Sunset at Piha (Photo: Hannah Peters / Getty Images)
Sunset at Piha (Photo: Hannah Peters / Getty Images)

BooksNovember 12, 2021

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending November 12

Sunset at Piha (Photo: Hannah Peters / Getty Images)
Sunset at Piha (Photo: Hannah Peters / Getty Images)

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  Aroha: Māori Wisdom for a Contented Life Lived in Harmony with our Planet by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin Random House, $30)

The perfect Christmas stocking filler or Secret Santa gift. Spread the Aroha! 

2  Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Bloomsbury, $33)

Gurnah won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, so his most recent novel Afterlives certainly deserves a place here, too. The novel follows two young men in East Africa whose lives are upended by German colonial rule at the start of the 20th century. The Guardian calls Afterlives a “compelling novel, one that gathers close all those who were meant to be forgotten, and refuses their erasure.”

3  Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (Fourth Estate, $35)

An absolute rave review from Catherine Woulfe: “Like Doerr’s 2014 Pulitzer-winner All the Light We Cannot See, Cloud Cuckoo Land is a huge novel. Six hundred and twenty-two glorious pages, nearly 800g, five days of reading so good it picked me up and whooshed me away. It is one long story, the epic life story of a book, but the bits we zoom in on take place in 1400s Constantinople, Idaho in 2020, and some time in the perilous future. I loved every part of it, fervently … Doerr breathes hope, and I hate the word ‘uplifting’ but really there’s no other word for it – the reading of this book lifted me up, left me more hopeful, more peaceful. It’s been weeks now and that feeling has lingered. It is exactly the book I needed.”

4  EM-PA-THY: The Human Side of Leadership by Harold Hillman (Bateman, $30)

Want your boss to be nicer to you? Maybe a subtle Christmas gift could do the trick …

5  The Promise by Damon Galgut (Chatto & Windus, $37)

Winner of this year’s Booker! The novel follows a white South African family and is broken into four sections, each a decade apart and based around a funeral. The judges called The Promise “a strong, unambiguous commentary on the history of South Africa and of humanity itself that can best be summed up in the question: does true justice exist in this world?” 

6  A Cook’s Book by Nigel Slater (4th Estate, $60)

It’s cookbook season, and Nigel Slater is one of the greats, mixing memoir with 200-plus recipes. You don’t just get a recipe for jam tarts – you also get Slater’s exquisitely-written memory of helping his mum make a tart for the first time, standing on a chair to reach the bench top. Sweet on two levels. 

7  Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (4th Estate, $35)

What follows is a report on a real conversation.

A man: “If aliens arrived on Earth, I’d give them a Franzen novel. That would be the best way to explain humans to them.”

His wife, with raised eyebrow: “White American humans from the Midwest, maybe.” 

Quips aside, Crossroads is supposed to be excellent.

8  Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad (Ebury Press, $55)

Ottolenghi’s new book gives you a sneak-peek at his test kitchen. The Happy Foodie says, “OTK: Shelf Love is a recipe book that will teach you to fall in love with cooking intuitively from your cupboards and pantry, fridge and freezer. By cleverly using your kitchen finds, you’ll put a flavoursome, Ottolenghi-level dinner on the table any day of the week.” 

Recipes include (All The Herb) Dumplings with Caramelised Onions, Spiced Semolina with Fried Corn, Peanuts and Coriander, and Upside-Down Lemon, Maple and Vanilla Pudding with Lemon-Maple Butter. Drooling yet? 

9  Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (Faber, $33)

Rooney Rooney Rooney – her star may be fading this week in Auckland, but she’s still reigning queen in Wellington. 

10  The Women of Troy by Pat Barker (Hamish Hamilton, $37)

Novel about the aftermath of the Trojan War, told through the eyes of women. The New Yorker gives a nuanced, not altogether positive review: “How to make something new out of the classics? The tension between novelty and the weight of tradition is one that many writers since Homer have felt … Like so many others, Barker wants to impose her modern concerns onto this very ancient material. But she’s not nearly comfortable enough in her Greek mode to fashion a work of real authority.” That must sting. 


1  Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (Faber, $33)

2  All Tito’s Children by Tim Grgec (Victoria University Press, $25)

A debut poetry collection, tagged with this wonderful recommendation from James Brown: “If you like Charles Simic’s poetry, Lloyd Jones’s Biografi or the film The Lives of Others, read this book. Tim Grgec renders the shifting surfaces of Tito’s Yugoslavia in a masterclass of exquisite writing. ‘The morning spread heavily, the hills forgetting which way to cast their shadows across the plains.’ His sentences feel effortless and perfect. ‘I ate frost to hide my breath.’ This is his family’s and Yugoslavia’s story, throughout which Tito’s voice pervades, toys with, chills. ‘You’re exactly the person I wanted to see.’ This is exactly the book you wanted to read.”

A thousand years ago in early 2017 we published one of Tim Grgec’s earlier poems, as well as an essay about the hopes and dashed dreams of being an aspiring poet. 

3  The Promise by Damon Galgut (Chatto & Windus, $37)

4  Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (Fourth Estate, $35)

5  Silverview by John le Carré (Viking, $35)

Le Carré’s final novel, published after his death. An excerpt, which you can read more of in the Guardian: “With raindrops spitting up at her from the pavement, Lily kept going as far as Mount Street, where she hailed a cab and ordered the driver to take her to Liverpool Street station. Maybe she’d really meant to visit the school. She no longer knew. Maybe she’d announced as much last night, although she doubted it, because by then she’d decided she was never again going to explain herself to anyone. Or maybe the idea hadn’t come to her till Proctor squeezed it out of her. The only thing she knew was: she wasn’t going to visit any bloody school for Proctor’s sake. To hell with that, and dying mothers and their secrets, and all of it.”

6  Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout (Viking, $35)

The return of Lucy Barton! The third Barton novel finds Lucy as a successful New York writer and recent widow, reuniting with her first husband (you guessed it – his name is William). A nuanced portrayal of a decades-long relationship. 

7  She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall (Victoria University Press, $30)

Luckily, it’s children you’re not meant to play favourites with, not books – because for us, She’s a Killer is winning the popularity contest. You can read a diabolically good excerpt here, in which the protagonist unexpectedly comes into cash and goes food shopping, fancy-dystopia style. 

8  Aroha: Māori Wisdom for a Contented Life Lived in Harmony with our Planet by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin Random House, $30)

9  Imagining Decolonisation by Rebecca Kiddle, Bianca Elkington, Moana Jackson, Ocean Ripeka Mercier, Mike Ross, Jennie Smeaton and Amanda Thomas (Bridget Williams Books, $15)

The most familiar face on the list.

10  Tikanga: An Introduction to Te Ao Māori by Keri Opai (Upstart Press, $40)

From the publisher’s blurb: Tikanga “enables readers to peer into the wharenui (meeting house) with respectful curiosity and learn to appreciate some of the fascinating intricacies of the people, language and culture of indigenous Aotearoa.”

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books, recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

A new documentary follows Scribe’s grim past, and looks towards a hopefully brighter future. Image compilation: TVNZ/Tina Tiller

Behind the scenes of Scribe’s new documentary

'We knew that potentially it could be an incomplete or unfinished story arc and that the end of the story might well be Scribe's vanished again.'
Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox


The Sport OGs, photographed in 1988. Clockwise from left: Nigel Cox, Fergus Barrowman, Damien Wilkins, Elizabeth Knox. (Photo: Supplied)

Long live Sport, 1988-2021

One of our great literary magazines is no more. Its publisher looks back on what it achieved, and muses on the long-gone golden age of New Zealand publishing.