From Player of the Year Ruby Tui’s biography to the finest slim volumes, the folks from the inimitable Auckland Unity Books assess their favourite reads of 2022.
I won the book lottery discovering Natalia Ginzburg. She was born in 1916 to an anti-fascist family, growing up in Turin surrounded by Italian poets, painters, intellectuals, and industrialists. She was a part of the resistance against Mussolini and her brother escaped persecution for bringing anti-Fascist literature into Italy by jumping into the river and swimming to safety in Switzerland. Her husband, Leone Ginzburg, a Jew born in Odessa, Ukraine, co-founded the publisher Einaudi Editions and was exiled and died at the hands of the German police. But although the events in her life are huge, it’s the moments with her children, getting ready in the mornings, and her daily musings around this tumult that are so engrossing. Her work of auto-fiction, Family Lexicon, is “littered with the confetti of family life” according to The New Yorker, an assault course of obstacles and impossibilities yet sprinkled with unimaginable good humour.
My dear friend Inna, whose mum sends updates of power outages and bombs dropping near her home in Odessa, Ukraine, recommended Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov. Someone called Kurkov a Ukrainian Murakami and, Inna says, it’s 100 percent spot-on. “Kurkov gives a subtle but strong account of what daily life is like for ordinary people trapped in the war-torn Ukraine. There’s nothing graphic or bombastic – just quietly poignant and poetic.”
Kitty Emery Rainbird
With the country in a state of rugby fever following the Black Ferns World Cup victory, fans old and new are devouring the outstanding autobiography Straight Up from World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year Ruby Tui. Straight Up is not just a sporting memoir, though Tui’s emotionally honest, insightful, and sometimes harrowing account of her life conveys a message of empathy, integrity, and above all else, love. In showing there is more to success than simply being good at what you do, Ruby shares the importance of dedication, friendship, building opportunities. This is why her mental fortitude feels so monumental, she has learned from her experiences and given herself the tools to succeed. This book feels more like a mentor than a memoir, and this remarkable woman has so much to teach.
From the world stage to rural Ireland, Small Things Like These is a Booker Prize shortlisted novel from Claire Keegan. The story follows Furlong, a coal merchant, throughout the Christmas period, looking back on the women who have shaped his life. A book that feels more like a work of art than a novel, it highlights the hidden suffering of unmarried mothers in Ireland in the 1900s, at the hands of the Catholic Church. This could quite easily have been a solemn tale, yet it is deeply and movingly human. It demonstrates what can happen when just one person decides not to turn away, and shows the difference that a small kindness can make.
I’ve been in the stockroom receiving a lot of Unity’s Christmas books, stacking them 30-high and hoping for the best. As such, I’ve found my subconscious taking a radical stance against any book longer than a couple hundred pages. So it’s all slim volumes in my TBR pile, with Kristín Ómarsdóttir’s Swanfolk currently at the top. I’d never heard of the Icelandic writer before the book appeared in a beautiful black hardback (reminding me of another of this year’s favs – Moshfegh’s Lapvona). A chapter about misty lakeside encounters with swan-women, and the striking author pic of Ómarsdóttir’s (staring down the camera through an Andy Warhol fringe) were enough to convince me this is a book I wanted to be seen reading on the bus.
Kotuku Titihuia Nuttal’s Tauhou slipped into the shop with little fanfare – a classic move from New Zealand’s most understated writer. This one’s for the lovers of language, lean prose-poetry you can dip in and out of and think about for hours. Best read beside a large body of water.
Poet Michael Pedersen’s memoir Boy Friends came into my hands through a passing sales rep, before I realised it was about something quite close to me – the untimely death of musician Scott Hutchinson (of Frightened Rabbit). Saving this one for a quiet weekend of emotional work, alongside a listen-through of my favourite break-up album The Midnight Organ Fight.
Fancy winning a share of $500 worth of books? Visit unitybooksauckland.co.nz and enter the Festive Fun Short Story Competition!