Amanda Gorman, America's National Youth Poet Laureate and by far the best part of Joe Biden's inauguration yesterday (Photo by Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending January 22

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  When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut (Pushkin Press, $37)

Maths, cyanide, suicide, gardening; ye gods. The Guardian helpfully sums it up as “An extraordinary ‘nonfiction novel’ [that] weaves a web of associations between the founders of quantum mechanics and the evils of two world wars.”

Ottolenghi: Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ixta Belfrage (Ebury Press, $60)

Pairs well with the Marmite toast crusts off your kid’s plate plus a plunger coffee reheated five or six times.

3  Auē by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press, $35)

The best novel of 2020 and the biggest-selling.

4  Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Picador UK, $20)

In all seriousness, Sam Brooks would love to hear from anyone buying this about why they’re buying it.

5  Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart (Picador, $38)

Winner, all by itself, of the 2020 Booker Prize.

6  Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Little, Brown, $25)

Waterways and wading birds and a sad, stripped-back, meandering life – with the sweetest of sweet neat endings.

7  Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press, $38)

This has been sitting on our Kobo for weeks and it’s just today we’re feeling robust enough to read O’Farrell, genius, on the death of a child.

8  Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Bloomsbury, $35)

Counterpoint: renting in New Zealand.

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

All the BWB Texts are great but this one’s having an absolutely remarkable run – it’s made the top 10s almost every week since March 2020.

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

E-tangata published an extract in which Jones enrols in an immersion course at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

“My friends were impressed, commending me for my ‘bravery’. I have often noticed an unpleasant competitiveness among Pākehā about competence in the Māori world, and my going to the wānanga was regarded with some envy. Many saw me as heading into a sphere they wanted access to, but felt too daunted or anxious or busy to enter.

“Some added that they were troubled by what they saw as the sexism of formal Māori protocols that required that men sit in the front row on the marae and forbade women to make formal speeches on the paepae. I can’t say that rule bothered me, not least because it removed any pressure on me to speak.

“In any case, the women were always quick to share their views under their breath about the male speakers, which created an enjoyable solidarity in the back row. I knew the women were powerful behind the scenes. I also accepted that Māori protocols were based in valued Māori cultural tradition, even if that tradition had sometimes been affected by European patriarchal ideals. If change was sought, it was up to Māori women, and not an outsider.”


Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart (Picador, $38)

2  Auē by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press, $35)

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

4  Aroha: Māori wisdom for a contented life lived in harmony with our planet by Dr Hinemoa Elder (Penguin, $30)

“Some people mistake our customs as placing women in a secondary role. This is not the case. Women as the ‘whare tangata’, the house of people, the source of future generations, are revered in our culture. Practices where women sit behind men do not denigrate women. We are seen as extraordinarily precious, to be protected from harm. Our voices are the first voices heard on our marae. Our karanga into the spiritual realm, between women from the home people and the visiting group, sets the scene for the discussions … ”

5  Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given (Cassell, $38)

They do not.

6  The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Viking, $37)

Sounds very much like Midsomer Murders, which is very much a good thing. Blurb: “Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?”

7  Māori Philosophy: Indigenous Thinking from Aotearoa by Georgina Stewart (Bloomsbury, $39)

One of a series introducing world philosophies, the publisher’s website explains “it addresses core philosophical issues including Māori notions of the self, the world, epistemology, the form in which Māori philosophy is conveyed, and whether or not Māori philosophy has a teleological agenda.”

8  Azadi: Freedom. Facism. Fiction. by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton, $18)

“In spite of what she describes in Azadi, her latest collection of essays, as an atmosphere of ‘continuous, unceasing threat’, Roy has refused to back down and this volume, which takes its title from the Urdu word for ‘freedom’ – azadi is the chant of Kashmiri protesters against the Indian government – serves to keep the Kashmiri situation in the minds of her global readership.

‘What India has done in Kashmir over the last 30 years,’ she writes in the essay The Silence Is the Loudest Sound, ‘is unforgivable. An estimated 70,000 people – civilians, militants and security forces – have been killed in the conflict. Thousands have been ‘disappeared’, and tens of thousands have passed through torture chambers that dot the valley like a network of small-scale Abu Ghraibs.'” – the Guardian

9  Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Bloomsbury, $35)

10 Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor (Penguin, $38)

Via NPR: “While researching the science and culture of breathing for his new book … Nestor participated in a study in which his nose was completely plugged for 10 days, forcing him to breathe solely through his mouth. It was not a pleasant experience. ‘I went from snoring a couple minutes a night to, within three days, I was snoring four hours a night,’ he says of the forced mouth-breathing. ‘I developed sleep apnea. My stress levels were off the charts. My nervous system was a mess. … I felt awful.'”

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