Friday, January 3, 2020

My Favorite Books of the Decade...


I know that many subscribe to the philosophy that the decade technically doesn't end until the close of 2020, with the new decade starting in 2021, but I'm following along with conventional wisdom on this one like the sheep that I am...

Between 2010 and 2019, I read a total of 1,404 books. (That's not including books I didn't enjoy enough to finish.) I'm pretty pleased with that achievement. Of course, I don't necessarily remember everything about every book I've read, but there definitely have been books through the years which have remained in my mind and my heart, books that come to mind when people ask the inevitable question, "Any recommendations on what book I should read?"

I decided to pull together a list of my favorite books from the last decade. Since I've been keeping lists of the best books I've read each year, that made this task slightly easier, but still, culling this list down to a manageable side was nearly impossible! So what I did was narrowed my list to 40 books. I ranked my top 10 (no mean feat there) and then the rest I'll list randomly. The title of each book will be hyperlinked to my original review.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these choices, as always. I hope you can find a great book or two on this list!

Best of the Decade
  1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015): When I read this 700+-page book several years ago, I realized two things: it is one of the most dazzlingly brilliant, emotionally moving books I've ever read, and it is a difficult and painful one to read at times. This was hands-down the best book I've read in the last 10 years, if not longer.

  2. The Absolutist by John Boyne (2012): To say that this book devastated me is an understatement. It is easily one of the most beautifully written, emotionally gripping books I've read this past decade. This is a book about relationships, betrayal, courage, and standing up for yourself and your beliefs.

  3. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (2011): A man is enlisted in the ultimate heroic mission—stopping Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy. There have been thousands of books written about time travel and the idea of righting past wrongs, but in Stephen King's tremendously capable hands, this concept seems fresh and unique.

  4. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2014): This is beautiful, breathtaking, bewildering, and a little bizarre. It's a book about the half-truths we tell ourselves and our reluctance to see what is in front of us and say what we truly feel. It's also a book about how simple it is to hurt those closest to us, and how the simplest actions can cause so much pain. I read a lot of YA this decade, and this was truly the best.

  5. An Exaltation of Larks (2018), A Charm of Finches (2018), and A Scarcity of Condors by Suanne Laqueur (2019): I considered all three books in this trilogy as one unit. Laqueur's ability to pull you into her books so completely, to feel such attachment to her characters that you can't stop thinking about them when you're finished reading, is absolutely dazzling. These books are gorgeous, sensitive, sexy, and emotional, full of moments that made me smile, made me blush, horrified me, and made me full-on ugly cry at times.

  6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (2013): How can a person determined never to need anyone let themselves actually need someone? How can you tell the difference between friendship and love? Benjamin Alire Saenz's novel is so beautifully poetic, so emotional—it's funny, heartbreaking, frustrating, and rewarding. Just like life is. I loved this so much.

  7. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (2011): It has been said that "baseball is life." Whether or not you agree with this statement, for the characters in Chad Harbach's fantastic novel, baseball may not be life, but it certainly is at the crux of their lives. Amazon named this the best book of 2011. It certainly was among my favorites from that year. Harbach is a terrific writer and at times, a sentence or two would make me pause and read it again, just to marvel at his word choices.

  8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012): This book hooked me so hard I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. to finish it, and there I was, sobbing, on my couch in the middle of the night. Clearly, a book about teenagers who meet in a cancer support group is headed in a direction you don't want it to, but even the journey Green takes you on is worth the sadness.

  9. Tin Man by Sarah Winman (2018): When the blurb on the cover reads, "This is an astoundingly beautiful book. It drips with tenderness. It breaks your heart and warms it all at once," how can you resist? This is an immensely memorable story about friendship, love, and longing, and the blurred lines between those things.

  10. Beartown (2017) and Us Against You by Fredrick Backman (2018): These two books are about a Swedish town that is literally obsessed with hockey, and which faces a crisis (or two) that will practically tear the town apart. These books are utterly phenomenal, full of heart, memorable characters you root for, and, at least for me, situations to make you cry.

