Hera Lindsay Bird, middle-brow fiction, literary fiction, satire, and Harry bleeding Potter feature among the biggest-selling books of the year at the best bookstore in Wellington.
1 Hera Lindsay Bird (Victoria University Press, $25) by Hera Lindsay Bird
“Way out in front,” says Unity supremo Tilly Lloyd. A book of poetry, way out in front; a book of poetry by an author no one had ever heard of a year ago, way out in front; a book of poetry by an author no one had ever heard of a year ago who invokes the great New York poet Frank O’Hara, way out in front. Her wit and her frank manner and her sexual content and her vivid imagery made it so; the dear old Spinoff provided the transport for the phenomena. We posted four of her poems throughout 2016. The first was very popular. The second was more so. The third, about Monica from Friends, was a smash hit. The fourth, “Keats Is Dead So Fuck Me From Behind”, went viral, worldwide, crazy, with 60,000 views and stories about her in the Guardian and all the rest. Take away the internet of things, though, and you’re left with something special, something all her own work: a book of poetry.
2 All the Light We Cannot See (HarperCollins, $25) by Anthony Doerr
“I longed to tell a war story that felt new,” Doerr has said about the biggest-selling novel in New Zealand in 2016. “Could I tell a story about how a promising boy got sucked into the Hitler Youth and made bad decisions that led to terrible, unforgivable consequences, yet still render him an empathetic character? And could I braid his story with the narrative of a disabled girl who in so many ways was more capable than the adults around her?” Yes.
3 My Brilliant Friend (Text, $30) by Elena Ferrante
Is the mysterious Elena Ferrante really, as an investigator claimed this year, Anita Raja, a translator who has bought a country house in Tuscany as well as an eleven-room apartment “on the top floor of an elegant pre-war building in one of the most beautiful streets in Rome”? Since when did translators earn that kind of lira? Or, to put it another way: who cares? The miracle of Ferrante’s books is more than enough; her Neapolitan quartert begins with this novel, first published in 2012.
4 The Sympathizer (Piatkus, $28) by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The novel, set in the aftermath of the Veitnam War, was also a finalist at this year’s US National Book Award; Nguyen wrote about the November 18 ceremony on his FB page: “Well, I didn’t win the National Book Award, which came as no surprise. I hadn’t written a speech. The other four books were so impressive and important, and any one of them deserved to win: on the American right (Arlie Russell Hochschild), on the Attica uprising (Heather Anne Thompson), on the forgotten enslavement of Native Americans (Andres Resendez), and on the history of racist ideas (Ibram X. Kendi, the winner and a very nice guy). It was very impressive that the judging committee picked five serious, political works written by academics. Maybe something was in the air, a sense of dread and fear and the need to address the histories that led us to this point.”
5 Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death & Brain Surgery (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, $28) by Henry Marsh
“Thank God for neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. His speciality is drilling into people’s heads and sucking out or cauterising various problem globules, usually life-threatening. Those are the bald basics, but they disguise a multitude of traumas, not least those of a very human surgeon. He writes with near-existential subtlety about the very fact of operating within a brain, supposed repository of the soul and with myriad capacities for emotion, memory, belief, speech and, maybe, soul: but also, mainly, jelly and blood. He has been 4mm away, often, even with microtelescopes, from catastrophe”: The Guardian.
6 Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld, $25) by Marlon James
Winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize. Unreadable and nothing brief about it, but popular.
7 Harry Potter & the Cursed Child Parts I & II: The Official Script Book of the Original West End Production (Little Brown, $50) by J K Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
JK Rowling & the cursed franchise.
8 The Sellout (Oneworld, $28) by Paul Beatty
Winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize. Charlotte Graham, Spinoff Review of Books: “Funny.”
9 We Go to the Gallery (Dung Beetle, $25) by Miriam Elia
Brilliant satire of the Ladybird books for kids. Peter and Jane go to an art gallery. Jane studies an installation of rubbish bags, and says, “The rubbish smells.” Mummy says, “It is the stench of our decaying Western civilisation.”
10 Can You Tolerate This? (Victoria University Press, $30) by Ashleigh Young
Wondrous essays. Grant Smithies wrote in the Sunday Star-Times, “Ashleigh Young should be carried through the streets of Wellington in a sedan chair, borne aloft by adoring disciples.” Quite right.