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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

BooksJune 30, 2023

The Unity Books bestseller chart for the week ending June 30

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.

AUCKLAND

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

Opinions differ wildly among Good Reads reviewers. Some examples as follows:

For:

Rick Rubin’s short chapters on artists and creativity were truly inspiring. The book was filled with such wisdom, and spirituality while never feeling overly preachy—though maybe that’s because I fully believe in everything he wrote.” (Courtney)

“If Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit and Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower had a baby, Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act would be it. On the one hand, it’s full of solid advice and insights about creativity. On the other hand, it frequently sounds like it’s founding a new spiritual practice. It even has little distilled micro-poems at the ends of chapters, which read much like the Earthseed verses that begin each chapter in Parable. All that to say, Rubin’s perspective on life and creative pursuits is probably a little more woo-woo than I’m comfortable with. Still, I found lots to like in the book.” (Keely)

Against:

For someone with such vastly artistic output across literal decades and genres, this book was hollow and insufferably pretentious. The emotional distance of his written advice greatly differed from the description of his process on 60 Minutes.” (Tomes and Textiles)

“a few good pieces of advice for artists but mostly fake deep bullshit. i expected more” (Mariano Avila)

2 Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang (Blue Door, $35)

One of the big fiction books of 2023 this novel takes on the publishing industry when June (white) steals the manuscript of her recently deceased friend, Athena (Asian-American) and passes it off as her own. Here’s a pithy endorsement from the New York Times review (paywalled): “Yellowface is Kuang’s fifth novel and first foray outside of fantasy. It’s a breezy and propulsive read, a satirical literary thriller that’s enjoyable and uncomfortable in equal measure; occasionally, it skirts the edges of a ghost story. It’s also the most granular critique of commercial publishing I’ve encountered in fiction, and seeing the cruel, indifferent vagaries of one’s industry so ably skewered is viciously satisfying.”

3 Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber & Faber, $28)

The Pulitzer Prize + Women’s Prize winning retelling of David Copperfield. 

4 The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (Grove Press, $38)

Verghese based this epic historical novel on his mother’s stories. Here’s a snip from the publisher’s blurb: “Spanning the years 1900 to 1977, The Covenant of Water is set in Kerala, on South India’s Malabar Coast, and follows three generations of a family that suffers a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning—and in Kerala, water is everywhere. At the turn of the century, a twelve-year-old girl from Kerala’s long-existing Christian community, grieving the death of her father, is sent by boat to her wedding, where she will meet her forty-year-old husband for the first time. From this unforgettable new beginning, the young girl—and future matriarch, known as Big Ammachi—will witness unthinkable changes over the span of her extraordinary life, full of joy and triumph as well as hardship and loss, her faith and love the only constants.”

5 Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, $37)

Zevin is back! 

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

Hello, Keegan our old friend. Absolutely enthralled by this Booker Prize Q & A with this triumphant writer in which she divulges just how hard it was to make this gem of a book:

“Q: There was an 11-year gap between your last book, Foster, and Small Things Like These. How long did it take to write Small Things, and what does your writing process look like? Do you type or write in longhand? Are there multiple drafts, sudden bursts of activity, long pauses? Is there a significant amount of research and plotting before you begin writing?

A: I don’t like to think about how long it took to write this book. The story was rumbling in the back of my mind for a long time, some years, before I ever began and then I went through a period of taking notes and trying not to write it. I’m always reluctant to go in – and my early drafts are the most difficult to compose and face. At the beginning, little or nothing works on a level of suggestion. It seems to me that all good stories are told with varying degrees of reluctance – and in my case the author, too, is reluctant to go in. But not writing is almost always more difficult than writing.”

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

The new slasher from an old fave. Rather enjoy this quote from a profile in Vanity Fair: “As I entered into my 40s and into my 50s, this notion of whatever Bret Easton Ellis is, and whatever his books are, and whatever they do, and whoever the readership is, I have to say, it’s been secondary to the piping problem in my building and in my condo.”