More of the Best

The Force by Don Winslow (2017): While the story of corruption in the ranks of the NYPD may be a familiar one, in Winslow's hands, it is raw and gripping, one of those books you can't stop reading, and it feels incredibly current. Nothing short of a masterpiece.

Find Me by Andre Aciman (2019): Not quite a sequel to Call Me By Your Name but more a book that follows some of the characters. No matter—it was utterly, gloriously moving.

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (2014): Friends are reunited for a wedding in a small town. Some books do a great job evoking a sense of place and a general mood, which draw you even further into them. This one is beautifully written—poetic, even—and tremendously compelling.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015): More than your average YA love story, Niven does an excellent job in portraying the struggles of teenagers dealing with grief and mental illness. This one left me in a puddle of emotion when it was done.

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (2016): This is as much about the goings-on inside a prison and the musings of a man condemned to death as it is about the lives of those who work within the system, and how they are able to keep moving forward day to day in the midst of such crushing circumstances. The reality of the judicial system meshes with elements of fantasy and imagination.

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019): This book, written as an oral history of the legendary fictional 1970s band Daisy Jones & The Six, reads as if you were watching an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" crossed with the movie Almost Famous. It's a story about ambition, need, fear, longing, love, jealousy, connection, talent, and music.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (2013): This is an ambitious book, more than 600 pages in length, with fake newspaper and magazine articles, webpages, and photos sprinkled throughout to bolster the story. It is truly a thrill ride that leaves you breathless. This isn't a book for everyone but it is so well-written.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012): A story of how a couple survives against the odds, both physical and emotional, and how to get past the things that remain unsaid, the book is both grounded in realism and magical at the same time. This is a very well-written book that definitely surprises you.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (2010): The story of two high school students named Will Grayson who meet one night, it is funny, heartbreaking, hopeful and ultimately, amazingly memorable. It looks at relationships (romantic, platonic, even those with your parents), struggling to be happy, struggling with unhappiness, fear of rejection and breaking out of your shell, without ever being preachy or cloying.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2018): Compulsively readable, like one of those television miniseries you can't stop watching. This is a book with surprising depth, thought-provoking in the subjects it touches on, and unapologetic in its portrayal of what women needed to do to succeed in Hollywood. This was a terrific story of love, loss, self-reliance, and the struggle of being true to yourself and having to adhere to the roles society puts you in.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (2016): This is an absolutely fascinating story of a man who wakes up to find out that the life he knew didn't exist, no matter how vivid his memories were. But which life is the dream, the one he is in now, or the one he remembers? Can he ever make it back to what he remembered, and if not, what will happen to him? Suspend your disbelief and get ready for your heart to start beating pretty fast.

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy (2013): This is a beautifully written, poetic book about connections, how we don't realize just how connected we are, but connections between us and others exist without our even knowing it. It's more a collection of interwoven stories than a full-fledged novel in terms of narrative, but the characters are connected in both definitive and fleeting ways. Van Booy is one of my favorite authors.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011): Don't think this is a story about clowns and lion tamers and trapeze artists—this is a story with a strong emphasis on magic and illusion and manipulation of reality. It follows the magical Cirque des Rêves, a circus full of dazzling and fantastical amazements. Marco and Celia, two brilliant magicians, are locked in a competition that neither of them understand, and that only one of them can survive.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (2017): This book had me SOBBING. It's emotional, angsty, moving, and occasionally frustrating, but it is just so good. This is the story of two best friends whose relationship ends, and how several years later, with their lives turned upside down, they try to see if they can rebuild their relationship.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevinn (2014): This book, a tribute to a love of books and reading, as well as a tribute to love, is so warm and wonderful, it almost feels like a big hug. It's a charming, sappy, and predictable book that absolutely tugs at your heartstrings. Zevinn's love for her characters and, more importantly, her love of reading and books, shines through like a beacon, making you feel as if you're part of a special world when you enjoy reading.

We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra (2019): This is a gorgeously moving, beautifully told, thought-provoking story of friendship, love, truth, and secrets. The entire book is narrated in letters between two high school students, and, to borrow a phrase from one of the main characters, it utterly undid me.

