The top 10 most requested New Zealand novels ordered from Auckland Council Libraries during the lockdown month of April, described by ReadingRoom literary editor Steve Braunias.

1 The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The book what won the Man Booker, the book what sold over 130,000 copies – and still people are reading it, and trying to get to the end of it. Has there ever been a book so many have started and so few have finished? Yes: the bone people, the only other New Zealand book to win the Booker.  The Luminaries was edited by Max Porter, who has since gone on to become a fabulous novelist himself; he nominated it in an interview this week as one of his favourite novels, and said, “To this day I’m still reeling from the technical wizardry, intellectual virtuosity and next-level literary artistry of that book.”

2 Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

The book what Taika Waititi’s mum gave him to read and he liked it so much he wrote a screenplay for it (winning the best screenplay Oscar) and directed it as Jojo Rabbit. As for the author, she was profiled last year by Grant Smithies for Stuff. He wrote,  “Brainy, beautiful, prodigiously gifted, Leunens speaks multiple languages, has a Master’s degree from Harvard and a PhD from Victoria. She is a violinist in the Nelson Symphony Orchestra and was a Givenchy model in Paris before she discovered her vocation as a writer.” She told him she loved Waititi‘s adaptation of her book even though a great many people thought his film stank the room out: “I feel proud to have this artistic collaboration with Taika, because his films are very special. Jojo Rabbit is beautifully filmed, with a sort of dream-like aspect to it, and he faithfully follows the book’s structure then lays his own special touches of humour over the top. This humour is in service of something darker, and Taika is a real master of that.”

3 Moonlight Sonata by Eileen Merriman

The good doctor – she’s a haematologist at North Shore hospital – has written two splendid and much-read essays for ReadingRoom during Covid-19. Both reveal a first-class mind and an easy way with prose. Her novels go deeper, and reveal an imaginative verve. Publisher’s blurbology for Moonlight Sonata: “It’s the annual New Year family get-together. Molly is dreading having to spend time with her mother, but she is pleased her son will see his cousins and is looking forward to catching up with her brothers.”

4 This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman

Winner of last year’s Ockham New Zealand award for best novel.

5 Pearly Gates by Owen Marshall

A finalist in this year’s Ockham New Zealand award for best novel.

6 Scented by Laurence Fearnley

The author wrote an astonishing essay last year in ReadingRoom that backgrounded her novel about a woman who constructs a perfume of herself.

7 Blood Men by Paul Cleave

Crime thriller.

8 What You Wish For by Catherine Robertson

Chapter one, from Robertson’s wildly popular novel set at the fictional seaside town of Gabriel’s Bay: “Jacko often called his friends ‘berks’, also ‘dickheads’, ‘retards’ and ‘nongs’. When he was mildly irked, he called them ‘bastards’. No one knew what he said when he was seriously irked because an angry Jacko had the same effect as a Brazilian wandering spider emerging from a bunch of bananas in the fruit bowl — cleared the room in seconds.”

9 The Parihaka Woman by Witi Ihimaera

Many critics beat the hell out of Ihimaera’s 2011 novel, including Michael Larsen in the Herald: “One can only hope that Ihimaera had to get this work – and his reaction to his recent infamy [the Jolisa Gracewood revelations] – out of his system and that, duly freed up, he can return to the fine writing and imaginative narratives for which he first made his mark.”

10 The Night Book by Charlotte Grimshaw

The book that got remade as The Bad Seed TV drama. The book’s a lot better.

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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