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Fergus unpacking stock in the basement of Unity Auckland. Image: supplied.
Fergus unpacking stock in the basement of Unity Auckland. Image: supplied.

BooksApril 30, 2020

‘It brought tears to our eyes’: A warm-fuzzy update from Unity Books

Fergus unpacking stock in the basement of Unity Auckland. Image: supplied.
Fergus unpacking stock in the basement of Unity Auckland. Image: supplied.

Like bookstores across the country, Unity Books opened for online orders on Tuesday morning not quite knowing what to expect.

Everyone across both teams is so wildly busy doing God’s work – getting books to where they need to be – that we can’t bring you a bestseller chart based on actual data this week. But we did manage to pin down Jo McColl in Auckland and Tilly Lloyd in Wellington, for a very quickfire update on what you’re buying – and the sheer volume of it. Brace for warm fuzzies. And long live the bookstores!

From Jo McColl:

Welcome to our virtual world of bookselling from an old fashioned gal who has always relied on the traditional bricks and mortar version of Unity books. But these are strange times and new tactics are required. Consequently, while in lockdown, the creative and technodexterous Unity staff conjured up a fabulous new pop-up website: What’s in Here?

Launched to coincide with the move to alert level three, the response from our voracious book-loving readers out there has been phenomenal. In small teams, we are now back in the store wrapping as we have never wrapped before. To speed up the delivery process we have a staff member on an e-bike covering the inner city and my two kids have been drafted into courier work and are out delivering across Auckland. We are currently about two days behind processing the orders due to the volume coming through. It’s a fine problem to have and we’re working on it.

Books headed for the suburbs of Auckland; Melanie astride her gallant e-bike.

Thank you lovely Unity supporters! What a challenge this period has been. I feel as though the Unity staff have just completed a new version of the reality show Survivor. Team Building as extreme sport – under pressure with time limitations – Unity Books nailed it.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton sold out quicker than you can say Boy Swallows Universe. Actress by Anne Enright is dancing out of the door alongside Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, which is probably being packed with every other order because if not now then when can you plough through such a doorstopper? Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth is a novel touching the nerves of the older generation of millennials in lockdown and is likely having a surge because of the recent announcement of its forthcoming adaptation to TV.

Then there’s Melanie’s RNZ-reviewed novel Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa which is having another moment in the sun along with Richard Power’s The Overstory and Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow (fitting as Towles portrays Russia’s history of house arrest and isolation). Then there’s Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth and the ever-popular We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa by Chris McDowall and Tim Denee which has been in demand from overseas readers.

And finally, Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, which isn’t surprising as it’s recently been shortlisted for the International Man Booker Prize 2020.

And from Tilly Lloyd:

We opened the web-gates and a mere week later we had a record-breaking Aoraki of web pre-orders to pick and pack, all for book-desperados who want to snort fresh ink and keep Unity’s back. It brought tears to our eyes. We held back the press releases so web-crew could at least knock off the foothills and find the crampons.

Staff in the Wellington store, calmly scaling a mountain of orders.

The top five web sales since Tuesday morning say quite a lot about lockdown: Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light, Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Eamonn Marra’s 2000 ft Above Worry Level, Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, and Margaret Drabble, Esther Freud, Leanne Shapton & others’ At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond.

Keep going!