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BooksFebruary 17, 2023

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending February 17


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  Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $38)

The long-awaited, brilliant third novel by Eleanor Catton, who won the 2013 Booker Prize for The Luminaries – not that you needed reminding. This wonderstruck summary from Books Editor Claire Mabey: “In short, Birnam Wood takes Shakespeare’s Macbeth for a tramp through New Zealand’s class and environmental battlegrounds and with those ingredients has produced a breathtaking analysis of human psychology in three acts – personal, political and public. Ultimately it asks whether we have, as a species at large, the survival instincts required to withstand an alarming new breed of technology-fuelled predation; whether we have the instincts to respond adequately to the warning signs, environmental and political, that fight for our attention every day. …

“However, one of the many exquisite thrills of this book is the way the narrator drops in, like a new breed of drone, to surveil with at times horrifying accuracy and precision the inner workings of every character and the contradictions therein. Catton is astounding in her ability to, on one level, turn our attentions to alarms, blaring loud as the witches warning in Macbeth; and on another level, investigate the complex, human preoccupations that blur and dull those glaring signposts like the buffets of a helicopter’s whirr.”

Click over this way for the complete review.

2  Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (Grove Press, $25)

A small, perfect novella set during the lead up to Christmas in 1985 Ireland.

3  Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Penguin Random House, $37)

A movie is already in the works, and The Guardian calls Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow “an artfully balanced novel – charming but never saccharine. The world Zevin has created is textured, expansive and, just like those built by her characters, playful.”

For a different (read, so scathing it will give you third degree burns) take on Zevin’s novel, give Sam Brook’s Spinoff review a nudge.

4  Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Picador, $23)

We’re starting to think of Before the Coffee Gets Cold as the ghost that haunts the bestsellers list.

5  Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber & Faber UK, $37)

A modern retelling of David Copperfield, set in an American trailer park.

6  The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez (Granta, $23)

Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, this series of macabre short stories by Argentinian writer Mariana Enriquez has one of the most profound gold stars available: a glowing review from Kazuo Ishiguro. His words: “The beautiful, horrible world of Mariana Enriquez, as glimpsed in The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, with its disturbed adolescents, ghosts, decaying ghouls, the sad and angry homeless of modern Argentina, is the most exciting discovery I’ve made in fiction for some time.”

7  The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sort of Books, $37)

The 2022 Booker Prizewinner. Have a squiz at our review here, and interview with the winner himself, here.

8  Verity by Colleen Hoover (Sphere, $25)

“OK,” you’ll be thinking, “who is Colleen Hoover, and why is she a constant on this list all of a sudden?” The first answer is, American writer of romance, young adult, and thriller novels, and the first person to ever become #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List for a self-published novel. By now she has sold over 20 million books, and has been scooped up by publishers. The second answer is… BookTok.

9  The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (Profile Books, $28)

We think that practically everyone is needing a little of this in their life right about now.

10  Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday, $37)

A hugely bestselling novel set in 1960s America, about a woman chemist who becomes a cooking show presenter. If you’re after an enjoyable page-turner this weekend, Lessons in Chemistry could be the one.


1  Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $38)

2  Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday, $37)

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

It’s back! Never far from our hearts, though.

4  The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $35)

A wonderful and bizarre read. Also our top suspect for winner of this year’s Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction.

5  The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf, $37)

The first novel to be released in over a decade by the author of American Psycho. Think LA, 1980s, teenagers, brutal serial killer. If thinking in concepts isn’t enough, here’s an excerpt: “When I look back at 1980 and into the fall of 1981 we didn’t think we knew anything about the Trawler yet: meaning we didn’t know his name or how he got his name, we didn’t know what his history was and we didn’t know he was about to thrive and kill three more people that autumn in L.A., one of whom we knew. But beginning in the summer of 1980 there were a number of signs, of clues, that were an actual and legitimate part of what became the Trawler’s pattern, the narrative he was building, the story he wanted to tell, that we did know about. Later on it was confirmed that there were explicit warning signs if the Trawler had actually targeted someone but in the early days no one knew any of this yet: the connections hadn’t been made.”

6  The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sort of Books, $37)

7  The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (Profile Books, $28)

8  Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors (Bloomsbury, $31)

The sudden marriage between Cleo, a 24-year-old British painter, and Frank, a much older self-made success, shakes their world and the world of their friends. This insightful and rather damning review from Emily May of Planet Goodreads:

“I read this because everyone was comparing it to Sally Rooney, which I guess is appealing to me. But it brings all the stuff that irks me about Rooney—hipster millennials having endless navel-gazing pseudo-intellectual conversations about themselves and the universe—and misses out the key component that, for me, makes Rooney as engaging an author as she is irritating.

“What is it? It’s this chilling, anxiety-inducing moroseness. I want to strangle the characters because they’re so awkward and annoying and they’re sabotaging their own relationships. But, also, I care. I care so much. It’s a hard thing to explain to sane humans.

“Rooney has this way of bothering me. I want her characters to figure it out because for some weird reason I am invested in them. Neither Cleo nor Frank inspired those same feelings in me. From their first ludicrous encounter to the end, I found the pair simply irritating, nothing more. And all of the side characters serve to hammer home the book’s whole point about how a relationship can affect those around the couple. None of them felt real or believable.

“I feel like I just read a book full of characters auditioning to be in a Sally Rooney novel.”

9  Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Penguin Random House, $37)

10  Colditz: Prisoners of the Castle by Ben Macintyre (Viking, $40)

A colourful new history of Colditz, the infamous Nazi prison that held British soldiers during the Second World War. Author Geoff Dyer says, “My book of the year . . . a masterful history of Colditz. It’s absurdly readable (and at times just absurd) as well as being informative, hilarious and deeply moving.” Ben Macintyre is coming to Christchurch and Wellington this March so you can hear about the book from the man himself.

Keep going!