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (2015): If you've ever found yourself unable to move on from something that once happened to you, you can identify, although perhaps only on a small scale, with these characters. And they're wonderfully memorable characters, so desperate to move on with their lives but utterly unable to pull themselves away from the past. This is so powerfully written and compelling.

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne (2017): At its heart, this is a book about love of all kinds. This is a story of friendship, love, bravery, pain, loss, violence, politics, religion, prejudice, and trying to find peace within ourselves, against a backdrop of some of the more tumultuous times in our world.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011): Combining the adventure, danger, action, companionship, romance, violence, and fantasy of the best quest novels with fantastic 80s trivia, this is a story about courage, friendship, love, good, and evil, with the 1980s and the worlds of classic video and adventure games and anime as its backdrop.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019): Imagine if the First Son of the United States (his mother is finishing her first term as president, his father is a U.S. Congressman) has a love affair with Prince Henry of Wales, an heir to the throne (well, the "spare," actually). I read this sweet, sexy, emotional, truly special book last January and it never left my mind.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016): This is an intellectual and deeply emotional memoir, written by a young man with so much promise, so much heart, so much empathy. It is both a reflection on coming face-to-face with one's own mortality and a commentary on the responsibility doctors have to help their patients and their families through that same reflection, whether it happens with some warning or suddenly. It is also a love story, of a man and his wife, a man and the child he will never truly know, and a man and his career.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014): This is a big, ambitious, emotional, gorgeously written book that I absolutely fell in love with. Let's just say it involves the world following a massive plague, a traveling group of Shakespearean actors and musicians, a series of comic books, and memories of a different world. Yes, it's about the end of the world as people knew it, but there are no zombies or rebellions or shadow governments or anything like that.

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall (2019): This one sneaks up on you with its gorgeous, contemplative story which grabs hold of your mind and your heart. It’s not a book that requires any knowledge of religion or faith—it’s more an exploration of how faith means different things to different people, and how it appears and disappears at different times in our lives.

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchison (2016): For the last few years, aliens have periodically abducted Henry Denton. The aliens have given Henry an ultimatum: Earth will be destroyed in 144 days, unless Henry makes the decision to save the world. All he has to do is push a button. But does Henry want to save the world? He has to decide whether humanity is worth saving or if letting the world end would also end his own emotional anguish.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013): Do you remember what it felt like the first time you fell in love? How you wanted nothing more than to spend every waking minute with that person, talking about nothing, experiencing everything, and you counted down the minutes, or the days, until you saw them again? That all-consuming craziness of first true love, thrown into the emotional maelstrom of high school, is the basis for Rainbow Rowell's fantastically quirky and sweet book.

Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield (2010): Part the memoir of a lifelong music lover, part a funny and heartbreaking love story, this book grabbed me at page 1 and never let me go. Sheffield's style is wry, a little sarcastic and unafraid to embrace the emotions that this boy-meets-girl, boy-marries-girl, girl-dies story brings out.

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson (2012): This is a book about finding yourself and realizing what makes a family, about the hardcore music scene of the late 1980s and the changing demographics of New York City, and about trying to avoid making the same mistakes your parents made. No one is infallible in this book, much as in life, and that is what made the story so appealing to me.

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (2016): Greenwell's debut novel is stunning, emotional, lyrical, and it quietly grabs you and doesn't let go. It is a novel about desire, and the desire to be wanted. It's about the struggle between following your heart and your libido instead of your head, and both the consequences and triumphs that come from doing so.

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff (2013): A masterpiece of interconnected stories-in-verse about characters in some sort of emotional flux. Some of the connections come as an utter surprise, but the emotions they generate are truly genuine. Beautifully written, and sadly, finished just before Rakoff's death.

Sadie by Courtney Summers (2018): Summers created an absolutely incredible, haunting, poignant sucker punch of a book. It's sad, hopeful, disturbing, thought-provoking, and it hurt my heart, but it was amazing. And while this was a novel, stories like these, sadly, are all too true.

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