A clear day, the Skytower silhouetted, huge cranes rising up all around it, construction in the foreground
Auckland, striving, frozen, July 2018 (Photo: Fiona Goodall, Getty Images News)

BooksAugust 27, 2021

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the strange week ending August 27

A clear day, the Skytower silhouetted, huge cranes rising up all around it, construction in the foreground
Auckland, striving, frozen, July 2018 (Photo: Fiona Goodall, Getty Images News)

Welcome back to the Unity Books lockdown charts, where we take it as given that books are essential and thank our past selves for our towering to-read piles.

Let us also give thanks for the staff of Unity Books Auckland and Wellington, who concoct these very made-up charts whenever we’re in level four. The Spinoff picks a theme and Unity picks the books, it’s all entirely divorced from sales and publishing and launches, etcetera. To be clear: the rankings mean nothing at all! We just like them. Also some of the staff picks are wildly off-theme, but that’s fine. Appropriate, even.

This week’s theme is hustle and bustle. The big city. Gettin’ it done. Because we’re sick of serenity.


Unsheltered by Clare Moleta (2021)

The hustle in this book is like no other. Fierce, unrelenting heart-stopping determination burned out of a mother/child separation so visceral it grew the hairs on the back of my neck. / Susanna Andrew

2  As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper (2021)

Marty is suffocating in his conservative hometown in Kentucky. His religious parents can’t offer the support he needs. Instead, they urge him to pray the gay away. Determined to live out and proud, he tricks them into believing he’s earned a place at a prestigious music school in the UK. In reality, all he’s got is a one-way ticket to London, but there are some things you simply can’t run away from. This story will resonate with many queer people who have swapped a small town for a big city. It deals with all the highs, lows and in-betweens that come along with it. / Daniel

3  The 13.5 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers (1999)

The most singularly chaotic book I’ve ever read, and a German cult classic. The book follows an orphan bear and his various exploits across the land of Zamonia, including being rescued by mini-pirates, stuck inside an eternal whirlwind, travelling through the head of a cyclops, and vying for the title “King of lies.” It’s like if Douglas Adams wrote the Moomins, but German. The perfect read-aloud for groups of any age! / Hera Lindsay Bird

After the Tampa by Abbas Nazari (2021)

The tension levels in this gripping tale of escape from the Taliban and then adrift at sea, left me with a new appreciation for my completely uneventful lockdown. A must-read for everyone. / Jo McColl

5  Busy, Busy World by Richard Scarry (1965)

Like all Scarry books this is full of illustrative hustle and bustle, and what’s more, this one is all about the busyness of day-to-day life. Could induce an appreciation for the tranquility of lockdown. / Briar Lawry

6  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

If you’re sickening of your own solitude then this book will remind you of the hegemony and bullishness of the crowds; the bad breath, the viciousness, the filth, the rawness, the animal mob. Read it and be glad you’re at home. / Susanna Andrew

7  Temporary by Hilary Leichter (2020)

#millenniallife gig economy writ large and draped with a veil of peculiar magical realism – Leichter’s prowess as a celebrated short story author is clear in her debut novel. / Briar Lawry

8  Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury by Sigrid Nunez (1998)

Not quite your conventional “hustle and bustle” but have you ever imagined what it would be like to be a fly on the wall within the Woolf’s household, or better yet … her marmoset? This is a sweet and tender quasi biography of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, the Bloomsbury twilight years, days and nights out with T.S Eliot and Vita Sackville-West, and all from the vantage point of a “sickly pathetic marmoset” named Mitz, who saved the Woolfs from the Nazis and even brought one of their demonstrations to a halt – so cute, “das kleine liebe Ding”. / Demi

9  Things We Lost To The Water by Eric Nguyen (2021)

This title is on Obama’s Summer 2021 Reading list but I think it’s a good one for queer (or not) folk stuck in isolation. New Orleans 1970s, 80s, 90s – new smells, language, thoughts, desires, feelings. There’s much to say about this beautiful book. It leaves you in awe of those first encounters, a bit nostalgic, because there is nothing like a night out on town and the way a night’s adventures linger on your way home. / Demi