8 Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, $33)

The beguiling winner of this year’s International Booker Prize.

9 The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams (Affirm Press, $38)

Bookbinding between the wars. A concept sold to the bibliophiles everywhere!

10 No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai (New Directions, $29)

CW: mention of suicide. Please take care when reading.

A curious new entry to the list. This novel was first published in 1948 (first translated from Japanese into English in 1958 and has hardly been out of print since), one month after the author died from suicide. The novel is about a man who is increasingly unable to maintain a facade of happiness and is told in the form of a series of notebooks with a prologue and epilogue by an unnamed narrator who has been given the notebooks by a friend, ten years after they were written. 

WELLINGTON

1 Pet by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press, hardback $50, paperback $38)

Wellingtonians are right into Catherine Chidgey’s latest novel and rightly so according to Sam Brooks, who said: “Chidgey has proven, again and again, that she writes thrillers with the best of them. She does something different, and threads an admirably thin tightrope, with Pet. She draws on experiences that could be truly triggering for an audience – because whomst of us has truly, really resolved that high school trauma, truly removed the gum from the bottom of the shoe – and rather than use anything highly specific, instead blows it up on a canvas that is in part haunting dreadful, in part unsettlingly psychosexual, and in its entirety thrilling.”

2 Yellowface by Rebecca Kuang (Borough Press, $35)

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

So much to love about this novel, not in the least that it stormed the Ockham’s this year. Here’s an excerpt from our post-win interview with Chidgey:

“Q: It’s such a stunning achievement, what you’ve pulled off: the authentic voice of an animal. What kind of research did you do? Did you read other books that feature animals who can speak?  

A: I actually steered clear because I’m quite superstitious about reading anything that feels quite similar to what I’m writing because I don’t want to be influenced by that. But in terms of research, I did a huge amount of research into magpie anatomy and behaviour, and the history of magpie introduction and distribution in New Zealand.”

Want more magpie? Buy the book!

4 Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia & Bill Gifford (Vermillion, $40)

That book about living longer.

5 This is ADHD by Chanelle Moriah (Allen & Unwin, $33)

The second book from bestselling writer/illustrator Chanelle Moriah (author of I Am Autistic). This is ADHD is a brilliantly concise and informative book that lays the science and the experiences of having ADHD in a beautifully digestible format. If there’s anyone in your life who has ADHD or thinks they might, then this is the book you need.

6 The Burned Letter by Helene Ritchie (HR Press, $45)

A compelling local holocaust story. Here’s the publisher’s blurb: “During the Holocaust, Lidi, as a teenager, flees from Hitler and the Nazis. Forced to leave behind everyone whom she loves, she eventually arrives in New Zealand as a Jewish refugee, with her mother. Alive in their new country, but labelled again, they immediately are called ‘enemy aliens’, monitored by the police, their letters censored, their lives and movements restricted. Five years later in 1945, a few months after the liberation of Auschwitz, Lidi burns the letter written to her that tells her what happened to those she loved most dearly. She hopes that in turning the letter to ashes, her survivor guilt and trauma would disappear too. But her efforts are in vain.”

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

8 China Tightrope: Navigating New Zealand’s Relationship with a World Superpower by Sam Sachdeva (Allen & Unwin, $37)

With our PM in China right now this is a very topical book from local journalist Sam Sachdeva. Toby Manhire recently caught up with Sam on the Gone By Lunchtime podcast. Read more here and listen in here.

9 Tangi by Witi Ihimaera (Penguin, $30)

Witi Ihimaera has re-written his very first novel, published 50 years ago this year, and re-released it. Writer Emma Hislop wrote about this extraordinary thing, right here.

10 Under the Weather: A Future Forecast for New Zealand by James Renwick (HarperCollins, $40)

Mild Winter so far, isn’t it? An essential sort of book is this one. You can read an excerpt from it right here, and keep an eye out for an interview with James, coming soon.

Keep going!