New Brighton, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty)
New Brighton, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty)

BooksAugust 20, 2021

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the strange week ending August 20

New Brighton, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty)
New Brighton, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty)

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.

A quick note from Unity:

Unity Books Wellington is closed to the public under alert level 4. We are also not processing online orders – the lockdown only excludes essential services and, as important as books are to us, the safety of our booksellers and the need to halt the growth of the delta strain are more so.

We are using this hopefully short lockdown to catch up on our reading, engage with readers online, and prepare for the return to bookselling proper. Under alert level 3 (or whatever alert level we move to next) we will quickly process online and phone orders and get them out to our customers promptly. And we are all keen to get back to seeing readers in the shop as soon as it’s safe to do so!


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

Labatut may not have won the International Booker Prize this year (darn, only shortlisted!), but the people of Auckland have spoken: When We Cease to Understand the World is the true winner this week.

2  This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan (Allen Lane, $40)

New non-fiction about three psychoactive plants – opium, caffeine and mescaline. The publisher’s blurb says that Pollan “proves that there is much more to say about these plants than simply debating their regulation, for when we take them into our bodies and let them change our minds, we are engaging with nature in one of the most profound ways we can.”

3  Goddess Muscle by Karlo Mila (Huia, $35)

A 2020 poetry collection spanning over a decade of work by award-winning Pasifika poet Karlo Mila. A phalanx of goddesses reviewed it for us recently and here’s a tasty, oceanic excerpt:

Some days

I’ve been

on dry land

for too long

my ache

for ocean

so great

my eyes weep


my mouth


popping with

groping breath

of crabs

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

The perfect remedy for lockdown blues.

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

Read Klara and the Sun and think, “We’re in lockdown – but at least we don’t live in Ishiguro’s imagination.” Lowlights of this dystopia include: human labour being replaced by machines, human-like “Artificial Friends” treated as disposable toys, and some children being genetically and dangerously “lifted” while others are left behind.

6  My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (Vintage, $26)

A biting novel about a privileged, depressed young woman in 2001 New York whose only wish is drug-induced sleep. Two and a half years ago, we crowned My Year of Rest and Relaxation “the fifth best book of 2018”. Well-deserved, then and now.

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

Review incoming.

8  Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly (Victoria University Press, $35)

Becky Manawatu (!) reviewed Greta & Valdin on Pantograph Punch: “The story manages Greta and Valdin’s struggle: a longing for requited romantic love. And it does so while critiquing monogamy. There is a point in the story where Greta is prompted to remind Valdin of his stance on marriage. That it is an ‘inherently queerphobic’ institution. The only gay people exchanging vows were buying into the monotony of the straight agenda and its dull ideals: committing to one person, buying a house, and working 40 hours a week for one employer.”

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

A book that argues that humans aren’t as bad as you think, by re-examining studies and events that traditionally painted people as jerks – the Stanford prison experiment, the Blitz, famous murders, and (problematically) what the blurb calls the “real-life Lord of the Flies”.

10  This Pākehā Life: An Unsettled Memoir by Alison Jones (BWB, $40)

“This book is about my making sense here, of my becoming and being Pākehā. Every Pākehā becomes a Pākehā in their own way, finding her or his own meaning for that Māori word. This is the story of what it means to me. I have written this book for Pākehā – and other New Zealanders – curious about their sense of identity and about the ambivalences we Pākehā often experience in our relationships with Māori.”


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

The darling and forever favourite child of our capital city.

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

For those not in the know, Mittens is a celebrity Turkish Angora (that is, cat) who was awarded a Key to the City by Wellington’s mayor and nominated for New Zealander of the Year. Mittens’ claim to fame was cheering up people in lockdown last year… so let’s hope he’s up to the task again.

This rhyming story [Ed: aaaarrrrgh] captures Mittens’ adventures, so all can enjoy his cattish inquisitiveness and charm.

3  The Madison Gap by Patricia Donovan (Mary Egan, $30)

Brand new local fiction that asks: What if someone close to you was a sociopath? And what if that person might be your sister, who has turned up at your house unannounced and started flirting with your husband?

Not recommended for those locked down with siblings.

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

5  Mana Whakatipu: Ngāi Tahu Leader Mark Solomon on Leadership and Life by Mark Solomon with Mark Revington (Massey University Press, $35)

Solomon was the head of Ngāi Tahu for 18 years and navigated the Treaty of Waitangi settlement between his iwi and the government. The publisher’s blurb says that Solomon can be “credited with the astute stewardship of the settlement that has today made Ngāi Tahu a major player in the economy and given it long sought-after self determination for the affairs of its own people.”

We think it’s safe to say that his views on life and leadership are probably quite valuable.

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

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

One Goodreads reviewer says, “Think Where’d You Go Bernadette meets Fleabag, with a dash of Bridget Jones’s Diary thrown in.” We highly recommend it, any time, and especially now.

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

A novel set in the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota during a period of Native American dispossession.

More than 25,000 people love it on Goodreads.

The Washington Post called Erdrich “genius”.

Oh, and it just won the Pulitzer Prize.

9  Māori Made Easy: For Everyday Learners of the Māori Language by Scotty Morrison (Raupo, $38)

The number one staple for anyone learning te reo. While our edible staples (bread) and hygiene staples (toilet paper) have vanished, Māori Made Easy will not disappear.

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

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. 

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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