Image: Vesna Jovanovic/Getty
Image: Vesna Jovanovic/Getty

BooksApril 17, 2020

The Unity Books chart for the strange week ending 17 April: Sweetness and light

Image: Vesna Jovanovic/Getty
Image: Vesna Jovanovic/Getty

Somehow we’re up to week four of these lockdown lists. What is time. 

The theme this week is, essentially, “carbs in book form”. Ease. Enjoyment. The anti-ennui. Put together, as previously, by the wonderful teams at Unities Auckland and Wellington.

But just quickly first, a couple of local recommendations from our resolutely lowbrow books ed Catherine Woulfe: Olivia Hayfield’s Wife After Wife is loosely based on Henry VIII, but set now-ish. It’s long and smart, loads of parties and money and frocks. Someone said it was like Jilly Cooper, and yes. Loved it. Also just spent a delightful few days with Bronwyn Sell’s Lovestruck. Set in a resort on the Whitsundays. Turquoise water, a bunch of couples, a wedding, everyone’s so happy at the end.

Right, now over to Unity.


1. Mophead: How Your Difference Makes A Difference by Selina Tusitala Marsh (2019)

There are so many adjectives you could throw at Mophead, but sweet and light are two of them. In making a graphic mini-memoir for an audience of all ages, Tusitala Marsh manages to be inspirational and accessible while also telling a vital story for any creatively. inclined reader who has felt like something of an outsider. / Briar Lawry

2. The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul by William Sieghart (2017)

This anthology prescribes a poem as therapy for every mood. I recommend Wendell Berry’s ‘The Peace of Wild Things’, which is especially apt right now.

3. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman by Nora Ephron (2006)

First published in 2006, this reprinted edition of the indomitable Ephron’s ponderings on being a woman opens with an introduction by Dolly Alderton, author of Everything I Know About Love. Essays on maintenance, Ephron and JFK, how much she hates her purse, and all other manner of womanhood, will put you into a book coma that’s almost impossible to come out of. / Chloe Blades

4. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben (2015)

The Hidden Life of Trees will gently reconnect your isolated self to nature and all its beautiful mysteries. In his writing Peter Wohlleben shares his love and compassion for trees, forests and woodlands. He convincingly argues that trees are social beings, that they have feelings just like us humans. But what truly nurtures a happy tree is connection and unity – moss, fungi, insects, a diversity of tree species. Wohlleben’s book is essential for us humans more than ever. / Demi Cox

5. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (1972)

One of a few books I read every year. The Summer Book is an autobiographical-ish series of interlinked stories about a little Finnish girl and her grandmother growing up on a remote island. The grandmother and little girl go about their daily lives, bicker, challenge and console, talk about mortality and cow shit and hell and unrequited love. Each one is like a perfect moral fable, except I have no idea what’s being taught. Full of light, and although the Finns don’t really go in for sweetness, it’s nourishing in better, weirder, richer ways. / Hera Lindsay Bird

6. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (2014)

Using a fragmented structure Dept. of Speculation explores the reflections of a marriage in crisis. Offill’s use of anecdotes makes for light reading that you can finish in a day and then read again as you wished it lasted longer. / Kelly Gordon

7. Heartstopper by Alice Oseman (2016)

I literally smiled ear to ear the entire time reading this. I love a graphic novel and I love a good “boy meets boy” love story, so I was here for this! The illustrations are adorable, the story is relatable and the dialogue is fantastic. I flew through it in one sitting and I’m about to go do the same with Volume 2. / Daniel Devenney

8. The Princess Bride by William Golding (1973)

Book? Movie? How could you possibly choose between them? Both are stone-cold classics written by the same hand. The book is a little darker, with more backstory (and no Robin Wright), but with all the joy and more adventure. / Niki Ward

9. Lovers by Daniel Arsand (2012)

That rare thing, a novel both spare and sublime. A medicinal healer and a nobleman cross paths in the court of Louis XV and a forbidden love is triggered. A story that grips the reader in a beatific vision. Sumptuous! Jhumpa Lahiri: “I dream of writing a book like Lovers one day.”  / Melanie O’Loughlin

10. Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh (2017)

Forget the garlic. Hide the onions. This is Ottolenghi on sugar. Who knew he was a pastry chef before he introduced the world to sumac? Australian Helen Goh won world’s best chocolate cake recipe, which makes her more than qualified to contribute. Anzac biscuits meet Persian love cakes. / Susanna Andrew


1. Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori (2018)

With beautiful illustrations, well-balanced prose and attentive research, Drori takes us on a meandering journey around the earth, stopping to behold the magnificent trees in each place. Read one a day with your coffee for a moment of morning calm. / Ash Miles 

2. The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild (2015)

This delightful satire of the London art world is cleverly balanced with history, heartache, unexpected romance and some truly mouth-watering food writing. Clever, funny and authentic, even cynics could fall in love with this a little bit. / Vanessa Williams

3. Eric by Shaun Tan (2010)

A small but perfectly formed picture book about the acceptance of another’s culture. Tan expertly rekindles the flames of whimsy and reminds us to pay attention to the little things. / Becks Popham 

4. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2012)

Can’t an old curmudgeon just end his life in peace? Not with the less-than-handy new neighbours backing over mailboxes, and mangy cats materialising in need of a home. Heartache melds with insight and hilarity in this offbeat novel. / Dani Henke 

5. Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice (2000)

When Pobby and Dingan, young Kellyanne’s imaginary friends, go missing, she falls ill with worry. Her brother has to pit stubborn logic against love, embracing make-believe as the only means to save her. This novella overflows with oddity and charm. / Dani Henke 

6. The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd (1977)

There’s sweetness in life and death here and light in all its natural shades from joy to brooding threat. Shepherd’s book is a love song to a landscape and an affirmation of life lived as part of the natural world. / John Duke 

7. Sanshirō by Natsumi Sōseki (1908-9)

This story of an unworldly young student arriving in Tokyo to pursue his studies recalls perfectly that sweetest time of life, finding one’s way in a world fresh with wonder and full of possibility. / John Duke 

8. I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales from My So-Called Adult Life by Beth Evans (2018)

If you or someone you know: a) is an adult; b) struggles with anxiety; c) knows someone who struggles with anxiety; or d) has a wicked sense of humour about life’s stickier spots, this is a good pick. Awesomeness warning: book is full of diagrams and uncomfortably relatable content. / Annie Keig 

9. Dog Songs by Mary Oliver (2013)

One of her most charming collections, Dog Songs is devoted to the beloved dogs in Oliver’s life, and the joy and warmth they provide. This makes for incredibly touching poems, which are grounded in the everyday moments of life. / Ash Miles 

10. Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson (1954)

A volcano erupts, the earth splits, and a flood wave destroys the Moomins’ family home. They set off in search of somewhere new and have many strange adventures. Equal parts whimsical and melancholic, this tale of the Moomins is the perfect quarantine comfort read. / George Banach-Salas 

Keep going!