This week’s biggest-selling New Zealand books, as recorded by the Nielsen BookScan New Zealand bestseller list and described by Steve Braunias.


1 The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press, $35)

Demand continues to pound at the door of booksellers nationwide – and worldwide. Victoria University Press publisher Fergus Barrowman advises that a further print run of 1000 will arrive on Monday, from a local printer, and another 4000 copies are due from Singapore. ReadingRoom broke the story detailing how Knox’s novel was fought over by US publishers in a biddding war – and won by Viking, who paid the Wellington author an advance of “over six figures”. It’s been longlisted in the 2020 Ockham national book awards for fiction, but will it feature in the shortlist, announced on Wednesday?

2 In the Clearing by JP Pomare (Hachette, $34.99)

“A few years ago I become obsessed with a woman,” wrote Pomare at ReadingRoom this week. “At the time she was in her mid-nineties, rendered incapacitated by dementia, but in another life she founded a famous Australian cult, The Family. She was perhaps the most famous female cult leader in history, and certainly one of the most successful (success, in this case, measured by influence, power, progress toward an ultimate goal). I’d become acquainted with the story of The Family years earlier. Like many others, I’d seen those haunting, children-of-the-corn family portraits and with a mixture of anger and intrigue, wondering what sort of psychopath would do this?” She inspired his superb novel In The Clearing. Recommended.

3 Caging Skies by Christine Leunens (Penguin Random House, $38)

4 2000ft Above Worry Level by Eamonn Marra (Victoria University Press, $30)

Sales were brisk at Unity Books in Wellington for the recent launch held of this debut novel of episodic stories about disassociated twentysomethings with no money doing what they can to get through another day. The novelist Annaleese Jochems gave the launch speech, and said, “Eamonn Marra is one of my favorite writers. He gives me something I need: He writes with grace about being young and wanting to be good, and failing, and then wanting to be good enough – and eventually succeeding.”

5 A Dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino (Hachette, $24.99)

6 Auē by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press, $35)

I named it the best book of 2019. It’s been longlisted in the 2020 Ockham national book awards for fiction, but will it feature in the shortlist, announced on Wednesday?

7 Head Girl by Freya Daly Sadgrove (Victoria University Press, $25)

8 Shakti by Rajorshi Chakraborti (Penguin Random House, $36)

Raj! He’s the best-dressed cat in New Zealand literature, and the Wellington writer’s second novel has inspired a rave review from Calcutta newspaper The Telegraph: “Shakti takes the reader through the lanes of Calcutta, keeping one hooked the entire time. It deals with three very strong female characters who come from very different backgrounds and the thrilling way their paths cross …A gripping tale.”

9 Call Me Evie by JP Pomare (Hachette, $24.99)

10 The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Victoria University Press, $28)

Okay so the shortlist of the 2020 Ockham New Zealand national book awards will be announced on Wednesday. ReadingRoom will have instant yap about it when the embargo breaks at 6am. All that can be said about the matter in the meantime is that all awards are a lottery and seldom was that made more explicit than the famous case of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. It won the fiction prize at the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards but kind of like really surprisingly lost out in the overall book of the year award to Jill Trevelyan’s biography of art dealer Peter McLeavey, despite Catton winning the Man Booker Award, despite her novel selling 560,000 copies worldwide that year, despite it holding the number one spot on the Nielsen bestseller chart for 54 weeks, and despite – you know, FFS! – that it was The Luminaries. But actually with all due consideration maybe it simply wasn’t as masterful and compelling as the McLeavey biography. “That book [The Luminaries] came with such high expectations, which in some ways might have served it well and in other ways might not have, it’s hard to say,” said Miriamo Kamo, who convened that year’s judging panel of Dick Frizzell, Elizabeth Smither, Peter Simpson, and Kim Hill.


1 Life as a Casketeer by Francis Tipene & Kaiora Tipene with Paul Little (HarperCollins, $39.99)

An excerpt  appeared last week at ReadingRoom, in which the directors of an Onehunga funeral company wrote about the delicate art of embalming.

2 The Book of Overthinking by Gwendoline Smith (Allen & Unwin, $24.99)

An interview with the author appeared last week at Reading Room, in which I questioned the best-selling Auckland shrink about her ideas concerning “the relationship between overthinking and anxiety”.

3 The Longest Day by Matt Calman (Allen & Unwin, $32.99)

Memoir of a guy who suffered really bad depression but got into cycling and kayaking at an elite level with the ultimate aim of competing in the Coast to Coast race.

4 Vegful by Nadia Lim (Nude Food, $55)

It doesn’t have enough tins in it. By all means consult my recent review of the latest Wattie’s Heinz cookbook which has good uses for tins of baked beans, peaches, and corn.

5 Māori Made Easy by Scotty Morrison (Penguin Random House, $38)

6 Māori Made Easy Workbook 1/Kete 1 by Scotty Morrison (Penguin Random House, $25)

7 The Book of Knowing by Gwendoline Smith (Allen & Unwin, $24.99)

8 Two Raw Sisters by Rosa Flanagan & Margo Flanagan (David Bateman, $39.99)

9 All of This is for You by Ruby Jones (Penguin Random House, $24)

10 Puppy Zen by Mark Vette (Penguin Random House, $45)

Steve Braunias is the literary editor of Newsroom's books section ReadingRoom, a noted writer at the NZ Herald, and the author of 10 books.

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