I wanted to call this listing “10 Books I’ve Loved in the Last 10 Years,” but as you might imagine, that was an impossible cut for me to make. However, I did choose to cut books I’ve read and reviewed this year, since I’ll revisit those soon in my 2009 “Books of the Year” post.
Speaking of those “Books of the Year,” I thought I’d start off with a return to the ones I picked in 2007 and 2008 to see how they’ve held up in my estimation. I’ll be quoting from my original posts, with new comments below.
Book of the Year, nonfiction: Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Great writing, a great story, and so many things that struck chords with me – I’m not going to forget this book for a long time, and I’m not going to give away my copy, either.
I’ve discovered that this one tends to be a love/hate book, but I still love it – don’t hate me! This does rank with my Books of the Decade, and I’m planning to read Gilbert’s upcoming follow-up.
Book of the Year, fiction: Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst. This was the somewhat strange, yet gratifying, experience of liking a book just as much as – maybe even more than – I’d expected to. I knew that I’d get into the premise of following the participants of an Amazing Race-type reality show through the last rounds of their competition, but Parkhurst did a great job defining her characters as well as in telling their story, and I loved the behind-the-scenes production details.
I really did enjoy this novel, and it’s stuck with me quite a bit, but if I’m going to be tough and strict here, it doesn’t quite rank as one of my top reads of the last ten years.
Book of the Year, Fiction: The Year of Fog, by Michelle Richmond. (Coupled with her second novel, No One You Know, Richmond (was) also my “Must-read Author Discovery” of the year.) The Year of Fog somehow manages to be suspenseful and reflective at the same time. In the midst of the story of the search for a missing child, Michelle Richmond weaves case histories on the subject of memory and considerations of how the past shapes who we are.
This one makes the cut – actually, both of Richmond’s novels are among the best I’ve read in the last ten years. I’m anxiously awaiting her next book!
Book of the Year, Non-fiction: But Enough About Me: How a Small-Town Girl Went From Shag Carpet to the Red Carpet, by Jancee Dunn. There are some books that make you feel like you’re just hanging out with the writer – laughing, sharing stories, spending an enjoyable afternoon. For me, this was one of those books. Jancee Dunn (class of ’84) has spent quite a few of those afternoons herself, but they were with people like Dolly Parton, Madonna, and Christina Aguilera.
I came in a little late, and in part because I was just curious, but after the first two books I was hooked, and by the third I truly loved these books. I’m sure many people will count these among their own “books of the decade” – a genuine publishing phenomenon, but also a modern classic, and loved by readers of all ages. (I keep trying to reconcile my affection for HP with my ambivalence about reading kid/YA lit in general – I haven’t come up with an answer yet.) Because of the way Rowling successfully captured the conflicted essence of a 15-year-old boy, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is my favorite of favorites, and one of my rare 5-star reads.
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides: Unexpectedly funny and touching, as well as beautifully written, I honestly didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did.
Niagara Falls All Over Again – Elizabeth McCracken: This story of the ups-and-downs of a vaudeville team as they transition through the various new entertainment media of the 20th century – radio to movies to television – was fascinating and moving. I need to read more of McCracken’s writing.
The His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman: I didn’t expect to like these, to be honest, and it took me some time to get into The Golden Compass. However, I was immediately drawn into the second book, The Subtle Knife, and had to stick around for the end. I discussed the books a couple of years ago, in a post regarding a “boycott” of the movie version of The Golden Compass, driven by the fact that its creator is an avowed atheist:
I read the His Dark Materials trilogy a few years ago. I’m not sure what slots it as “children’s literature,” honestly, other than the fact that its central characters are young preteens and teens. I thought it was philosophically complex, highly developed, and very well-written – which is not to say that those can’t be attributes of children’s literature at all, just that these books feel more “adult” to me…The overall themes of the books struck me as more anti-theology than anti-God – and perhaps I’m not really disturbed by them since I’m not a churchgoer these days. I have issues of my own with institutional religion, and consider expressions of faith – or lack of same – to be personal. I don’t subscribe to the idea that “non-Christian” equals “anti-God,” or that there’s only one “right” way. I do feel that your beliefs and actions should be consistent with each other, and that regardless of where you think you’ll end up after you die, how you live on this earth matters. While it’s clear that Pullman’s atheism informs his story, I didn’t get a sense that he had an agenda – but if he actually did state in an interview that “(his) books are about killing God,” and didn’t mean it metaphorically, I may not have read closely enough.
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc: Narrative nonfiction at its best. LeBlanc spent the better part of ten years following her four central “characters” – drug dealer Boy George, his protege Cesar, Cesar’s sister Jessica, and Cesar’s girlfriend Coco – out of their teens and into poverty, crime, prison, and single parenthood. Their stories were riveting, moving, and made me far more appreciative of my own advantages in life.
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman: I BookCrossed my copy of this terrific book of essays about reading years ago, out of a wish to share the joy with other readers. I really need to replace it one of these days.
I know this was a long post, but it did cover a decade’s worth of material – thanks for sticking around for the whole thing! Are you considering a reading retrospective of the decade yourself? What books have really affected you over the last ten years?