This year’s biggest-selling New Zealand books, as recorded by the Nielsen BookScan New Zealand bestseller list and described by Steve Braunias
1 Auē by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press, $35)
Published in 2019, the biggest-selling New Zealand novel of 2020, and 2021, Auē is a modern New Zealand classic, an event, something special. Her amazing essay published in ReadingRoom in November 2019 was crucial in igniting public interest in her book. It began, “My sister married a Mongrel Mob member more than 10 years ago. Rumour has it she wore a red and black dress. I didn’t go because I wasn’t invited. It’s not that my sister and I don’t love each other, it’s just that we’ve long lived in separate worlds. She got it bad for a patched boy. I got it bad for a rugby boy. I spent many years watching my man play and I cheered for him in his kit, afterwards there were often sculling races and someone occasionally ruined the party by suggesting the girls get their tits out for the boys. I don’t know what my sister’s man might be doing for her to cheer him on, but I do know that the day he called me to tell me he enjoyed reading my novel Auē, he had just come in from fixing his fence. He was pleased with himself and he was keen to have a cold beer. I have heard some things about this man that’ve been difficult to comprehend but I was like, chur bro, hope to have one with you sometime…I thought of my sister and her life when I wrote the chapters in Auē about an unnamed but identifiable gang.”
2 To Italy, With Love by Nicky Pellegrino (Hachette, $34.99)
The author took to Twitter the other day to post a photo of herself with her upcoming book, and wrote, “And just like that I got my first shiny copy of my new book on midlife/menopause. I wrote Don’t Sweat It for all the hot, mood swingy, sleepless, brain fogged women out there. Coming your way in January.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it, too, storms the best-seller chart; her novel To Italy, With Love, has been number one for the past three months. She writes what a lot of people want to read.
3 Bug Week by Airini Beautrais (Victoria University Press, $30)
Few expected that a collection of short stories would win the 2021 Ockham award for fiction – I thought it would surely go to Pip Adam’s Nothing To See, a work of original genius – but there was no doubting the skill and power of Bug Week. During an interview with the author at ReadingRoom this year, I asked Beautrais, “Where does Bug Week belong in regards to #metoo? Can it be read, in part, as a #metoo text – aware of sexual politics, the damage of patriarchy, etc?”
She replied, “That’s an interesting question. Yes and no. A lot of it was written during the unfolding of #metoo. At the time I was also dealing with some personal trauma. Being an ‘elderly millennial’ I came of age in one of the troughs of feminism. It was very common for girls to say ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist.’ I think we were conditioned to make excuses for all kinds of shit behaviour. I remember being taught about STIs but not about intimate partner violence. I hadn’t really thought about psychological abuse until a counsellor told me that was what I was describing to him. #Metoo felt like an indicator that things were on the turn and it was no longer mandatory to keep quiet all the time or to make excuses for harassment or abuse.”
4 Cousins by Patricia Grace (Penguin Random House, $26)
First published in 1992, and made into a film this year, reigniting public interest in the Wellington writer’s novel which tells the story of three female cousins over generations. “They got the essence of the book, the essence of the characters,” the author told Noelle McCarthy during an interview at ReadingRoom this year. “And I think they did a wonderful job.”
5 Tell Me Lies by JP Pomare (Hachette, $29.99)
I interviewed the author for ReadingRoom on the occasion of his father’s horse competing in the Melbourne Cup. It wasn’t a happy occasion.
6 The Last Guests by JP Pomare (Hachette, $34.99)
From a ReadingRoom review by Craig Ranapia of Pomare’s latest thriller: “Cain and Lina Phillips narrate most of the novel. He’s an ex-SAS soldier whose failed business isn’t helping a rocky return to civilian life that includes increasingly pointed questions about his role in civilian deaths in Afghanistan. She’s a paramedic whose own career is about to blow up after a call goes tragically bad. Both have secrets that come to light when they’re not as good at scrubbing their internet histories as they think…. The Last Guests marks a welcome advance in the depth and complexity of the characters. Cain and Lina are intelligent, endearing if terribly flawed, people whose broken marriage isn’t a plot device or a collection of psychopathological bric-a-brac. In any long relationship, sometimes you just end up in a world of hurt.”
7 Quiet In Her Bones by Nalini Singh (Hachette, $34.99)
From a rave review at the New York Journal of Books: “Rai’s mother has been missing since Ari was a teen. Meanwhile he’s become a rich, world-famous author after writing a thriller. He’s moved into a sleek apartment in Auckland. A car accident that hurts his head and breaks his foot sends him back to his father’s home. He’s still convalescing when Constable Neri comes to the door. Nina Rai’s body has been found in her Jaguar, not far from their cul-de-sac. Nina wasn’t in the driver’s seat. Presumably her own murderer drove her off the road… Singh’s brilliant book hooks us from the beginning and doesn’t let go.”
