Each year, we pick a Book of the Year as part of our Christmas books' special — but not this year.
There were fine contenders.
Food books' reviewer Catherine Smith advocated for Al Brown's Eat Up, which she describes as nailing what modern Kiwi cuisine and, by extension, culture, is. Jim Eagles favoured Dancing With the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885 by Michael Belgrave, while David Hill and I greatly liked Aotearoa by Gavin Bishop, ostensibly a children's book.
Here's what DH wrote: "One of the kaumatua of Kiwi kids' books writes and illustrates our nation's history from Big Bang to baristas in just over 60 pages. Rooted in cosmology and myth, yet vividly contemporary (street people and online bullying), it's rich with te reo and with Bishop's sumptuous art. Is anyone else so good at getting grand effects into a small space, at showing the minutiae and sweep of sky, sea, shore? Stirring legends and episodes alternate with splendid trivia; one of the year's most handsome local publishing efforts."
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Yet I kept returning to some of the New Zealand fiction — chapter books and young adult included — I read this year: engaging stories, recognisable and relatable characters who we often don't meet on the pages of books from elsewhere, new writing that disrupts style and form, relevant topics tackled with verve and originality.
Admittedly released very late last year, Karyn Hay's The March of the Foxgloves was cheeky and charming; markedly different The Earth Cries Out, by Bonnie Etherington, was evocative, provocative and about a part of our world we frequently neglect, while Jenny Pattrick crafted the compelling Leap of Faith, from our own history.
In Heloise, Mandy Hager produced a unique, insightful and skilfully written take on the story of Benedictine nun Heloise d'Argenteuil and her lover and, later, husband, the theologian and philosopher Peter Abelard. Catherine Chidgey, author of the award-winning The Wish Child, is up for another award with her latest book, The Beat of the Pendulum.
When it came to chapter and YA books, I've widely recommended Tui Street Tales by Anne Kayes, The Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Ward and Eileen Merriman's Pieces of You. They're great reads regardless of what ages they target.
Our crime reviewer Greg Fleming repeatedly sings the praises of locally-written thrillers, saying he can't understand why their authors don't have a higher profile or enjoy more success at home.
Which brings me to this: why don't more New Zealanders read local fiction when it's growing in variety and much of it is intelligent, well-written and enjoyable? So there isn't a book of the year for 2017 but a genre — NZ fiction writing — with a strong recommendation that you try reading some this summer.
While we're on the subject of top-rate writing, the longlist for the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Awards was announced this week. Ten books in four separate categories — fiction, general non-fiction, illustrated non-fiction and poetry — have been included. The shortlist will be out in March.