10 After the Storm by Emma Jane Unsworth (2021)

Brand spanking new from the phenomenal author of Animals is a uniquely frank essay on Unsworth’s experience with post-natal depression and the wilderness of new motherhood. Although motherhood is less hustle and more bustle and slightly repetitive … it is exceptional and at times despairingly laugh out loud (both the book and new motherhood). / Chloe Blades


1  The Cat and The City by Nick Bradley (2020)

Wow, what an amazing debut! Leading you through the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo, Bradley puts forth a heart-warming set of tales, with one thing in common; a stray cat. For those missing the bustle … welcome back to the city. / Alex Hickford

2  The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (2020)

A novel of contrasting settings – the bustle of New York vs. the remote wilderness of Vancouver Island. Mysterious characters populate the book, many of whom seem to have a hustle going on, some to a devastating degree. The building tension of an impending financial crisis hovers in the background. Fans of Station Eleven will recognise some of that novel’s characters, existing in this parallel (but in its own way just as devastating) universe. / Morgan Bach

3  New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (2017)

Terrifyingly, science fact supports this science fiction. In 2140, the rivers have risen and the New York of today is extinct. But the innate brashness, drive and humour, the idiosyncrasy of NYC, survives – its neighbourhoods and residents flourishing in a new world. / Jacqui Brokenshaw 

4  One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (2021)

Amongst the boredom of everyday life, a chance meeting on the busy New York subway changes August’s life. Jane’s not just a beautiful punk-rock girl, but one displaced from the 1970s. Romance blooms while the pressure is on to save the girl lost in time. / Rachel Pilois

5  The Other Paris: An illustrated journey through a city’s poor and Bohemian past by Luc Sante (2015)

As our cities are gentrified and homogenised, this history of Paris stands in stark contrast. The destitute inhabitants, living squalid, sordid lives of chance, draw you into their criminal world. The photos make the trip even more vivid. / Dylan Sherwood

Rat King Landlord by Murdoch Stephens (2020)

Set in the streets of Mt Victoria and Wellington Central this is a wild and crazy ride. Every character is a star and a mover and shaker in this gripping novel riddled with tail-chewing tension. Who’s zooming who in this political farce and who is on the property ladder? Will Rats be king? / Marion Castree

7  The Safety Net (Inspector Montalbano #25) by Andrea Camilleri (2017 in Italian) (trans. by Stephen Sartarelli 2020)

Sicilian hustle: against a backdrop of a Swedish film crew in Vigàta, Inspector Montalbano grapples with a photography intrigue and a weapons threat on the local school. Droll. Busy. Blind leaps of intuition. Gastronomy. / Tilly Lloyd

8  Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan (2017)

Cog. Cog? Cog. Deepak Unnikrishnan’s debut short story collection is an ode to the labourers of the UAE. His interpretation of parasitic capitalism sees cockroaches playing dress up; walking suitcases flying planes; ghosts of construction workers haunting the concrete below glass buildings. For fans of Mark Leidner. / April Brimer

9  Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell (1992)

This sumptuous collection of Mitchell’s reportage for The New Yorker chronicles life on the margins in the big city through the 1930s, 40s & 50s. Eccentrics is too mild a word for the characters portrayed herein. The mark of Mitchell’s quality is that the writing remains always respectful, generous and empathetic. / John Duke

10 The Years by Annie Ernaux (2008 in French) (trans. by Alison L. Strayer 2017)

With 65 years in 227 pages, Ernaux’s masterpiece is simultaneously a personal and social history, an artistic revolution, and a portrait of 20th-century France. Narrated in fragments from the collective voice, The Years journeys through a thousand lifetimes in one. / Ash Miles

Keep going!