In this 300-page collection of the best of 25 years of freelance writing we get to see Wellington writer David Cohen’s Greatest Hits. And they are numerous, book reviews, profiles, interviews, media commentary and think-pieces, Cohen is blessed with a sharp wit, strong analysis and a clear-headed approach. He’ll make you laugh. And make you think. And the pieces have held up so well across a quarter-century, some fascinating insights and observations. It’s also lively, energetic. There’s a wonderful bounce to the words on the page.
Cohen is both journalist and media commentator, his columns – often cutting, usually wise – where he takes a writer, brand or style of journalism to task can be brutal, but they’re always well-crafted. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of Cohen’s bile – time to time. And though I’m pretty sure he’s no fan of my work I found this collection to be page-turningly good. I’m not a grudge-carrier, but even if I did hold any resentment towards Cohen and/or his work it would be impossible to deny just how good this selection is.
There are stories of bumming smokes with ex-PM David Lange, and fascinating profiles of Alex Haley, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Joni Mitchell and others.
His writing on John Rowles is wonderful – pointing out, crucially, that Rowles’ success has never been seriously considered as people focus on the image of the man rather than the achievement/s.
There are smart book reviews from The Listener, media think-pieces from the NBR and longer profiles from the days when the local rag would send a writer out to sit down and chat with a prominent figure – giving them a couple of thousand words, not just a 300-word snapshot for the website.
These are still punchy pieces – none of them stick around too long. And there’s a nice line in self-effacement here, first off Cohen mocks the notion of anthologising old pieces – in the intro to this, an anthology of his work and then in signing off as a music critic, talking about how freeing it was – and is – to no longer be tied to that line of (thankless) work.
This is a book for any – every – home in New Zealand. It’s easy to have and hold, to dip into, or bite through the whole thing, as I did, in one or two sittings.
I’ve never had any issue with David Cohen or his work – but now I have nothing but utmost respect for him. At its best, and mostly we’re seeing his best here, this anthology shows off the work of a very classy, talented, passionate writer – a near-expert on a variety of subjects, well-read, well-researched and always with a way of shoe-horning in some wit around the wisdom. So very readable. That, bottom line, is all you could/should want.