Jacinda Ardern, laughing out loud, as is her habit.

Matteo Di Maio investigates what MPs have been filling their heads with over the summer holidays

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a strange and surprising choice for the book she took away with her for a summer read.

She read This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by British writer Adam Kay, published in 2017. Kay kept a diary as a junior doctor for six years, between 2004 and 2010, and filled it with comedy but also graphic and harrowing details – bodily fluids, 97-hour work weeks, an account of a patient who suffered vaginal burns from a set of Christmas lights.

“It was both laugh out loud funny, and incredibly sad – and only deepened my appreciation of what health care workers do,” Ardern said.

What other books have our political lords and masters been reading on the beach during the summer holidays? What books have filled their heads, given them ideas, expanded their horizons?

Finance Minister Grant Robertson had three summer reads on the go, all by New Zealand authors: the biography Ralph Hotere: The dark is light enough by Vincent O’Sullivan, and two novels by Wellington writers, Nothing to See by Pip Adam, and A Mistake by Carl Shuker.

Robertson shared a comment about the O’Sullivan book but it sounds a lot like a publisher’s blurb: “This is a biography of Ralph Hotere [and] is a fascinating insight into one of the greatest artists.”

Nothing to See and A Mistake are among the best New Zealand novels of the past few years. Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson also has a taste for literary fiction, and has just finished reading the most celebrated New Zealand novel for many years:  Auē by Becky Manawatu. Davidson responded with by far the most in-depth review of any of the politicians. She wrote, “In a sentence – it was marvelous writing, a gripping story and relevant social commentary, and most of all – compassionate and endearing. It deserves its Ockham Book of the Year Award for 2020 and I’ve now added Becky to my list of loved authors.”

James Shaw, Davidson’s fellow co-leader, had three books to share. “I read Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, which I found fascinating and thought provoking,” he said. “I also started The Ministry of the Future, by Kim Stanley Robertson. Despite the fact that I am only a third of the way through, I would also recommend giving it a read – it paints a very credible scenario of the next ten years of a world facing both the ever increasing effects of climate change as well as trying to come to grips with some radical solutions, most of which are grounded in some strong academic thinking that’s floating around at the moment.

“Finally, Danyl McLauchlan gave me an advance copy of his Tranquillity and Ruin, a collection of essays … I really enjoyed it – he covers a lot of territory from depression and anxiety through to meditation, cognitive science and the emerging ‘effective altruism’ movement.” In the book, McLauchlan seeks scientific and philosophical solutions to finding happiness; he reads complex neuroscience papers, he meditates, he shovels clay with a Buddhist monk utill his hands bleed. “I think he’s a superb writer, worth a look,” Shaw said.

Act Party leader David Seymour read The Road to Character  by New York Times columnist David Brooks, who has described himself as a man “paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am.” The book constructs biographies of key historical figures, drawing from them moral lessons. Seymour preferred to score the book rather than review it and gave it a 9/10.

National MPs have had a lot of time on their hands after the party’s crushing defeat at the polls. Former leader Simon Bridges spent summer reading Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West by Catherine Belton. The book reveals the legacy of the Soviet spy agency in modern Russian politics.

Bridges commented, “Anyone who thinks Kiwi politics is complicated should read this!”

National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson, Chris Bishop, read the recently published book Gangland by NZ Herald crime reporter Jared Savage. The book is a window into the shockingly profitable world of New Zealand’s gang scene. Bishop emailed, “I got to know Jared when I was National’s police spokesperson. Admired his writing and this book is a ripping page turner about the meth trade in NZ.”

Dr Shane Reti, National’s spokesperson for health, spent his summer reading “articles from journals more than books,” working his way through coronavirus pieces in The New Zealand Medical Journal, Nature, and the British Medical Journal.

It’s with Paul Goldsmith, National Party spokesperson for finance, that we get our first taste of high fantasy. His summer read was A Game of Thrones.

“Currently reading Troy, by Stephen Fry,” emailed National leader Judith Collins. Fry’s book updated Homer’s epic story of the 10-year siege of the city of Troy. A long and bloody battle, finally ending in victory…Such an inspiring story, such high fantasy.


Matteo Di Maio is a Year 12 student in Cambridge, and a regular contributor to ReadingRoom.

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