Assorted thoughts to ponder

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Patricia Thwaites reviews The Journal of Urgent Writing, edited by Simon Wilson. Published by Massey University Press.

Simon Wilson is an award-winning journalist, who has edited Metro, Cuisine and Consumer magazines, written a novel and is currently the editor of online media company The Spinoff.

With this wide background in print and online media, he should be well placed to judge who can provide thoughtful, controversial and entertaining opinion pieces about "the state of our nation", which is what The Journal of Urgent Writing purports to do.

Many of the 23 participants reflect the diverse nature of New Zealand society. Gilbert Wong describes childhood in suburban Whangarei accompanied by the "relentless toil" of running a fruit shop.

His mum kept a whistle by the phone to deal with abusive calls and the family would have to run the gamut of drunken bored young men mindlessly kicking over baskets of produce.

Morgan Godfrey gives us a riveting account of growing up within a mixed race family in Kawarau.

Teena Brown Pulu roams over the possibilities and problems posed by being a Tongan-European hybrid, and concludes by deciding "every human being should give themselves permission to be themselves, to be human and not a category brutally assessed by others as a means of deciding whether they’ll permit you to be one of them or not".

Andrew Judd writes about the complete reversal in the way he views Maori, from one of ingrained prejudices to feeling "blessed to have discovered my own ignorance".

I found these contributions of a personal nature an easily read and enjoyable change in contrast to the more earnest academic ones.

The contributors might write on familiar topics, but most give them an original twist.

Some New Zealanders are fond of depicting our country as a unified whole, one people.

The "one people" they have in mind is, of course, modelled on the British European way.

Emma Espiner imagines a New Zealand governed by a Maori framework and gives credible examples.

Tim Watkin, horrified at the election of  "a man so manifestly unfit for the job", writes on Trump and tries to solve the mystery of why otherwise decent people voted for him.

Following the many strands of discontent that brought him into office, he comes to some sort of reluctant sympathy with those who were hoodwinked by his promises and "rallied to his anti-change flag".

As I read, I picked up odd pockets of knowledge.

Mamari Stephen’s essay on the demise of traditional country marae highlighted the differing numbers of Maori within our two islands.

There were 770 marae in New Zealand, of which 743 were in the North Island.

Of the serious essays, I found "The Open Society and its Friends" by David Cohen the most impressive and was ashamed that I didn’t know that one of the world’s most highly regarded political philosophers, Karl Popper, lived and worked here after he fled his native Austria.

Simon Wilson has done a splendid job of compiling this assortment of thoughts.

His own contribution, "New Radicals", certainly has plenty to ponder and I found much to underscore as I read it.

He proposes politics with a radical centre, a borrowing of the best ideas from left and right and offers examples, such as the "anti-smacking bill" to show it can work. He sees prison reform and education as other societal concerns in need of long-term consensual planning.

Written before the election, I wonder if he watches the three party government now in place and has his fingers crossed.

- Patricia Thwaites is a retired Dunedin schoolteacher.


Win a copy

The Weekend Mix has five copies of The Journal of Urgent Writing, courtesy of Massey University Press to give away. For your chance to win a copy, email with your name and postal address in the body of the email and "Urgent Writing" in the subject line, by 5pm on Tuesday, February 6.


• Winners of last week’s draw, for Tinkering: The Complete Book of John Clarke, by John Clarke, courtesy of Text Publishing, are: Julie Clement, of Dunedin, Beverley Rivett, of Mosgiel, Jim Harrington, of Cromwell.

Add a Comment