Civilisation: Twenty Places on the Edge of the World, by Steve Braunias (Awa Press, RRP $36):
Steve Braunias is a master of biting satire, so if you are looking for a friendly little travelogue highlighting the awesomeness of various locale, you might you might want to look elsewhere.
However, if you want a read that is equal parts challenging, funny and provocative about the quirks and foibles of various towns and cities scattered around our fair land (and a little bit beyond), and – if you are native to any of the locations covered in the book – you are are reasonably thick-skinned, then this is the book for you.
Braunias spent three years searching for signs of New Zealand civilisation as he travelled around small towns and suburbs that were attractive because of “their averageness, their nothingness, their banal and exhilarating New Zealandness”.
Some of those places have fared well in the final assessments, with Braunias writing about them with genuine affection. Other places didn’t score so highly in his opinion and have been roasted mercilessly.
The author covered a good range of places in his travels, with southern “highlights” being Winton, Wanaka, St Bathans and Mosgiel. Beyond New Zealand’s shores, he also looked at Scott Base in Antarctica and Samoa.
Did he like the south? Did he think us southerners were a bunch of six-toed, backwater, banjo-plucking hicks or did he think we were living up to the friendly south reputation? You’ll have to buy the book to find out.
Much like the author’s “Secret Diary” columns that run in our newspaper every Saturday, this will be a polarising “love it or hate it” kind of book. Along with the laughs, there is a good dose of social commentary that is at times uncomfortable but always entertaining.