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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

BooksJuly 21, 2023

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending July 21

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

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 One of Them by Shaneel Lal (Allen & Unwin NZ, $37)

The new memoir from activist, model, law and psychology student and 2023 Young New Zealander of the Year. Herewith the rousing full blurb from the publisher:

But from the time Shaneel started school, they faced condemnation from their family, and then ‘therapy’ from conservative elders in their village. The elders tried to ‘free’ Shaneel from the evil spirits they thought were making them queer. Shaneel was kept away from the girls to stop Shaneel from becoming more feminine, and from the boys to stop Shaneel’s queerness from spreading to them. Eventually the ‘therapy’ escalated to beatings and torture.

After escaping Fiji and moving to New Zealand as a teenager, Shaneel tried to keep their sexuality — and gender — to themself, but gradually found the courage to come out.

One day, while Shaneel was volunteering at Auckland’s Middlemore hospital, a church leader came up to them and offered to ‘pray the gay away’. It was a lightbulb moment for Shaneel, who could not believe that the same practices that had scarred their childhood in Fiji were operating — and legal — in New Zealand.

Determined to ensure others wouldn’t have to go through what happened to them, Shaneel founded the Conversion Therapy Action Group, which led the movement to ban conversion therapy in Aotearoa. In 2022, thanks to Shaneel and other activists’ work, New Zealand banned conversion therapy.

2 The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (Grove Press, $38)

A literary epic following three generations of a family in southwestern India.

3 Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Zevin Gabrielle (Vintage, $26)

“This is a story about brilliant young game designers hitting it big and slowly growing apart — and Zevin burns precisely zero calories arguing that game designers are creative artists of the highest order. Instead, she accepts that as a given, and wisely so, for the best of them plainly are. “There is no artist,” one of her characters says, ‘more empathetic than the game designer.’” (New York Times)

4 Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Transworld, $26)

Loathed chemistry at school. Loved this book.

5 The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin (Canongate, $50)

According to Far Out magazine, Johnny Cash didn’t want to cover ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails, but Rick Rubin made him.

6 Atomic Habits by James Clear (Random House Business, $40)

Anyone seen Oppenheimer yet?

7 Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors (Fourth Estate, $25)

BookTok magic is working again for Mellors’ novel about a romance between Cleo (student) and Frank (much older).

8 Dice by Claire Baylis (Allen & Unwin NZ, $37)

This new local crime novel sounds like it does a compelling job with very difficult subject matter. Blurbage:

Dice is a stunning courtroom drama told from the perspective of a diverse group of ordinary people – the jury. How will twelve women and men of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs decide whether consent was given or crimes were committed?

In this dazzlingly accomplished and gripping debut novel, the story is told through the eyes of each juror as the trial unfolds and evidence is presented, withheld, fragmented and retold by different witnesses.

Will the verdict deliver justice or punish the innocent? Where does the truth lie?

9 American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin (Atlantic Books, $33)

The Pulitzer Prize winning biography of the creator of the atomic bomb. Just in time to read before you head out to see Cillian Murphy take on the title role.

10 Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber & Faber, $28)

Another Pulitzer Prize winner, fiction this time, and utterly brilliant.


1 A Garden is a Long Time by Jenny Bornholdt & Anne-Marie Cross (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $50)

An extremely beautiful collaboration between poet Jenny Bornholdt and analogue photographer Anne-Marie Cross, who you can read more about in this essay by Lissa Mitchell, curator at Te Papa. Particularly love this idea: “For Annemarie Hope-Cross, photography was, at once, a science and a miracle; the camera was an echo chamber and each photograph was a place where past and present met, where the living communed with those lost along the way, and where the most ordinary plants and objects were rendered mysterious, at times radiant.”

2 Secret History: State Surveillance in NZ 1900–1956 by Richard Hill & Steven Loveridge (Auckland University Press, $80)

Hefty, multi-volume insights into the whys and ways in which the state spied.

3 Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide by Liv Sissons (Penguin, $45)

Love to see this glorious, full-volume appraisal of all of our stunning mushrooms. A household classic in the making.

4 One of Them by Shaneel Lal (Allen & Unwin NZ, $37)

5 Pet by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press, hardback $50, paperback $38)

A gripping, thought-provoking new novel from one of our greatest writers. From Sam Brooks’ review: “What unfolds is a thriller that compels not because anything especially ridiculous happens, but because it all feels hauntingly close to home. Chidgey’s attention to detail is especially helpful: the classroom and its inhabitants feel like it could be straight out of any Christian-based educational institution from the past 50 years, especially with details like Justine’s books ‘covered with leftover wallpaper from home’ and the picture of the Virgin Mary gazing out from her picture frame ‘her heart full of roses and fire’.”

6 Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Vintage, $26)

7 Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World by Antony Loewenstein (Scribe, $40)

A huge piece of work by award-winning journalist to offer a book that “shows in-depth, for the first time, how Palestine has become the perfect laboratory for the Israeli military-techno complex: surveillance, home demolitions, indefinite incarceration and brutality to the hi-tech tools that drive the ‘Start-up Nation’.”

8 Lioness by Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury, $37)

A morish new novel from one of our best writers. Our review is coming next week, but in the meantime here’s the publisher’s description:

From humble beginnings, Therese has let herself grow used to a life of luxury after marrying into an empire-building family. But when rumours of corruption gather around her husband’s latest development, the social opprobrium is shocking, the fallout swift, and Therese begins to look at her privileged and insular world with new eyes.

In the flat below Therese, something else is brewing. Her neighbour Claire believes she’s discovered the secret to living with freedom and authenticity, freeing herself from the mundanity of domesticity. Therese finds herself enchanted by the lure of the permissive zone Claire creates in her apartment – a place of ecstatic release.

9 Audition by Pip Adam (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $35)

Pip Adam is one of the most inventive writers around and this latest novel shows it. We have a fascinating interview with Pip with friend and fellow writer Jo Randerson, coming next week.

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

Hello Tama! Great to see you here. Sorry you’ve been pipped by Pet.

Keep going!