8 Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press, $35)
A finalist at this year’s Ockham award for fiction, Remote Sympathy is set in the Buchenwald death camp during WWII. From a ReadingRoom review by Stephanie Johnson: “Remote Sympathy is an admirable and almost majestic book. Themes are grand, characters full-blooded and genuine, humour sly and intelligent humanity unquestionable.”
9 Inside the Black Horse by Ray Berard (David Bateman, $34.99)
In a marvellous piece of memoir writing published in ReadingRoom in April, the Qebec-born author wrote that not long after arriving in New Zealand, “The TAB made me the area manager in South Auckland, supervising 50 gambling outlets. Around then the writing reappeared. Stories about the people I worked with, the events I witnessed, and comparisons with the places I’d left behind. The writing grew into a daily habit. I did character studies of people losing money to gambling, the desperate, the victims, the witnesses, and my fellow staff, especially the Polynesian women. Something about their lives touched a nerve and I began to reflect on my own childhood. My book Inside the Black Horse is a compressed account of years of events I recorded in my diary, compressed into five days after a desperate act by a young man with no options left.” It got turned into a TV drama in 2021, which reignited public interest in Berard’s 2015 crime novel.
10 Loop Tracks by Sue Orr (Victoria University Press, $35)
From a rave review by Paddy Richardson of one of the year’s best novels, and a strong contendor for the 2022 Ockham award for fiction: “Charlie is 16 and pregnant. It’s 1978 and New Zealand is tentatively moving towards the recognition that abortion just may be a woman’s right to choose. The Auckland Medical Aids Centre, the only clinic in New Zealand offering abortion, opened in 1974, but following the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, it’s been forced to close. But the Sisters Overseas Service helps girls to travel to Australia for abortions. Charlie’s parents use their savings as well as borrowing a large sum of money to pay for a return flight to Sydney, and an abortion at a Sydney clinic. But the plane is delayed for hours. Charlie sits waiting with other girls also booked at the same clinic. She gets off the plane. Orr’s portrayal of the motivation for Charlie’s impulsive choice is both heart-breaking and totally convincing.”
1 Aroha by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin Random House, $30)
From a review by Dr Lorna Dyall QSM, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Paoa, for the Mental Health Foundation: “Dr Hinemoa Elder is a child and adolescent psychiatrist. This book is written with aroha, and encompasses the many facets of her life and experiences as a Māori woman, mother, teacher, researcher and most importantly a member of the following tribes: Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kurī, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi, which are centred in the Northern part of the North Island, or the tail of the fish caught by Māui.
“I found the 52 whakataukī or proverbs included in this small book joyful to read, as they encourage you to reflect on the wisdom of past elders, their observations of life, their spiritual connection to nature, the importance of our role as humans as being kaitiaki – being both leaders and care protectors for future generations and all species on Earth, the planet we all live on.”
2 Lost and Found by Toni Street (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)
From a profile of the author at Woman’s Day: “Lost and Found shed light on the star’s battle with the autoimmune disease EGPA and her surrogacy journey with her best friend Sophie Braggins, who gave birth to Toni and Matt’s son Lachie in 2018. She says, ‘It’s been amazing to know it’s made a difference to other people. I receive messages every single day from people going through similar things, who say my book has helped them feel less isolated and alone.”
3 Supergood by Chelsea Winter (Penguin Random House, $50)
Hot and cold food.
4 Salad by Margo Flanagan & Rosa Flanagan (Allen & Unwin, $45)
5 Steve Hansen: The Legacy by Gregor Paul (HarperCollins, $49.99)
“Hansen is pitched as ‘a deeply considerate, empathetic and compassionate human being’ which he was entirely capable of being. He could also be a bully – a fact noted by the author but largely dismissed, and more than once, as just one of those things”: from less than a rave review at ReadingRoom by good old Scotty Stevenson.
6 Māori Made Easy by Scotty Morrison (Penguin Random House, $38)
Te reo made popular.
7 Bella by Annabel Langbein (Allen & Unwin, $49.99)
8 Vegful by Nadia Lim (Nude Food, $55)
9 A High Country Life by Philippa Cameron (Allen & Unwin, $45)
Food with a view.
10 The Abundant Garden by Niva Kay and Yotam Kay (Allen & Unwin, $45)