The Nielsen BookScan New Zealand bestseller list for the year, described by Steve Braunias
1 Kāwai by Monty Soutar (David Bateman, $39.99)
This one caught everyone by surprise – Soutar is a major historian, with no track record in fiction, but he hit the zeitgeist big-time with this action-packed historical novel set in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1700s before the coming of the European. Bateman actually published two editions, the paperback and a hardback, and both sold their socks off. Kāwai is a fast and easy read, with very, very graphic warfare scenes and cannibalism scenes. His ReadingRoom article backgrounded why he chose to include the subject: “My new novel Kāwai portrays Maori society in the 1700s and kaitangata – referred to as cannibalism in ethnographic literature – was very much a part of that society. To ignore it in the novel would be to be unfaithful to what I know about this period.”
2 Harbouring by Jenny Pattrick (Penguin Random House, $36)
The return of the great Pattrick was always going to be a literary event. Her previous historical novels Denniston Rose and its sequel, Heart of Coal, sold around 100,000 copies in just three or four years. 100,000! Harbouring is set between 1839 and 1844, when the New Zealand Company shipped British settlers to Te Upoko o te Ika. From a review by David Hill: “Edward Gibbon Wakefield summons the book’s main character, Huw Pengellin, from a foundry in Wales to procure supplies for a ship which will make ‘the natives’ of Aotearoa civilised and the Wakefield brothers very rich. Huw leaps at the chance. He leaps at a lot of things during the story, Māori maidens included.. Harbouring is a big, bold read.”
3 Greta and Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $35)
It won just about everything in its path – Reilly’s fun debut was named ReadingRoom best novel of the year in 2021, and named winner of the Herbert Church Award for best first book of fiction at the 2022 Ockhams, and winner of the 2022 Book Trade Industry: Aotearoa Booksellers’ Choice Award. “Greta & Valdin is fresh, funny, tangled and brilliant. I can’t wait for someone to make the sitcom so I can keep Reilly’s characters in my life”: Hannah Tunnicliffe, Kete.
4 Eddy, Eddy by Kate De Goldi (Allen & Unwin, $29.99)
A new De Goldi was always going to be a literary event; The 10pm Question (2008) sold 14,000 copies, and was published to worldwide acclaim. Eddy, Eddy is set in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes. From a review by Paddy Richardson: “Eddy, Eddy is a love story, and a coming-of-age story. As well, it’s a reminder of the importance of recalling the past and facing past griefs. Eddy’s final revelation is shattering but it’s also redemptive. Subtle, intense, very funny and very sad, this is a richly layered novel written with elegance, style and love.”
5 Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka (Huia Publishers, $35)
Winning the 2022 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for fiction at the Ockhams gave Hereaka’s 2021 novel a great big shot in the veins of bookstore sales, as readers caught up with her rich reimagining of the story of the bird-woman of Mokoia Island.
6 The Leonard Girls by Deborah Challinor (HarperCollins, $36.99)
Historical novel. From a review by David Hill: “It’s the very end of the 1960s. The Vietnam War blunders on. Rowie Leonard (pro-NZ soldiers, partially pro-conflict) heads for the battlefields as a nurse. Little sister Jo (vehemently anti-this war) heads for the streets as a protestor. So it’s sibling confrontation, always a promising source of plot power…An epilogue points the characters forward, a bit like a Dickensian curtain call, while an author’s note sets them even more firmly in their historical context, with room for Agent Orange and unfortunate experiments at National Women’s Hospital.”
7 How to Loiter in a Turf War by Coco Solid (Penguin Random House, $28)
A day in the life of three friends in Tamaki Makaurau. From the publisher’s blurbology: “With gentrification closing in and racial tensions sweltering, the girls must cling to their friendship like a life raft, determined not to let their neighbourhood drift out to sea.” Named best book inexplicably missing from the ReadingRoom top 10 fiction list.
8 The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $35)
Novel told by a magpie. I reckon either The Axeman’s Carnival or How to Loiter in a Turf War will win the 2023 Jann Medlicott Prize for fiction at the 2023 Ockhams. From a review by Rachael King: “Like all gothic, mythic, tragic stories, it hurtles towards an inevitable crescendo, a cleansing catastrophe…The Axeman’s Carnival is remarkable, brilliant, a classic in the making… All hail, Chidgey.”
9 Auē by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press, $35)
10 The Wrong Woman by J.P. Pomare (Hachette, $36.99)
1 Straight Up by Ruby Tui (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)
Memoir of a national hero. Her ghost writer Margie Thomson wrote in ReadingRoom, “As soon as I met Ruby I knew she was going to be a dream subject. Anyone can straight away sense Ruby’s honesty and her commitment, and those are really the key attributes for this kind of book, with general wonderfulness, decency and a sense of humour being the icing on the cake. Ruby would like to have had a Pasifika co-writer but none was available. If she had, no doubt her book would have been a different one, with a different emphasis and greater insight into some aspects of her life. That phantom ‘other’ writer sat alongside me for some of the time I worked with Ruby, but in the end I could only be me – middle-aged palagi – and just did my best to listen and learn and reflect.”
2 Aroha by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin Random House, $30)
Wisdom from the great Dr Elder.
3 The Boy from Gorge River by Chris Long (HarperCollins, $39.99)
The story of a family who went as off-grid as you can possibly get in New Zealand has a strong resonance with everyone familiar with the bush, with surviving, with going your own way. Long is the son of the only patriarch in history who went by the name of Beansprout. Yes, that Beansprout, the guy who set himself up in a remote spot on the West Coast, got married, and raised a family in the wilderness. The Boy from Gorge River provides a child’s perspective. Named in ReadingRoom as one of the best 10 books of non-fiction of the year.
4 Wawata by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin Random House, $30)
More wisdom from the great Dr Elder.
5 The Bookseller at the End of the World by Ruth Shaw (Allen & Unwin, $38.99)
In June 2020, Kim Hill interviewed Ruth Shaw about the bookshops she had built in Manapōuri, and said to her, “A number of people, Ruth, are telling me to tell you that you have to write your memoirs. Are you doing that?” She got around to it; and it was a hit.
6 Ross Taylor: Black & White by Paul Thomas (Upstart Press, $49.99)
7 Salad by Margo Flanagan & Rosa Flanagan (Allen & Unwin, $45)
8 Yum! by Nadia Lim (Nude Food, $55)
9 Grand by Noelle McCarthy (Penguin Random House, $35)
Named in ReadingRoom as the best book of 2022. McCarthy’s memoir shared her complicated relationship with her mother and her less complicated but more damaging relationship with alcohol. From the year’s best book review, by Rachael King: “At the heart of this book is a revelation about lines of women in families, and trauma, and how it has the potential to repeat. In fiction, in myth, we’d say we are doomed to repeat it…. You’d never wish material this good for a memoir on anyone. It’s complex, thrilling and raw. It even has a perfect beginning, middle and end. It’s the opposite of comfort reading. And yet the ending is so tender, peaceful.”
10 Everyday Favourites by Vanya Insull (Allen & Unwin, $39.99)