One Question Quiz
Short and snappy, geddit? (Photo: Cort Cort/Getty Images)
Short and snappy, geddit? (Photo: Cort Cort/Getty Images)

BooksApril 24, 2020

The Unity Books chart for the strange week ending April 24: Short and snappy

Short and snappy, geddit? (Photo: Cort Cort/Getty Images)
Short and snappy, geddit? (Photo: Cort Cort/Getty Images)

Week five, somehow, of these lockdown lists, compiled by the staff of Unities Auckland and Wellington.

On the back of widespread reports that brains across the country have turned to custard, the theme this week is “books you can knock off in no time”. And speaking of no time: we are inexorably hurtling towards Tuesday morning and the moment at which Unity’s website properly opens for business. Godspeed all.


1  Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (2018)

This is a short and poignant novel that has the emotional electricity of a thriller. Ghost Wall tells of Silvie, a teenage girl, and her family who tag along with a university group on an Iron Age recreation experience. Though slim, this book is is both vividly imagined, and deals with themes of power, violence and tradition. / Hera Lindsay Bird

2  Afakasi Woman by Lani Wendt Young (2019)

A hard-hitting, shocking and often hilarious collection of 24 short stories. These stories, some of which are very short, explore universal issues affecting young people and are told from a Pasifika point of view. Life-affirming, surprising and highly recommended. / Carolyn Alexander

3  The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

An eery portrait of madness from the perspective of a Victorian wife held captive in a country house and prescribed the patronising rest cure. This is a story that lasts a few pages, yet its ending is more satisfying and fist-pump-in-the-air victorious than any other I’ve read. I read it when I feel like I’m going a little mad myself and suffice to say the spine’s weaker than it was three weeks ago. / Chloe Blades

4  Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter (2015)

Even if you’re light on Ted Hughes consumption (#teamsylvia) and therefore lack some of Max Porter’s framework, this is a beautiful read, a novella that reads almost like a long-form prose poem. Porter’s background as an editor (of such luminaries as Eleanor Catton) is evident in the effortless but crisp writing and it’s one to scoff in one sitting (with hankie to hand). / Briar Lawry

5  No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference by Greta Thunberg (2018)

It was on the Little Unity top 10 bestseller list every month since it came out for a reason. It’s pocket-sized, easy on the purse strings (a mere $10 – $8 if you manage to snag a copy of the original pre-expanded edition!) and it’s full of wisdom and cold hard facts in the form of Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speeches. Buy it for your niece and nephew so they can regale your on-the-fence-re-climate-change-brother-in-law with the truth of the matter over dinner. / Briar Lawry

6  Swimming in The Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski (2020)

Call Me By Your Name, it’s time to step aside and let Swimming in The Dark come first. For those needing a quick queer literary fix (or “fuck” like the shot), Swimming in The Dark will relieve your tension. Na zdrowie! (That’s “cheers” in Polish.) / Demi Cox

7  Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyn (1987)

It’s midsummer and ducks are floating through the kitchen window; the garden is submerged. Then the baker’s wife goes mad and the miller drowns himself in the river. Grandma Willoweed refuses to leave the house. Comyn’s bizarre tragicomedy is as frightening as it is beautiful. / Toyah Webb

8  Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath (2019)

This incredible short story was written by Plath in 1952, but wasn’t published in its original form until last year. I adored the tension and intrigue that this story built. Plath described it as a “vague symbolic tale”. My interpretation is that it’s an allegory for rebellion against societal norms. Naturally, I fell in love with it. / Daniel Devenney

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (1990) 

Slender enough to finish reading during a bath, Malcolm was truly ahead of her time with this classic non-fiction study of journalism and the ethics of embedding oneself in a murder trial. Without this, there would be no Tiger King. / Melanie O’Loughlin 

10 Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community and the Meaning of Generosity by Prita Basil (2019)

Be My Guest explores the notion that sharing a recipe with someone is one of the most generous forms of human exchange. While gently traversing the personal and the political, it outlines the significance of community, generosity and sharing through food. Very wholesome. / Lara Lindsay Parker



1  Brand New Ancients by Kate Tempest (2013)

This punchy little number weighs in at a mere 64 pages and won Tempest a Ted Hughes Poetry Award for innovation. In one dramatic spoken-word poem, the intertwining lives of two working-class London families form, flow and flare. / Dani Henke

2  On the Shortness of Life by Seneca (49AD)

This essay of Stoic philosophy (Penguin Great Ideas series) details ways our minds are preoccupied by pointless thoughts and pursuits. It may change your perception of time and how you use it. Although brief, his recommendations are timeless and worthy. / Dylan Sherwood

3  A Mini Guide to the Identification of New Zealand’s Land Birds by Andrew Crowe, illustrated by Dave Gunson (2007)

This pocket-sized book presents birds in order of size, from “smaller than a sparrow” to “flightless heavyweight”. We learn of locations, habitats and quirks, and each bird call is described. The blurb describes it as “appealing”. I agree. / Marion Castree

4  The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (2017-2018)

A collection of novellas featuring MURDERBOT, a cyborg security unit with a hacked governor module and a dark past. Hilarity, mayhem and action ensue. / Luke Finnigan

5  Indelicacy by Amina Cain (2020)

Charming and incisively witty, Amina Cain’s Indelicacy has drawn comparisons to the likes of Clarice Lispector and Jean Rhys. It is sincere, but refuses to take itself too seriously. A strange fable which fails to be pinned down by place or time. / Clara van Wel

6  A Shakespearean Botanical by Margaret Wiles (2015)

Featuring stunning illustrations from early modern herbalist John Gerard, this book is a delightful tour of Shakespeare’s impressive botanical knowledge. Using references from a variety of plays, Margaret Wiles deftly draws out Shakespeare’s literary garden. / Clara van Wel

7  The Second Body by Daisy Hildyard (2017)

This book is a pensive essay exploring the relationship between individual human bodies and their invisible reach around the globe through consumption. Hildyard interviews a butcher, a wildlife-crime investigator, a biologist, and a fungus researcher to help her understand this global economy. It is a small meditation on our place in the world. / Katrin O’Donnell

8  The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo (1973)

Winter 1937 – there’s a rich family, a wedding, a mysterious three-fingered man, a gruesome murder and a bloody samurai sword. Recently translated into English, this award-winning short novel is regarded as one of Japan’s greatest works of crime fiction. / Rachel Pilois

9  The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

This is a beautifully wrought tale of youthful friendships morphing into failure, the big secret, the confusion of the “just-outsider”. Barnes’ observations of interpersonal relationships are as sharp as the writing is spare. Not a wasted word. / Jacqui Brokenshaw

10 Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2016)

The darkly comic story of a young Japanese woman who rebels against the social expectations of her friends and family by conforming absolutely to the automaton-like routines of her workplace. A weirdly reassuring read for anyone who’s ever found comfort in the anonymity of routine. / John Duke

Keep going!