The last Nielsen best-seller chart for quite some time

You can no longer have a best-seller list when there’s no shops to sell the books. Steve Braunias describes the final Nielsen BookScan New Zealand bestseller list until the lockdown is over.

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

How is anyone going to get hold of a copy of Knox’s novel, or any book, during the lockdown? The bookstores are shut. (In civilised Belgium, they remain open as an essential service.) The libraries are shut. Online orders are fraught. Last week, Unity Books were offering free delivery; this week, it announced, “Unity Books Online remains functioning as a website however orders cannot be fulfilled until such time as working and travel restrictions are lifted. Please consider the website temporarily closed to orders until further notice.”

Likewise, Scorpio in Christchurch were posting out books for free when things were at Level 2, but now says this at Level 4: “Due to courier restrictions we are unable to ship any online orders at this time. We will be posting reviews and updates on our facebook page and replying to any online inquiries as quickly as we can.”

Well, there’s always goddamned Amazon, right? Hm. News item this week: “Amazon workers test positive for Covid-19 at 10 US warehouses.”

Booktopia in Australia are functioning: “Yes, we're still open for business and shipping books.” Mighty Ape are not:  “Due to Covid-19, we're unable to accept new orders at this time.” Book Depository in New Zealand advises, “As a result of ongoing delivery disruptions, postal deliveries may take a little longer to arrive. Please allow extra 5-7 days for the delivery of your order.”

The fastest and cheapest option are e-books. Yes, yes, I totally agree with you, e-books suck, they’re a drag, Kindle can go to Hell and I wouldn’t read an e-book if you paid me, but really it’s the easiest way to get something new to read right now and for the foreseeable future. The best source of New Zealand books is Wellington-based company MeBooks. It can provide Knox’s book, and all of the novels in the Nielsen best-seller list, apart from Becky Manawatu’s Auē. The MeBooks catalogue also includes pretty much everything new published by Victoria University Press (such as 2000ft Above Worry Level by Eamonn Marra, Dead People I Have Known  by Shayne Carter, and the Sport 46 anthology of new writing edited by Tayi Tibble), and has a range of e-books you can download for free – obscure colonial histories, mainly, such as Extracts From A Diary During Heke’s War in the North in 1845.  

Auckland library  is another source of e-books. Most of its e-catalogue is total junk but what better time is there to read diverting stupid junk? It also offers e-audiobooks for free.

Audiobooks! Ugh. But then I've yet to listen to a podcast and doubt I ever will. Anyway, AudioBooksNZ has a bunch of quite odd New Zealand titles in its catalogue of recordings, including lots of terrible things by Barry Crump. Just as eccentrically, it has collections but also individual stories for sale by Katherine Mansfield - read by the dreadful Cathy Dobson, who butchers poor old KM with her arch inflections and exaggerated delivery.

Another option: the fantastic Project Gutenberg, which has over 60,000 classic works of literature available, and can be read on your PC or Kindle for free. Its New Zealand section is pretty thin. Lots of Mansfield, obscure colonial histories, and also the 1914 edition of the Edmonds Cookbook – verily, now is the time for you to make a tongue omelette, a beef steak pudding, and an apple sandwich (it’s actually quite ingenious: prepare  dough, mince apples, currants, cinnamon, sugar and egg, then place between the pastry and bake). Oh and Project Gutenberg’s third biggest best-seller this week: the 1721 classic by Daniel Defoe, which makes for very apposite and really terrifying reading right now, Journal of a Plague Year.

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

Auē, indeed; the only novel on the best-seller chart not available as an e-book.

3 All the Way to Summer by Fiona Kidman (Penguin Random House, $40)

Short stories by a master of the form (her tender story "Mrs Dixon & Friend” appeared recently at ReadingRoom), available as an e-book.

4 A Mistake by Carl Shuker (Victoria University Press, $30)

Brilliant novel of a hospital operation that results in the death of a patient, available as an e-book.

5 In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare (Hachette, $34.99)

Thriller, available as an  e-book.

6 Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare (Hachette, $24.99)

Thriller, available as an e-book.

7 Pearly Gates by Owen Marshall (Penguin Random House, $38)

Novel by one of the greatest fiction writers in New Zealand, available as an e-book.

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

Novel set in India by the Wellington writer, available as an e-book. The author posted a photo on Twitter this week, and captioned it, “A throwaway photograph I took in a Calcutta garden because it seemed funny at the time now looks prophetic”:  

Photo by Rajorshi Chakraborti.

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

The novel that Taika Waititi adapted as JoJo Rabbit, available as an e-book.

10 Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020 by Johanna Emeney (Massey University Press)

Not available as an e-book but the only poetry anthology anyone is talking about anyway is the new online publication Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems, edited by Hera Lindsay Bird, featuring the work of about 30 poets. It includes five poems on audio.


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

Self-helper, available as an e-book.

2 Vegful by Nadia Lim (Nude Food, $55.00)

Not available as an e-book, but no matter; next week, ReadingRoom will publish an excerpt of four awesome recipes from the new Wattie’s Heinz cookbook, which makes excellent use of all those tins and all that flour, sugar and baking powder that you panic-bought this week.

3 Husna's Story by Farid Ahmed (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)

March 15 memoir, available as an e-book.

4 Life as a Casketeer by Francis Tipene & Kaiora Tipene (HarperCollins, $39.99)

Stories from the funeral trade, available as an e-book.

5 Free to be Children by Robyn Salisbury and others (Massey University Press, $39.99)

Preventing sex abuse in New Zealand, available as an e-book.

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

This isn't available as an e-book just yet but three of the author's titles are: Māori at HomeMāori at Work, and The Raupo Phrasebook for Modern Māori. Stuck at home in the lockdown is the perfect opportunity to learn te reo; head on over to publishers Penguin Random House to access Morrison's range of e-books. Meanwhile, the tireless Morrison is right now working on recording an e-audiobook for Māori Made Easy. If ever a book needed to be available as e-audiobook, which is to say if ever a book needed to be heard out loud, it’s the series of invaluable guides by Morrison, whose titles have more or less taken up permanent residence on the Nielsen best-seller chart in the past 12 years.

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

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

9 Edmonds Cookery Book by Goodman Fielder (Hachette, $34.99)

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

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