Kiwis biased against New Zealand fiction, Book Council report says

Photo/file
Photo/file

Kiwi book enthusiasts are turned off by New Zealand fiction but struggle to say why, a report by the New Zealand Book Council suggests.

In a survey of 11 focus groups around the country, participants - who were drawn from existing book groups - were asked for the first word to come into their heads when they thought about New Zealand fiction.

The findings were published in the New Zealand Book Council's report on reader attitudes and behaviours, one of the aims of which was to determine why consumption of Kiwi fiction is so low in New Zealand.

About 75 per cent of participants gave negative answers to the question, with "dark", "grim", "depressing", "gloomy", "overrated" and "boring" being the most common.

But when pressed on why they felt that way, participants struggled to give answers, the report said.

Some said their view might be influenced by what they had read at school, while others said New Zealand films had helped create an impression of grimness around presenting New Zealand in the arts.

Young readers had a unanimously negative view of New Zealand fiction, saying it was about "growing up in the back blocks with pohutukawa and jandals", and said everything happened slowly with no action.

"None of them could say why they felt that way - none of them could remember a single New Zealand book they had read at school," the report said.

However, when people started to come up with New Zealand titles they'd read in book group or on their own, there were few they had not enjoyed.

"Our conclusion here is that trial and experience generally overcome bias, and change beliefs. Once you have tried and liked something, you are more likely to continue to consume it. However, people need to be encouraged and given opportunities for new experiences - and it can be very difficult to push through their resistance, especially if it is deeply ingrained in the subconscious."

The survey also focused on other reading habits, including what people's main reasons were for reading for pleasure.

Escapism came top of the list, followed by relaxation, learning, and enjoyment of the writing.

Another finding was that not everyone was a lifelong reader for pleasure - some had loved reading as children but put reading on hold as they got older, then picked it up later in life. Others did not enjoy reading as children but picked it up as adults.

One woman in the Christchurch focus group said she had put reading on hold when she had children but started reading again after the earthquakes "because there was nothing else to do".

Another person, a librarian in Christchurch, said there had been a marked increase in fiction borrowing after the quakes, saying "people wanted escapism more than ever".

On average, people read two to four books each month for pleasure, although some people read 20 or more each month.

The survey also found e-readers were not particularly popular, but that audio books were, that the library was the main place people would source books from, and that people would often only branch out of their preferred genre if someone they trusted encouraged them to.

"Advocates are vital if we are to overcome bias and change beliefs about New Zealand fiction - they can help and encourage people to take the first steps towards increasing and widening their consumption," the report said.

"But opportunities for personal advocacy are limited and the circles of influence don't extend very far. We also do not seem to be successfully creating advocates in all our librarians, booksellers and school teachers, those who do have the most influence - we are leaving that choice up to them."

The Book Council's next steps in their research project include gathering data to "form a picture of the position of New Zealand books within New Zealand" and establish ongoing trends in New Zealand in reading and borrowing New Zealand authors and illustrators.

It would use the information to refine existing strategies around overcoming incorrect perceptions of and building advocacy for New Zealand fiction.

- NZ Herald

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