If 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.