Mittens the cat surrounded by some of his favourite reads
Mittens the cat surrounded by some of his favourite reads

BooksSeptember 17, 2021

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending September 17

Mittens the cat surrounded by some of his favourite reads
Mittens the cat surrounded by some of his favourite reads

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.

The Auckland store remains benched but we have fingers crossed for an imminent move to level three, at which point they’ll be processing online orders again.

Wellington, meanwhile, is in level two, and it’s almost sort of business as usual. Except … because books are not considered an essential service, loads of stock is still stuck in Auckland warehouses. And because all of Auckland is getting stuff delivered, shipping is taking forever. The new Sally Rooney novel only made it to Wellington in the last day or so – it was meant to be on shelves on the 7th, ie an eternity ago – which is why it’s not on this list.


1  Things I Learned at Art School by Megan Dunn (Penguin, $35)

Spine-tingling news! There’s a brand new memoir / essay collection by fabulous local writer Megan Dunn. 

Chapter titles include: A Comprehensive List of All the Girls Who Teased Me at Western Heights High School, What They Looked Like and Why They Did It; On Being a Redhead; Life Begins at Forty: That Time My Uncle Killed Himself; Good Girls Write Memoirs, Bad Girls Don’t Have Time; CV of a Fat Waitress; and Various Uses for a Low Self-esteem. We published an excerpt about the Clan of the Cave Bear series.

Among an array of amazing blurbs is Hera Lindsay Bird, who says “Megan Dunn is the perfect antidote to the literary sad-girl industrial complex. She has the best deadpan of the southern hemisphere. Wickedly funny and frequently disconcerting, these odd, savage gems have gravy for days.” 

You can step back in time and read Hera’s interview with Megan Dunn about her debut novel Tinderbox here. 

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

This year’s Pulitzer Prize winner. 

3  After the Tampa: From Afghanistan to New Zealand by Abbas Nazari (Allen & Unwin, $37)

An incredible new memoir. Abbas Nazari’s family fled from the Taliban, headed to Australia on a sinking ship, and after much stonewalling from the Australian government, finally found refuge in Aotearoa. 

“The storm was relentless – the Palapa was like a bath toy at the mercy of an insolent child. With every toss of the boat we were helplessly thrown about, crushing one another in a sea of bodies. Luggage, clothing and plastic bags of vomit became random projectiles. In the darkness I couldn’t make out if I was covered in shit, piss, water, vomit or all of the above.”

Read the full extract retelling the sinking of the Palapa here, and Abbas Nazari’s essay about what 9/11 meant to him here. 

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

Following bestselling novel The Silence of the Girls, Barker’s sequel is about the consequences of the Trojan War and the women on the losing side, from the perspective of captive queen Briseis. Expect vengeance, genocide, violence and slavery. The Guardian’s summary is “merciless, stripped of consoling beauty, impressively bleak.” 

If you want a fluffier Trojan tale, simply look to number six on the list. Yes, really: of Welly’s top 10 books this week, two are novels about the Trojan War.

5 The Adventures of Mittens: Wellington’s Famous Purr-sonality by Silvio Bruinsma and Phoebe Morris (Picture Puffin, $20)

A picture book about local feline Mittens. It was also Wellington’s number one on the children’s bestseller list last month – you could call it a cross-generational success. 

6  The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury, $25)

Here it is! The second Trojan-related novel of the list. Less “merciless and bleak”, more “romantic and heroic.” 

Seriously, pandemic times and Greek legends go together like a cheese toastie and pickles. 

7  Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles (Canongate, $40)

“In her poetry as well as in these essays Nina Mingya Powles dwells on fruit and colour and growth and language, and here she does so with such unrelenting focus, such grace, that even a few paragraphs snatched around small children felt like dropping into a flow state. I drew it out for four days, reading mostly in the garden while the kids cackled on the tramp. The shadows of eucalyptus and poplar flickered over the pages. It felt like being underwater. It was one of the best reading experiences of my life. It filled up my cup, or rather allowed me to fill it myself. Now I feel more inclined to savour, and to tend, even in week five of level four, even though I also frequently feel like crying.”

Read the full rave review by Catherine Woulfe here.

8  The Magician by Colm Tóibín (Picador, $38)

New novel about German writer Thomas Mann, set around the First World War. 

From the publisher’s blurb: “Colm Tóibín’s epic novel is the story of a man of intense contradictions. Although Thomas Mann becomes famous and admired, his inner life is hesitant, fearful and secretive. His blindness to impending disaster in the Great War will force him to rethink his relationship with Germany as Hitler comes to power. He has six children with his clever and fascinating wife, Katia, while his own secret desires appear threaded through his writing. He and Katia deal with exile bravely, doing everything possible to keep the family safe, yet they also suffer the terrible ravages of suicide among Thomas’s siblings, and their own children.”

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

Ishiguro’s excellent dystopian novel was sadly snubbed from the Booker shortlist this week, but Wellingtonians still love him.

10  Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber, $23)

Rooney fans are obviously filling the Beautiful World, Where Are You void in their lives by catching up on her first novel. As mentioned above the new novels are now in store, so have at it.

We recommend you absolutely do not read Jordan Margetts’ scathing review if you want a reading experience untainted by witty, biting, bang-on scorn.

Keep going!