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BooksOctober 22, 2021

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending October 22

Two men on deckchairs at the bottom of a pool, one is reading, one gazing off into the distance.
(Photo: Konstantin Trubavin / Aurora Open 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.


1  EM-PA-THY: The Human Side of Leadership by Harold Hillman (Bateman, $30)

Merry corporate Christmas …

2  Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change by Charles Duhigg (Random House, $28)

… and happy corporate New Year!

Two perfect gifts from CEO Santa. These are apparently in high demand, even in October, because people who read about empathetic leadership and positive habits are organised.

3  The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury, $25)

Phew! Back to familiar ground: fiction set in Ancient Greece, complete with adventure, romance, and just a hint of erotica. 

4  Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (Simon & Schuster, $35)

The Washington Post (via Stuff) provides context, hydration advice, and condemnation:

“Librarians and bookworms throughout time are the heroes of Anthony Doerr’s exceedingly busy new novel Cloud Cuckoo Land. Think of it as a triptych love letter to the millions of readers who made his previous novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, a phenomenal bestseller.

“Once again, Doerr presents young people caught in the fires of war, but his stage this time around is far vaster than the plight of two children during World War II. Cloud Cuckoo Land struts across millennia. Wear comfortable shoes and remember to stay hydrated … Yes, libraries are awesome, and we all love books. But the artificial convolutedness of Cloud Cuckoo Land is not enough to confer any additional depth on Doerr’s simple, belaboured theme, a theme that thumps through the novel insisting that every character kneel in reverent submission.” Ouch. We vehemently disagree, and equally vehemently endorse, this wonderful novel.

5  Circe by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury, $22)

If you’ve already read The Song of Achilles and are hunting around for more, lucky for you Miller has written a second novel. Circe, the infamous witch from the Odyssey, is recast as “a fierce goddess who, yes, turns men into pigs, but only because they deserve it”. Thanks, NPR.

6  Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (Faber, $33)

If you’re thinking “Sally Rooney! Number Six? This wasn’t the madness I was promised!” Well, just take a sneak preview peak at Wellington.

7  Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad (Ebury Press, $55)

We hope you have freekeh, pomegranate molasses, sumac, and za’atar lining your pantry shelves, because the new Ottolenghi has arrived to make your cooking at least 116% more time-intensive and 400% more exciting. 

8  The Raffles Affair: A Victoria West Mystery by Vicki Virtue (Penguin Random House, $37)

New mystery novel by a local writer, inspired by the glamorous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The novel has in turn inspired the Raffles to concoct specialty cocktails in its honour. Once you have your own alcoholic drink, is there any further corner of success to explore?

Look out for a review next week.

9  The Magician by Colm Tóibín (Picador, $38)

A novel about the life of German writer Thomas Mann, from the writer of Brooklyn, The Master, and Nora Webster.

10  Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (Fleet, $35)

An entertaining heist novel set in 1960s Harlem, from the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. The narrator is a furniture salesman who’s pulled into the world of underground crime.


1  Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (Faber, $33)

2  Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (Simon & Schuster, $35)

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

We used to joke, “How is it that Imagining Decolonisation is still selling like hot cakes? Every Wellingtonian must own at least three copies now!” At this stage, we are dead serious.

4  Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad (Ebury Press, $55)

5  The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (Hutchinson, $37)

From NPR: “Amor Towles’ new book is quite the joyride — The Lincoln Highway follows four kids in a 1948 Studebaker who set out along the real-life Lincoln Highway, the first highway to cross the [United States]. Two of them are trying to head for San Francisco to find their mother — the other two want to go the other way, looking for a promised inheritance.”

6  Things I Learned at Art School by Megan Dunn (Penguin, $35)

A local memoir crafted from essays that combine wicked comedy, banality, and tragedy. You can read an excerpt here, but be warned – these essays are like a packet of chips. Once you start, it will be hard to stop. 

7  The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (Tinder Press, $35)

A new novel set at the end of the American Civil War. Over 10,000 Goodreads ratings give it a score of 4.3 stars, and one reviewer says: “Magnificent … an instant classic! Really extraordinary! … Engrossing storytelling … Heartbreaking cruelty, loss, grief, racial and sexual bigotry … yet also full of promise, courage, and humanity … Incredible debut!”

Maybe all of those ellipses will make you doubt this reviewer’s credibility, so to ease your mind: the Guardian liked it, too.

8  Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, $23)

Newly-crowned winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, by the author of the wonderful Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The smaller, more wallet-friendly edition of Piranesi has just been released, bumping it back into the bestsellers. From the Guardian: “Far from seeming burdened by her legacy, the Susanna Clarke we encounter here might be an unusually gifted newcomer unacquainted with her namesake’s work. If there is a strand of continuity in this elegant and singular novel, it is in its central preoccupation with the nature of fantasy itself. It remains a potent force, but one that can leave us – like Goethe among the ruins – forever disappointed by what is real.”

9  A Queer Existence: The Lives of Young Gay Men in Aotearoa New Zealand by Mark Beehre (Massey University Press, $45)

The experience of 27 young gay men in Aoteroa, told through photography and oral history. They are living in a new era: all of these men were born after the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed in 1986, and in their lifetimes workplace discrimination was outlawed, same-sex relationships were legally recognised, and marriage equality was granted. Sam Brooks reviewed it for us, here, later tweeting it was one of his favourite pieces he’d written.

10  She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall (Victoria University Press, $30)

An exceptional new novel featuring one of the best scenes in a New Zealand novel this year: supermarket shopping during an inexorable apocalypse. (We’re publishing that scene, and a note from the author, next week.)

Here’s a potted review we included in our most recent Spinoff Book Report:

“The protagonist, a woman in her 30s, is clever and blisteringly self-centred and odd, as you would be. She is one IQ point off being a genius and also quite possibly a sociopath. But that’s far from the centre of the book – I think the message here is more that humanity as a whole is pretty sociopathic.

The plot involves ‘wealthugees’ – the elite who can afford to flee their own ruined countries – and eco-terrorism, and a mysterious teenager who comes to live with the protagonist for a bit. The whole book has a feeling of edges and fractures and knife-edges, precariousness, and how close we are to it all. And also, how when it comes it will feel so normal.”

Keep going!