A candid shot behind the scenes of The Spinoff Review of Books (Photo: Nelic / iStock via Getty Images)
A candid shot behind the scenes of The Spinoff Review of Books (Photo: Nelic / iStock via Getty Images)

BooksAugust 13, 2021

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending August 13

A candid shot behind the scenes of The Spinoff Review of Books (Photo: Nelic / iStock via Getty Images)
A candid shot behind the scenes of The Spinoff Review of Books (Photo: Nelic / iStock via 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.

AUCKLAND

1  Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber, $37)

Widely considered the safest bet among this year’s Booker pack.

“‘Until recently, I didn’t think that humans could choose loneliness. That there were sometimes forces more powerful than the wish to avoid loneliness.’

Miss Helen smiled. ‘You really are sweet. You don’t say as much, but I can tell what you’re thinking. A mother’s love for her son. Such a noble thing, to override the dread of loneliness. And you might not be wrong. But let me tell you, there are all kinds of other very good reasons why, in a life like mine, one might prefer loneliness.’”

2  When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut (Pushkin Press, $29)

Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. When We Cease to Understand the World is a novel based on historic figures and true events – Einstein, Schrödinger, Grothendieck, Turing, and their mathematical discoveries.

The Guardian says, “Labatut has written a dystopian nonfiction novel set not in the future but in the present. Has modern science and its engine, mathematics, in its drive towards ‘the heart of the heart’, already assured our destruction?”

Nerdy and spooky? Colour us intrigued.

3  He Kupu Taurangi: Treaty Settlements and the Future of Aotearoa New Zealand by Christopher Finlayson and James Christmas (Huia, $60)

For nine years, Christopher Finlayson was Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, and did a darn good job – in 2012 alone, Parliament passed more settlement legislation than it had in the previous 20 years. He Kupu Taurangi is about the elements of a successful settlement, and the effect of settlements on the relations between Māori and the government. We have a review underway.

4  Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Bloomsbury, $25)

Think humans are dastardly, but kind of want your mind changed? Read this book. (Except, caveat.)

5  Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (HarperCollins, $35)

Longlisted for this year’s Ockhams; a Spinoff favourite. The Guardian: “Martha is 40 and finally married to Patrick, a man who’s been secretly in love with her ever since teenagerhood. She now loves him back, but seems unable to be happy or even, on occasion, very nice to him. Ever since a ‘little bomb’ exploded in her brain at the age of 17, she’s been on and off antidepressants, generally to little avail.”

If that sounds pretty sombre, don’t worry – the same Guardian reviewer then goes on to use the words “sharply entertaining”, “grippingly conveyed” and even “humorous and appalling”.

6  Bug Week & Other Stories by Airini Beautrais (Victoria University Press, $30)

Winner of 2021’s “best new fiction in all of Aotearoa” prize, aka the Acorn. Beautrais wrote an excellent essay about the writing of Bug Week, which you can read here.

7  Still Life by Sarah Winman (4th Estate, $35)

From the starry-eyed reviews of other authors, Still Life sounds like a bowl of chicken noodle soup in novel form:

“The kind of story that bolsters the heart and soul” – Donal Ryan

“Four-course nourishment for all Winman fans” – Patrick Gale

“A bear-hug of a book” – Rachel Joyce

Anyone getting hungry?

8  Circe by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury, $22)

A novel and love story set in the Greek Heroic Age, by the author of The Song of Achilles.

To give you the gist, the publisher’s blurb includes this line, which sounds like something that could be shout-whispered over the trailer for a Game of Thrones rip-off:

“Woman. Witch. Myth. Mortal. Outcast. Lover. Destroyer. Survivor. CIRCE.”

(No offence intended to Circe fans, GOT fans, or rip-off fans.)

9  At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop (Pushkin Press, $23)

Another International Booker number, but this time – the winner!

From New African Magazine: “Diop takes us on a remorseless journey of unravelling, where the horrors of war induce one man’s madness. Alfa tells of a life in the trenches, where men compete with one another in recklessness and tribal rivalry, goaded by their captain, where life is cheap and where living is crueller than death.”

10  Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury, $29)

The Sunday Times says “If the antidote to a year of solitude and trauma is art, then this novel is the answer. It is superb.”

WELLINGTON

1  Jerningham by Cristina Sanders (Cuba Press, $37)

A surprise appearance at number one from Jerningham, a historical New Zealand novel released last year. The blurb describes it as “The vivid story of Wellington’s colonial beginnings and of a charismatic young man’s rise and inevitable fall.”

For context: the cover illustration shows a red-moustached tīeke (saddleback) wearing a top hat, cravat and waistcoat.

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

In a failed investigation into what caused Jerningham’s leap to number one, we did find a critique of Jerningham in the NZ Herald. The reviewer takes issue with the novel’s sympathetic portrayal of colonialists, and as corroboration, quotes – you guessed it – Imagining Decolonisation.

“In Imagining Decolonisation, Moana Jackson … writes about how narrative shapes the world around us. ‘History became a kind of rebranding in which colonisation was not seen as a violent home invasion but a grand if sometimes flawed adventure … These colonial stories may have helped explain the taking of power, but they could not give the colonisers the comfort of a place to stand.’”

If you like, you can imagine these two books being forced into the boxing ring.

3  You Don’t Need an MBA: Leadership Lessons that Cut Through the Crap by Alicia McKay (Hachette, $35)

“MBAs are old news.”

That’s a quote from the author’s website. Not our advice as experts in business and entrepreneurship.

4  Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber, $37)

5  At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop (Pushkin Press, $23)

6  The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Dialogue Books, $25)

A novel about twin sisters and the choice to “pass” as white.

7  The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (Little, Brown, $25)

According to urban myth and the Washington Post, in 2018 Louise Erdrich thought she would never write again. Instead, she wrote 2021’s Pulitzer Prize winner.

8  Māori Philosophy: Indigenous Thinking From Aotearoa by Georgina Stewart (Bloomsbury, $39)

“In this book, ‘native’ philosopher Georgina Stewart traverses the breadth and depth of Māori ways of thinking and making sense of the world. The relationship between traditional and historical Māori philosophical notions and contemporary Māori philosophical thought is examined such that both discord and harmony are embraced” – Hemi Dale, Director of Māori Medium Education at the University of Auckland.

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

Our fave. Oprah’s fave.

10  The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Canongate, $33)

A novel that answers the question “What if I’ve made all the wrong choices and messed up my life?” with a comforting “Don’t fret, because nothing’s perfect. You’re fine. To prove it, here’s a magical, endless library where each book is an alternative version of your life.”

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. 

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