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BooksDecember 22, 2017

The 10 best-selling books of 2017 at Unity Books, Wellington


The top 10 best-sellers of the year at Unity Books in Willis St, Wellington.

1 Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press, $30)  

Number one: huzzah! In the old days of New Zealand literary awards, any kind of book – fiction, verse, memoir, whatever – was eligible to win the grand prize and pocket the most loot; if tradition and good sense had prevailed, then Ashleigh Young’s brilliant and affecting collection of essays would surely have taken top honours at the 2017 Ockham New Zealand book awards as well as the prize for best book of non-fiction. The prize gave sales a little bit of a boost but what really got punters flooding into the Willis St store was the amazing news that the author had been awarded an obscure yet very fucking lucrative literary award from Yale University: it made the papers, it made her famous, it made her book fly off the shelves like the windblown jacket drawn on the cover. It’s basically a modern New Zealand classic. Have you got it? If not, how can you tolerate that? Do something about it. Her personal essays are funny, insightful, always original, a deep, lasting pleasure.

2 Hit & Run: the New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan, and the meaning of honour by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson (Potton Burton, $35)

No one knew what kind of book it was when Hager prepared to launch his latest explosive work of investigative journalism at Unity’s store on Willis St. Everything was kept secret. No one even knew it was by Hager and Stephenson. And then all hell broke loose and a bookstore led the TV news, and the story fired up the citizenry, who demanded answers from the government and the New Zealand Defence Force about the closely documented claims that the SAS had caused the deaths of six civilians in Afghanistan – and then it all kind of just fizzled out, no inquiry, no nothing, although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a few noises about it in November just after she took office.

The New Zealand Project by Max Harris (Bridget Williams Books, $40) 

New thinking about values in politics by the 28-year-old ludicrously described in the Listener as an “academic hotshot”.

4 Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo (Particular Books, $40)

Named the second best book of 2017 at the Spinoff; “It’s the most 2017 book of the year,” wrote (and drew) reviewer Toby Morris.

5 Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton, $38)

Oh, God, you’re kidding. Really? Number five? Why were so many readers sucked in by this big, ham-fisted, blathering novel? The Spinoff did its best to alert people to steer clear; “Too often just plain confusing, a hotchpotch rather than a patchwork, a jigsaw with many missing pieces”, wrote reviewer Marion McLeod.

6 Drawn Out: A Seriously Funny Memoir by Tom Scott (Allen & Unwin, $45)  

Ian Cross was the Listener editor who hired Scott as political diarist in 1973; he writes in his book The Unlikely Bureaucrat, “It was moving to see him working at a desk with his child sleeping peacefully on the floor at his feet. This was during his infrequent visits to the office to meet a deadline (or to miss it by only a day or two).” Scott takes up the story in his popular memoir.

La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Trilogy by Philip Pullman (David Fickling Books, $35)

Dungeons and daemons.

8 Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888-1903 by Redmer Yska (Otago University Press, $40)

There have been many diligent, workmanlike histories of Wellington in the late 19th century; Noel Harrison’s The School That Riley Built, a history of Wellington Technical College, for instance, describes the capital as “A rough, raw city…Land was still being reclaimed from the sea one hundred yards from what is now the commercial centre…Youthful behaviour was sometimes ugly and vicious in relation to Chinese and Indians…Many side streets were transformed by a few hours’ rain into feet-sucking mud…The newly formed Salvation Army began a Female Rescue Society to help the many deserted wives, abandoned children and fallen women.” Yska is the first to take this setting and treat it as a character, something complex and shifting, a living presence, in this superbly original study of Katherine Mansfield growing up in Wellington. A wonderful book, longlisted for the 2018 Ockham New Zealand national book awards.

9 Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury, $33)

Very likely the best single piece in New Zealand literary journalism in 2017 was published at The Spinoff, when Hera Lindsay Bird interviewed Man Booker prize winner George Saunders.

10 Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird (Victoria University Press, $25)

Speak of the devil! The biggest-selling book at Unity’s Wellington store in 2016 continued to fly out the door in 2017 as new readers discovered the most sensational book of New Zealand verse ever published – alright, the only sensational book of New Zealand verse ever published.

See the Top 10 bestsellers of 2017 at Unity Books Auckland here.

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books.

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