janet Frame and that of Keri Hulme. The people of bones – but the one that stands out on a personal level is that of Tina Makereti The imaginary lives of James Pōneke.

Makereti skillfully overturns the colonial adventure novel, but also poignantly shows how a subject can be reconfigured by trauma or power. I read it all at once and it broke my heart.

Author and lawyer Brannavan Gnanalingam read James Poneke's Imaginary Lives in one go.


Author and lawyer Brannavan Gnanalingam read James Poneke’s Imaginary Lives in one go.

Charlotte Grimshaw, author of The mirror book

It is very difficult to choose a favorite New Zealand book, but I will say Stories collected by Katherine Mansfield. I read the stories in college, but reread them correctly, with real care, when I was working at a large commercial law firm in Auckland. I was researching a very complicated, bulky, dry bill, and I kept opening my drawer, pulling out the book, and reading a new Mansfield story.

I realized that my emotional life, all my intensity of feeling, was in language and literature. I loved the clear and vivid prose, the subtlety, the wit, the energy of the writing. I thought, that’s what I really like.

At the same time, I was also reading the novel by Martin Amis, Money, and dying of laughter, secretly, while pretending to comply conscientiously with the Carriage of Goods Act.

The hilarity, the beauty, the insight, the drama were all in the books. It’s no surprise that I’m no longer a commercial lawyer.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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