Monday, July 20, 2009

The Last Montanas

Next Monday night, just one week away, the winners of 'The Montanas' are announced at a sumptuous ceremony somewhere in New Zealand.

Now that I've had the pleasure several years in a row to attend that banquet, I am a little sad that the premier NZ Book awards have lost the sponsor that was so generous with a very drinkable wine. I even reached the dizzy heights once when I was called up to the winner's podium on behalf of a book I had co-edited, and I can report that the bottle of wine given to the winner of a category is an especially good one.

Having been on the receiving end of the generosity and the glittering prizes, I don't feel inclined to be churlish about the judges' choices for 2009.

Competitions and prizes were ever thus, and unless there is a really outrageous omission and clear favouritism, I don't feel it is very constructive for commentators to be too petty and shrill.

It's true that I was really surprised that one book especially was absent from the list of finalists, the superb historical narrative DIGGERS HATTERS & WHORES by Stevan Eldred-Grigg (given a rave review on this blog by Mr Pudding).

But there are plenty of very fine non-fiction books on the list, and I can appreciate there were just TOO many good books in some categories to single them all out. There are always mysteries when individual tastes are applied.

(I'm not just thinking here of the NZ book awards, but of the recent Commonwealth Prize in which some of my favourites weren't even nominated.)

There will always be surprises, favourites absent, and sometimes there are choices that might raise a high-brow eyebrow, but in the end, the judges make their choice.

Such is life, and sh*t happens.

I don't think it's particularly helpful for the organisers to keep tinkering with the rules every year in seeming over-reaction to the negativity evoked by a particular win or a particular omission.

Apparently with the new sponsor there is to be a complete overhaul which may well be a good idea. Choose something and stick to it instead of bending with the wind of public and private comment.

Organisers should also ask themselves, do they want to celebrate the BEST or just sell BESTSELLERS?

Anyway, so long Montana, and thanks for all the wine!


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