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Showdown coverIf you lived in Auck­land, you’d prob­ably be sick of people talk­ing about Jaf­fas and Short­land Street. Christ­ch­urch res­id­ents would once have tired of sheep-shagged jokes, hav­ing lat­terly moved onto huff­ing politely when asked if there’s any pro­gress with the insur­ance. Among Wel­ling­to­ni­ans, it’s done to nur­ture a feigned impa­tience with dis­cus­sions re: Those Bloody Politi­cians; though at this time of year, when pas­sions sim­mer red and blue and hot all over, any reti­cence to address such con­cerns may stem more from a fear of embar­rass­ingly boil­ing over in civ­il­ised company.

Much bet­ter to stick to the writ­ten word, which can’t spit-take its beer when the con­ver­sa­tion goes too far. New Zeal­anders are prodi­gious read­ers and writers of Books About Polit­ics. Grow­ing up, we were nev­er far from the genre. Taught to read just up the road from Par­lia­ment, where a fam­ily mem­ber staffed the Press Gal­lery dur­ing the neo­lib­er­al tailspin of the 1980s, we spent one school term draw­ing up a full-class mur­al about the per­ils of user-pays edu­ca­tion. Class­mates included the chil­dren of Richard Preb­ble, author of the widely read I’ve Been… trilogy.

My first ‘grown-up book’ was Primary Col­ors by ‘Anonym­ous’. The same Press Gal­ler­ied rel­at­ive delighted in rumours that he’d penned the next season’s Kiwi copycat, The Spin, by anoth­er ‘Anonym­ous’. High­er edu­ca­tion brought les­sons at the foot of loc­al rabble-rouser par excel­lence Alister Barry, whose Hot Air screened at this year’s Inter­na­tion­al Film Festival.

Books About Polit­ics are in no short sup­ply in the cap­it­al. The Rus­sell Brown-edited Great New Zea­l­and Argu­ment brings togeth­er Dav­id Lange’s era-defin­ing speech ‘Nuc­le­ar Weapons are Mor­ally Indefens­ible’ and time­less broad­sides like Bill Pearson’s ‘Fret­ful Sleep­ers’. Greg Hallett’s bat­shit New Zea­l­and: A Blackmailer’s Guide sits innoc­u­ously beside The Dark Art of Polit­ics, author one Simon Carr: the Spinning Anonym­ous to whom I wasn’t, it even­tu­ated, related.

Vet­er­an Hutt MP and former Deputy Speak­er John Ter­ris keeps his sub­jects at punch­able arm’s length in Septem­ber Show­down: The Polit­ic­al Junkie’s Guide to the Com­ing Elec­tion. Terris’s wry sub­title belies the obsol­es­cence haunt­ing every polit­ic­al life. Writ­ten as a series of epistles to a Bee­hive neo­phyte hop­ing to Make a Dif­fer­ence come Octo­ber, this is polit­ic­al coun­sel as The Screwtape Let­ters.

The first ‘pāua cor­rupts’ pun — without which no Book About Polit­ics would be allowed through the press — rears its head early, pav­ing the way for a sol­id tome’s‑worth of obser­va­tions on the State of the Nation 2014. If you felt John Roughan, author of John Key: Por­trait of a Prime Min­is­ter, wasn’t suf­fi­ciently rough on his sub­ject, Ter­race insider Terris’s account of Thorndon life should redress the bal­ance — provided you can keep your beer down while reading.

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About Tom Goulter

Tom is Fish­Head’s book colum­nist. A Mas­ter­’s degree in Cre­at­ive Writ­ing from Vic­tori­a’s Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute of Mod­ern Let­ters launched Goulter on the life of an itin­er­ant man of let­ters, wan­der­ing the frac­tious United states in search of.. whatever it was Peter Fonda and Den­nis Hop­per were after, prob­ably. Instead of get­ting shot by red­necks (yet), he returned to Wel­ling­ton, where he essays semi-reg­u­larly into pop­u­lar cul­ture, psy­cho-geo­graphy, under­ground film-mak­ing, and the uncanny in all its myri­ad forms. Not a day goes by that he does not wish Man­ners Street still had Crys­tal city on it.

Tom Goulter

Tom is FishHead's book columnist. A Master's degree in Creative Writing from Victoria's International Institute of Modern Letters launched Goulter on the life of an itinerant man of letters, wandering the fractious United states in search of.. whatever it was Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were after, probably. Instead of getting shot by rednecks (yet), he returned to Wellington, where he essays semi-regularly into popular culture, psycho-geography, underground film-making, and the uncanny in all its myriad forms. Not a day goes by that he does not wish Manners Street still had Crystal city on it.

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