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BooksMay 10, 2024

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending May 10


The only published and available best-selling indie book chart in New Zealand is the top 10 sales list recorded every week at Unity Books’ stores in High St, Auckland, and Willis St, Wellington.


1  James by Percival Everett (Mantle, $38)

A retelling of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from Jim’s perspective, James is a daring and extraordinary novel that interrogates one of the seminal texts of American literature with caustic wit and linguistic panache. The concept for the novel, which allegedly came to Everett during a game of tennis, is sure to be read alongside other great works of literature that interrogate classic texts, such as A Wide Sargasso Sea and Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead.  The New York Times says: “This is Everett’s most thrilling novel, but also his most soulful. Beneath the wordplay, and below the packed dirt floor of Everett’s moral sensibility, James is an intensely imagined human being.”

2  Knife: Meditations after an Attempted Murder by Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape, $40)

Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie’s memoir, about his attempted murder on a New York stage in 2022. In electric and visceral detail (he describes the feeling of his gouged-out eye resting on his cheek like a large ”soft-boiled egg”) Rushdie recounts the crime, his recovery and the subsequent trial of his attacker. Described somewhat vacuously on the Penguin website as “an intimate and life-affirming meditation on life.”

3  Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Francesc Miralles & Hector Garcia (Hutchinson, $35)

This book is perfect for those who have already embraced the Danish secrets of Hygge, have found the Courage to Be Disliked, have completed their Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning and are looking for a good, solid Japanese reason to live, otherwise known as Ikigai.

4  Earth by John Boyne (Doubleday, $35)

Earth is the newest offering from prolific Irish author John Boyne, following on from Water, an intended quartet named after the four elements. Described as “inescapably gritty,” this book is about the fictional trial of two footballers, charged with sexual assault.

5  Caledonian Road by Andrew O’Hagan (Faber & Faber, $40)

From the bestselling author of Mayflies, Caledonian Road is described by the Guardian as a “pitch-perfect tragicomedy of manners.” Then again, the Guardian would say that, wouldn’t they? The book follows the “new endangered species” – a white middle-class celebrity art historian embarking upon middle age and his – spoiler alert – fall from grace.  This is one of those “state of the nation” novels, with a sprawling, Dickensian cast of characters, illuminating an incendiary London year, full of “crimes, secrets and scandals,” with O’Hagan’s characteristic warmth and wit.

6  Hine Toa: A Story of Bravery by Ngāhuia te Awekōtuku (Harper Collins, $40)

The story of how one of our brightest scholars and activists came to be her luminous self. Review coming soon.

7  What You Are Looking for is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama (Doubleday, $37)

Yet another slim, uplifting Japanese bestseller about the magic of libraries and the redemptive power of books.

8  Prophet Song by Paul Lynch (Oneworld Publications, $25)

The Irish dystopian novel that won the 2023 Booker Prize, beating a shortlist of other Pauls. A claustrophobic and terrifying novel about a family trying to survive in a totalitarian future Ireland. Frequently recommended by bookstore browsers as both “extremely good” and “extremely grim”.

9  A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Picador, $25)

The bestselling novel about a miserable guy and his unremittingly horrible and upsetting life. This controversial novel features more self-harm, sexual abuse and crippling shame than any early 2000s Harry Potter fanfiction. Depending on who you ask, the book is either a transcendent work of genius about the redemptive power of friendship in the wake of tremendous suffering or “the single worst novel I have ever read.” All I can say is, it’s not a great novel to read on the bus.

10  The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin (Canongate, $55)

A good gift to buy for those public servants recently made redundant, who have an excess of time to dedicate to writing their new novel, or learning to play the French horn.


1  First Things by Harry Ricketts (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $35

Launched this week! A memoir by beloved Wellington poet and former Victoria University English lecturer Harry Ricketts. Taken from Te Herenga Waka University Press website: “In First Things, Harry Ricketts chronicles his early life through the lens of ‘firsts’: those moments that can hold their detail and potency across a lifetime. Set mostly in Hong Kong and Oxford, these bright fragments include the places, people, writers, encounters and obsessions that have shaped Ricketts’ world, from his first friends and rivals to his first time being caned by a teacher and his first time dropping acid.”

2  Manuali’I by Rex Letoa-Paget (Saufo’i Press, $30)

Also launched this week! Manuali’I (or Bird of the Gods) is a fresh and heartfelt new poetry collection “dancing on the delicate tightrope of here, the past, and an imagined future.” This dreamy, lyrical collection, published by Saufo’i Press, deals with grief,  gender identity and contemporary life.  Letoa-Paget, who grew up between New Zealand and Samoa, writes about his Danish heritage, fa’afatama identity, “birds, waves and other ‘witchy things.” For fans of Ocean Vuong and “dancing in the rain.”

3  Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder & An African Regime Gone Bad by Michela Wrong (4th Estate, $25)

Shortlisted for the 2022 Orwell Prize, Do Not Disturb tells the story of Paul Kagame and the legacy of the Rwandan Genocide. Described by John Le Carre as ‘A withering assault on the murderous regime of Kagame, and a melancholy love song to the last dreams of the African Great Lakes.”

4  Fragile Foundations by David Collins (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $70)

From former High Court judge and solicitor general David Collins, Fragile Foundations examines a series of notable criminal trials in New Zealand history, illustrating the clash between the laws and values of Māori society, and European colonisers. An in-depth look at the punitive ways in which English criminal law was applied during pre-colonial New Zealand society, and its echoes in the present-day justice system.

5  Ash by Louise Wallace (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $30)

“An early and strong contender for book of the year” according to books editor Claire Mabey. Check out Claire’s review of poet Louise Wallace’s debut novel here.

6  The Bee Sting by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton, $37)

A delightfully comic and heartfelt saga about an Irish family in crisis. It was shortlisted for last year’s Booker and has been haunting the bestseller charts ever since. Murray is a genius at characterisation, and his sentences are so good they ought to be polished and hung in the Louvre. Although this book is a veritable doorstopper, the pages fly by.

7  You Are Here by David Nicholls (Sceptre, $38)

David Nicholls, bestselling writer of the mid-shelf rom-com. Middle-aged malaise, long solitary walks across the moors, and the magic of human connection. You get the picture.

8  The Age of Magical Overthinking by Amanda Montell (Thorsons, $37)

A witty and erudite look at human bias in contemporary culture. From the publisher’s website: “In a series of razor-sharp, deeply funny chapters, Montell delves into a cornucopia of the cognitive biases that run rampant in our brains, from how the ‘Halo effect’ cultivates worship (and hatred) of larger than life celebrities, to how the ‘Sunk Cost Fallacy’ can keep us in detrimental relationships long after we’ve realised they’re not serving us.”

9  Who’s Afraid of Gender by Judith Butler (Allen Lane, $65)

In Who’s Afraid of Gender, Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble, proves their work is as sharp and urgent as ever. Butler examines how the phantasm of gender has been interpreted and coopted by emerging authoritarian regimes and trans-exclusionary feminists. “An essential intervention into one of the most fraught issues of our moment, Who’s Afraid of Gender? is a bold call to refuse the alliance with authoritarian movements and to make a broad coalition with all those whose struggle for equality is linked with fighting injustice.”

10  Turncoat by Tihema Baker (Lawrence & Gibson, $35)

A bold new sci-fi from cult publishers Lawrence and Gibson, about a public servant, living in a futuristic Wellington, colonised by aliens. “From casual racism to co-governance, Treaty settlements to tino rangatiratanga, Turncoat is a timely critique of the Aotearoa zeitgeist, holding a mirror up to Pākehā New Zealanders and asking: ‘What if it happened to you?'”

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