I have an unhealthy obsession with American politics. As I’ve written before, I know far more about what’s happening 13,000km away in Washington D.C. than just down the road in New Zealand’s Parliament House.

The attraction is partly the traditional razzle-dazzle of American politics, partly the geopolitical importance of the presidential elections, mainly the downright craziness of Donald Trump. And, in my defence, I don’t think I’m alone in neglecting domestic politics for the insanity of how the democratic process is currently playing out in a country that once saw itself as “the shining light” for democracies around the world.


I have a confession.

It is a painful one for a keen reader to make. One that has taken me years to come to terms with. One that in the distant days of my youth — when to pick up a book was to see it through to the bitter end — would have been the cause of much self-loathing.

I do not finish every book I begin.

As far as sordid confessions go, this might not seem like a big deal. I’m not quite at the Keith-Richards-once-snorted-the-ashes-of-his-cremated-father level. But it is a truth I don’t readily admit in public…


Three years ago — long before it was cool — a friend and I created a podcast.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

It was called Dadpod; it was about the trials and tribulations of being a dad; our first recording session took about three hours, and ended in something of a drunken singalong.

We only recorded one episode. I don’t think our wives or our livers could have handled much more than that.

During the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown in New Zealand in March this year, we revived Dadpod under the new, improved title Two Tired Dads and we have recorded ten episodes so far. We…


Photo by Luigi Boccardo on Unsplash

We live in a world terrified by the thought of wasted time.

Despite the reminders we give our children to take their time over things and the promises we make them that they have all the time in the world, things seem to change once we reach adulthood.

At that point, time speeds up and, all of a sudden, “time is money” and there’s not a moment to lose. We fetishize the young and idolize the precocious. Those who make the most of every moment given to them are celebrated, while those who idle away their days are pitied.

I…


Book Reviews — Jane Harper’s The Dry, Force of Nature, and The Lost Man

Photo by Casey Schackow on Unsplash

I don’t usually bother with big screen adaptations of books I’ve enjoyed but I’ll be making an exception for The Dry, due out in early 2020 and based on the outback crime novel of the same name by Jane Harper.

The Dry describes the return of Australian Federal Police detective Aaron Falk to his hometown of Kiewarra in rural Victoria for the funeral of Luke Hadler — Falk’s best friend when they were growing up, who has apparently committed suicide after murdering his wife and child.

As you might expect, things are not what they seem and Falk is persuaded…


Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash

I have just listened to an hour-long discussion about delegate allocation in the current Democratic presidential nomination contest.

This would be a fairly geeky thing to do for your average American political junkie. But I’m a New Zealander, living 14,000 kms away from the action, with no right to vote in US elections — primary or presidential.

And it’s not just delegates. I keep a close eye on polling in the 2020 swing states, have firm views on the merits of Medicare for All versus a public option, and feel angry — with a passion that surprises me — about…


Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

People do PhDs for all sorts of reasons.

For some, it’s an essential qualification for their chosen career. For others, it’s a way of quenching a thirst for knowledge. But there are plenty who embark on a Ph.D. for the wrong reasons, or because they haven’t thought through the implications of their decision.

For me, my decision to embark on a Ph.D. in English Literature was made out of a combination of boredom with the daily grind of corporate life and a genuine interest in the subject matter (the significance of ruins in British Romanticism, in case you were wondering).


Strike the right balance between planning your writing and just going with the flow

Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

I was in a writing seminar the other day, looking at how to write clearly and compellingly for business audiences.

It was a great workshop in most respects, with the instructor emphasising that most writing rules and guidelines are made to be broken. If it makes sense to end a sentence with a preposition, go ahead. Incomplete sentences? Sure! And if you want to start with a conjunction, feel free.

But there was one guideline that seemed less flexible — the one that stated you must always plan what you’re going to write before you pick up a pen or…


Book Review — The Wall by John Lanchester

Catastrophic sea level rises. A wall to keep out “Others”. Generational conflict.

Photo by Vincent Guth on Unsplash

This is what Britain has to look forward to in the next few decades, according to John Lanchester’s intriguing novel, The Wall.

The plot is a simple one but — as I commented in a review of Robert Harris’s The Second Sleep, which covers similar ground in a far less successful way — that simplicity is a strength. Lanchester spends very little time describing how these characters and their society have ended up in this mess. …


It was eleven years ago this week when, on a cold night in Chicago in 2008, one of the great political orators of his generation declared victory in the US presidential election.

As you would expect, Obama thanked those in his campaign who helped get him elected. He emphasised the need for the country to come together after what had been a tough presidential race and, before that, an even more bruising Democratic nomination contest.

But what sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to that speech is his closing survey of American achievement across the twentieth century…

Andrew Smith

I’m an avid reader from Wellington, New Zealand. History, crime fiction, literary classic. You name it, I’ll read it. Twitter @pileobooks

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