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Revealed: the Wellington book that’s most popular with Wellingtonians

I was wondering what book about Wellington is most popular with Wellington readers. So I went to my favourite bookshop to find out. The answer was a big surprise.

The answer was given to me by Marion Castree at Unity Books, which for me is the most irresistible and personable book shop in the city. She consulted Unity’s impeccable computer records, and came up with the answer – a book about Wellington which has been “a phenomenal seller”.

Unity has sold more than 2000 copies of this book. First published in the year 2000, it has been reprinted three times.

The publisher is Mallinson Rendell, whose offices are in Courtenay Place. The book was designed by Margaret Cochrane. It has a cover photo of Wellington harbour by Anne Noble. It sells for $25.

Its title: Big Weather.

It’s a book of poems about Wellington, selected by Gregory O’Brien and Louise White.

Hang on! A book of poetry as a best-seller? This is indeed phenomenal.

It contains more than 70 poems, all of them about Wellington, and brief biographical notes of the 33 poets. It’s the most popular book about Wellington with Unity’s book-buyers.

Poetry books are usually published with about 500 copies. But Ann Mallinson of Mallinson Rendell tells me that more than 6000 copies of Big Weather have been sold so far – and a third of them have been sold at Unity.

She tells me that other cities have tried to copy the formula, but it hasn’t worked anywhere else.

Why only here? “We are the literary capital of New Zealand,” she says. “Wellington is a fabulous place to live, and people love writing about it.”

And what other books about Wellington are most popular with Wellingtonians?

Unity’s computer shows another five titles that are also really big sellers. Four of the five are from Wellington publishers.

Here they are, starting with the three smallest books (I’m referring to the size of the pages, not to the contents.)

The Best of Wellington – now in its fourth edition – is Sarah Bennett’s impeccably accurate and entertaining 200-page summary of activities, entertainment, restaurants and shopping. It’s a must for anyone arriving here for the first time, and a pretty good checklist for the rest of us too. Written and edited by Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater, and published by Sarah Bennett Books, with internal design by Rose Miller, a bright yellow cover designed by Clem Devine, and cute page illustrations by Scott Kennedy. It even has an index. Printed by PrintLink in Petone. $28.

Art and About by Frances Sutton is a pocket guide to Wellington’s public art. It’s worth carrying with you when you’re walking in the city. It describes 130 artworks in its 100 pages, many of them with photos. And there are maps too. Published last May by Steele Roberts and designed by Matthew Bartlett. $20.

Wellington – The Dark Side by William Minchin is a location guide to “murder, mayhem and nefarious activity in the capital city” which was evidently popular for Christmas stockings. Its six sections describe 75 places where dark deeds have taken place, “landmarks that some people would rather you didn’t know about,” it suggests. Published by Steele Roberts more than three years ago, which explains why its section on the red light district is out of date. But otherwise the author’s historical reach is impressive. $25.

One bigger book:

Wellington – Biography of a City by Redmer Yska was released by Reed Publishing in 2006 and reprinted in 2007. Its nine beguiling chapters – with many evocative photographs and plans – begin with colonial settlement and end with Wellywood, and contain very many droll events and strong personalities. (Who knew that the MP after whom Waring-Taylor Street was named went to prison for five years for fraud, but the city decided not to change the name of the street). Designed by Jason Anscomb, and printed in China by Nordica. $45.

And the biggest book of the top six:

Wellington – A City For Sculpture, edited by Jenny Harper and Aaron Lister with 40 fine photographs by Bruce Connew. Ten chapters celebrate sculpture in city streets and parks and examine “how it got there and what it means.” Published in 2007 by Victoria University Press in association with the Wellington Sculpture Trust (to whom the city is indebted for so much creative imagination). Designed by Sarah Maxey. Printed in Singapore. $50.

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Lindsay Shelton, who’s now editing Scoop Media’s Wellington news blog, is the author of The Selling Of New Zealand Movies (Awa Press, 2005.) Unity Books have sold 148 copies so far, and they keep it in stock in their film section.

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1 comment:

  1. bennettsarah, 17. February 2009, 15:56

    Thank you, Lindsay, for illuminating the fact that our Best of Wellington guidebook has gone to four (!) editions. It’s an arduous enterprise, and without any adverts or sponsorship there ain’t a bean in it, but an appreciative readership makes it all worthwhile. You can read my reviews of Wellington’s restaurants on http://www.texture.co.nz, by the way. Cheers, Sarah B.