We’ll get to the Top 10s in a minute but first a note on cleaning books, from Dr Siouxsie Wiles:
“I’d say wiping covers is a good idea, and just making sure to wash your hands after you’ve been reading a book others have used is the way to go. Infection mainly requires repeated close contact so while we can’t say you couldn’t get [Covid-19 from a book], I would consider it unlikely.
“One option libraries could introduce is a “quarantine” period for each book that comes back – latest research shows the virus can survive on various surfaces for up to three days so a three-day quarantine should work.”
This strikes us as a common-sense option for anyone concerned about sharing or borrowing books at the moment. Especially because, to paraphrase a friend, it’s all very well cleaning the cover but you can’t exactly wipe the cough off page 168.
And here’s Tilly Lloyd of Unity Wellington on the role of books right now:
People are buying books with great enthusiasm. Unity Wellington is doing fine on the coat-tails of Unity Auckland’s fabulous big award. Go them! And go Wellingtonians, who are being as staunch as ever, even with quiet mornings (hint: late morning is a good time to practise safe distancing at the science fiction wall). Some people say their pile is for their self-isolation or the hermit weeks. Some are just indulging in their regular stack. We are all differently-agnostic.
Unitarians (having isopropyled our hands before serving) know deep down these people cannot read all these books. Couch arrest – aka working from home – easily leads to break-outs of ennui and lust, and sometimes the new books up the wall are not the right ones after all. People will read 30 pages here and 500 pages there and then merely the index of another. People will come to us for completely different books and they will stack these new ones precariously up another wall. They will feel better for just being in the same room as these books. Books are not just for reading. They are anchors and antennae as well, producing an especially helpful aesthetic hum while one is dealing with the wheel of death on remote-desk. They give us a lot even when they have a few million bad germs on the cover. (Never attempt to clean a matte cover. Ever.)
We recommend people go back to Jared Diamond’s old book Guns, Germs and Steel, for the middle bit of the title. Diamond stands in the shoes of these microbes, and explains their reproductive determination.
1 The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate, $50)
“In the first two novels of her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel sings, as it were, the poem of his rise.
In The Mirror & the Light, which closes the trilogy, we witness Cromwell’s fall. This is not a spoiler. You can Google his fate in eight seconds. Mantel’s job is to make the inevitable suspenseful, which she does by turning her protagonist into a tragic hero.” – the Atlantic
2 Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton, $40)
Winner of the 2019 Booker Prize.
3 Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists by Julia Ebner (Bloomsbury, $33)
A blinder, apparently. Our copy is in the mail.
4 Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Picador, $20)
“It’s not so much minimalist writing as it is writing that isn’t there at all.” – Culture editor Sam Brooks reviewing this surprise hit, which has been in the Auckland Top 10 every week since November.
5 All Of This Is For You: A Little Book of Kindness by Ruby Jones (Penguin Random House, $24)
Cathartic sobbing emoji.
6 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate, $25)
If you feel like a Henry VIII fix but don’t have the concentration span for Mantel right now, try Wife after Wife by Olivia Hayfield, which is a modern retelling. It’s fantastic – funny and bright and light but not irritatingly so.
7 Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury, $33)
Social distancing except due to ingrained racism and classism. Subtle. Dense. Recommended.
8 Auē by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press, $35)
Our favourite to win the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction. But who cares about prizes. A terrific, racing, elating story.
9 The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press, $35)
One lovely thing is that it features lots of portals between this world and another one which is (mostly) way better. It feels like wandering out into your garden after it’s rained for the first time in ages.
10 The Overstory by Richard Powers (Vintage, $26)
I wish I hadn’t read this book already because I’d love to read it for the first time right now.
1 The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate, $50)
2 Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (Allen & Unwin, $28)
Winner of the 2019 International Booker Prize.
3 Don’t Hold My Head Down by Lucy-Anne Holmes (Unbound, $27)
“I had sooo many insecurities and, the strange thing was, they felt very old. I think I’d had most of them since I was about 11 or 12, since I first started thinking about boys. Sometimes I would look in the mirror and be shocked that I was a proper woman, because I felt so very, very young and insecure. I still felt like a little girl who just wanted a boy to like her.
“But I was bored of feeling so weak.”
4 Imagining Decolonisation by Rebecca Kiddle, Bianca Elkington, Moana Jackson, Ocean Ripeka Mercier, Mike Ross, Jennie Smeaton and Amanda Thomas (Bridget Williams Books, $15)
“People sometimes lost faith in who we once were and might still be, and grew silent with the stories. Yet as the fiercely asserted right of self-determination became a selflessly determined will to survive, the old stories were told in the quiet of the marae. Old memories and histories were sung for those who would come after, and the joy of resilience provided comfort as new challenges were faced.” – from Moana Jackson’s brilliant essay.
5 Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (Penguin, $24)
6 The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press, $35)
7 The Science of Fate: Why Your Future is More Predictable Than You Think by Hannah Critchlow (Hodder & Stoughton, $38)
“If you image the brains of the couples who have been together for a long, long time and ask them to think about their partner, their brain will react in the same way as a drug addict’s. You can almost say this couple are addicted to each other.” – the author, in a Q&A with the Guardian.
8 Cut Out Girl by Bart Van Es (Fig Tree, $28)
“Compassionate and thoughtfully rendered, the book is both a memorable portrait of a remarkable woman and a testament to the healing power of understanding.” – Kirkus Reviews.
9 Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism by Kristen Ghodsee (Penguin, $28)
“According to Ghodsee, it’s about social safety nets. If, she argues, you build a society that supports women and doesn’t punish them for having children or devalue their labor, it turns out they’ll be happier and have better sex. The line between social safety nets and better sex is blurrier than the title of the book implies, but there are some interesting ideas here.” – Vox.
10 The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders (Bloomsbury, $22)
The 2005 novella upon which Our Bret (McKenzie) based what Stuff called “a primary school play meeting Animal Farm via one-off broadway musical”.
Unity stores are now doing free shipping on all webstore, email and phone orders. And don’t be shy about phoning them up if you’re after a recommendation or just craving the best-bookstore-in-the-world experience. (Auckland: 09 307 0731 and Wellington: 04 499 4245)
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.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the days' best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.