This week’s biggest-selling New Zealand books, as recorded by the Nielsen BookScan New Zealand bestseller list and described by Steve Braunias
1 Greta and Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly (Victoria University Press, $35)
Shortlisted this week for the $60,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2022 Ockham New Zealand national book awards, alongside three other novels: the acclaimed retelling of Māori myth Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka (at number 6 on this week’s chart), and two books by authors who I described as “nobodies” at ReadingRoom, and although I meant they were nobodies in a good way – you know, as exciting new names – I apologise for that description of Bryan Walpert (author of Entanglement, a time-travel novel that judges said was “dazzlingly intelligent”) and Gigi Fenster (author of A Good Winter, “an unnerving and absorbing reading experience as the darkness gradually closes in”). Certainly right now both Walpert and Fenster have become somebodies, as contestants of New Zealand’s richest and most glorified literary prize. Congratulations are due to both for making it onto the elite shortlist. A review of A Good Winter will appear in ReadingRoom soon, and yesterday we ran Walpert’s story about time travel, the theme of his book Entanglement.
The winner of the fiction prize (and other categories at this year’s Ockhams) will be announced on May 11. The book I’d most like to win – as the most creatively daring, the most profound, the most resonant of the New Zealand situation – is Kurangaituku.
2 Auē by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press, $35)
An Australian edition has just been published, and won this review in the Guardian Australia: “The word auē is a Maori verb to cry, howl, groan, wail, bawl and yes, yes, yes, yes and yes, you may do all of these things when reading Becky Manawatu’s incredibly assured debut novel. Small word, big emotions – and the perfect title for a book that deals in deceptively simple narration and oceanic feeling. Set within one family caught in the teeth of intergenerational gang violence, Manawatu elicits compassion from ugly places, and threads through redemptive spiritual beauty, and innocence, too, via alternating voices. Yes it’s not technically an Australian release, but it’s finally coming out here after being a bestseller in New Zealand and winning multiple awards. More are likely to come.”
3 In Amber’s Wake by Christine Leunens (David Bateman, $34.99)
“Love is the most beautiful, poetic reality of life, one at its very essence, giving the deepest meaning to existence. You can’t fake it. In my new novel In Amber’s Wake, I make a brief allusion to the two French DGSE agents involved in the Rainbow Warrior bombing, Captain Dominique Prieur and Major Alain Mafart, who masqueraded as a honeymooning Swiss couple. Housekeepers at a hotel where they stayed noticed discrepancies between what they would have expected of a room occupied by newlyweds and what their room actually looked like, in all its telling details, which they later reported to police”: from the author’s article about enduring love, in good old ReadingRoom.
4 She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall (Victoria University Press, $30)
“I just ADORE this”: a tweet last week by Wellington writer and astute reader Linda Burgess.
5 Loop Tracks by Sue Orr (Victoria University Press, $35)
An Australian edition has just been published, and won this review in the Australian Book Review journal: “The central drama is the adoption of Charlie’s baby in the late 1970s…Loop Tracks is a novel packed full with ideas, but the author’s preoccupation with the wrongs done to girls and women strikes the most urgent, resonating note.”
6 Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka (Huia Publishers, $35)
“Gorgeous… Hereaka’s skill lies not only in being an excellent storyteller but also in crafting characters who leap off the page, hold you down and insist that you listen to them”: from a review by Jackie Lee Morrison.
7 To Italy, With Love by Nicky Pellegrino (Hachette, $34.99)
“A lovely, light, book club read. Two women – both with not-the-best love history – meet in a romantic mountain town of in Italy. Where – obvs – Italian men do their romantic thing and love wins! Warning … you’ll be starving by the end of this one … page after page of mouthwatering descriptions of Italian food the two prepare”: from a review published this week in the Highway Mail, a newspaper in Pinetown, South Africa.
8 Vā by Lani Wendt Young & Sisilia Eteuati (Dalia Malaeulu, $35)
Awesome cover, below.
9 Formica by Maggie Rainey-Smith (The Cuba Press, $25)
A memoir in poetry, described thus by Fiona Kidman: “The characters in these poems are typists, returned servicemen, teachers, people without pretension but with their own colourful inner lives. The title poem is subtle yet so rich with imagery that it brings to mind a compressed Alice Munro story.”
10 Shelter by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins (David Bateman, $34.99)
“Joe is a 21-year-old builder in Auckland when he lays eyes on Leo: a bit older, much more sophisticated and with the kind of allure that makes Joe risk humiliation in order to get Leo to notice him… Shelter is a whirlwind romance with the city of Auckland and her architecture scaffolding their hearts and their story”: from a review by Louise Ward, Hawke’s Bay Today.
I have nothing to say about the top 10 this week other than to make a brief note of the vast disconnect between the books that sell the most and the books that appear in the general non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction shortlists and longlists of the Ockham awards. Never the twain shall meet, basically. It’s sort of always been thus of course but I don’t think it’s to the degree that exists right at the moment. Two of the books on this year’s shortlist (From the Centre: A Writer’s Life by Patricia Grace and The Mirror Book by Charlotte Grimshaw) featured regularly in the top 10 last year. But none of the 2022 titles below have a show of making next year’s longlist.
A few weeks ago you could explain the disconnect pretty easily by pointing to the presence of five or six cookbooks in the top 10, and say that cookbooks seldom feature in awards. But there’s only one book of recipes (Salad by Margo Flanagan & Rosa Flanagan) this week. Most of the rest are variations of self-help (help with your finances, help with understanding menopause, help with stress, help with learning te reo).
None of this is a particular problem. Although it’s true the top 10 in recent years has been transformed by what I call the Allen & Unwinisation of non-fiction – that is, Allen & Unwin have leaped to the front of commercial publishing in New Zealand, with a range of titles which appeal to a middle ground of readers, mainly women – it wouldn’t be fair to say the top 10 has, ipso facto, been dumbed down. Well I mean it kind of has been dumbed down but people only read what they want to read. In any case you have to look at it the other way round and acknowledge it’s always been a challenge for publishers of quality, literary non-fiction to produce books that are also commercially successful. Such a book is on its way. I expect very good sales – and also anticipate it featuring on the 2023 Ockham non-fiction longlist, at least – for Grand, the forthcoming memoir by broadcaster Noelle McCarthy. In stores soon! Next to the self-helpers and the cookbooks.
1 This Changes Everything by Niki Bezzant (Penguin Random House, $37)
2 Salad by Margo Flanagan & Rosa Flanagan (Allen & Unwin, $45)
3 Aroha by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin Random House, $30)
4 Māori Made Easy by Scotty Morrison (Penguin Random House, $38)
5 Your Money, Your Future by Frances Cook (Penguin Random House, $35)
6 Finding Calm by Sarb Johal (Penguin Random House, $37)
7 Don’t Sweat It by Nicky Pellegrino (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)
8 Lost and Found by Toni Street (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)
9 Words of Comfort by Rebekah Ballagh (Allen & Unwin, $24.99)
10 Māori Made Easy Workbook 1 / Kete 1 by Scotty Morrison (Penguin Random House, $25)