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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

BooksDecember 22, 2023

The Unity Books bestseller chart for 2023

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

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. This final edition of 2023 edition features the top 10 sales of the year.

AUCKLAND

1 Atomic Habits by James Clear (Penguin Random House, $40)

Actually mildly surprised that this one beat out the rest of the top five on this list. But then, looking back, Atomic Habits haunted the bestseller lists all year, hanging low but steady. Clear’s formula is basically to improve your life through a series of mini-hacks. Something must be working.

2 Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (Faber & Faber, $25)

No surprises here. Keegan is the master of the deep cut, the perfect prose, the transportive read that will leave you changed. This is the perfect Christmas book, too: short, Yuletide setting, and bursting with hope.

3 Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Victoria University Press, $38)

Wa-hey! Welcome Catton, first Aotearoa title of the bestsellers of 2023. Naturally, this hefty thriller from the youngest ever Booker Prize winner shot up the charts when it was released in February this year. The stark black and white cover, the promise of billionaire-related hijinks, radical gardening and reliably excellent writing clearly pleased Unity’s punters. Fun fact: Birnam Wood was the most-borrowed book across Wellington City Libraries in 2023. If you want to know more about this rip-roaring tale of environmental crime and other mischiefs, then our review is here, and an in-depth interview with Catton is here.

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

Another in the self-help vein of books, Rick Rubin’s creative how-to was super popular in Auckland this year. The Spinoff’s Sam Brooks gave it a hoon and wasn’t super convinced, however: “I put down the book feeling a little bit better about my own creativity, but with very few specific thoughts on the creative act. And that’s from someone who was taking notes!”

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

Frankly thought this one might have cracked the top three, so often have we typed it out here upon a Friday. “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” wails Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play about the crummy inevitability of death. In Zevin’s hands, this sentiment is busted apart by the virtual dimensions of a gamer’s life wherein death is never really the end. It’s a charming friendship novel that we saw here again, and again, and again.

6 The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka, $35)

Welcome Chidgey, and Tama, Aotearoa’s most famous fictional magpie! The Axeman’s Carnival won this year’s big prize at the Ockham’s and found its way to readers all over Aotearoa and the world. There were a few excellent weeks there when both The Axeman’s Carnival and Chidgey’s next novel, Pet, were both on the bestseller charts. What a sparky year for one of our best writers.

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

Fun fact: Bonnie Garmus’s dog is called 99. Lessons in Chemistry was a stonking global success and has since spawned an Apple TV series and over 6 million sales. If you’re looking for a sure-fire holiday read then we’d highly recommend this feel-good story about a woman socking it to the patriarchy in the 1960s.

8 The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sort of Books UK, $37)

Karunatilaka’s epic multi-world novel won the Booker Prize in 2022 and in May of this year he appeared at the Auckland Writers Festival, which we suspect accounts for Seven Moons’ appearance on this list. “I found this book compulsive: a familiar and profoundly unsettling read,” wrote Himali McInnes, whose stunning review of Karunatilaka’s masterpiece can be read in full here.

9 Bunny by Mona Awad (Head of Zeus, $25)

A #BookTok phenomenon, Bunny was a staple of the Friday list in the first half of 2023. Since then, Awad has released another novel, a “gothic fairytale” called Rouge. Here’s the blurb: “For as long as she can remember, Belle has been insidiously obsessed with her skin and skincare videos. When her estranged mother Noelle mysteriously dies, Belle finds herself back in Southern California, dealing with her mother’s considerable debts and grappling with lingering questions about her death. The stakes escalate when a strange woman in red appears at the funeral, offering a tantalizing clue about her mother’s demise, followed by a cryptic video about a transformative spa experience. With the help of a pair of red shoes, Belle is lured into the barbed embrace of La Maison de Méduse, the same lavish, culty spa her mother to which her mother was devoted. There, Belle discovers the frightening secret behind her (and her mother’s) obsession with the mirror—and the great shimmering depths (and demons) that lurk on the other side of the glass.”

10 The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis (Allen & Unwin, $37)

“Hermetic, paranoid, sleek, dark — and with brief explosions of the sex and violence that have characterized Ellis’ oeuvre — The Shards is a stark reminder that the American Psycho author is a genre unto himself,” goes the NPR review of Ellis’s first novel in over a decade (Imperial Bedrooms was published in 2010, American Psycho, the most famous, in 1991). Clearly Auckland readers embraced this adrenaline-spiked rampage for these fairly bleak times.

WELLINGTON

1 Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $38)

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

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

4 Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide by Liv Sisson (Penguin Books, $45)

Yes, excellent. Surely this glorious, shroom-filled guide is a shoo-in for the longlist in the illustrated nonfiction category at next year’s Ockham’s. With its electric blue cover, gorgeous photography, and wealth of well laid-out information, Sisson’s efforts made the ultimate nature book for 2023 and we are delighted to see that others think so too. For an edited excerpt, see here.

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

6 Imagining Decolonisation by Rebecca Kiddle, Bianca Elkington, Moana Jackson, Ocean Ripeka Mercier, Mike Ross, Jennie Smeaton and Amanda Thomas (Bridget Williams Books, $18)

The little book that could. We know a few politicians who would be well-advised to spare a couple of hours imbibing the wisdoms of this book over their holiday break.

7 Bunny by Mona Awad (Head of Zeus, $25)

8 Did I Ever Tell You This? By Sam Neill (Text Publishing, $55)

Interesting: Neill’s memoir certainly made a splash when it first released, largely because the first page revealed that Neill is living with a rare blood cancer, but it was a slight surprise to find that this memoir from beloved New Zealand actor and Jurassic Park star beat out Spare by Prince Harry for a spot on the top 10 of the year. Nevertheless, well played, Wellington.

9 Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber, $28)

No surprises here. Kingsolver’s latest effort bloomed and flourished over the year as the novel scooped prize after prize and word of mouth grew. This hard-hitting retelling of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield is masterful, moving and highly recommended.

10 Lioness by Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury, $37)

Hurrah! Lioness was one of the best Aotearoa novels of the year and one of Perkins’ best books. The story of Therese Thorn’s mid-life confrontation is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining. Plus Marian Keyes loved it:

Keep going!