I’ve read hundreds of books in the past ten years, many of which were older than the 2010’s. I find it relatively unreliable to give a definitive list of the ten best books of the decade, because I haven’t read all of the decade’s books, and I doubt many of the listmakers in the industry have either. Instead, I’ve pulled the ten best books that I can speak on (because I’ve read them). I hope you enjoy, and feel inspired to check out some of these near-antique books in the ’20’s.
10. Here by Richard McGuire (2014)
Richard McGuire is an artist in every sense of the word. A bass player in a post-punk band, a New York Times comic, a children’s book author, and the creator of one of the most lauded comic strips of all time. Here, in Here, the 1989 strip is expanded and develop. The same corner of space is explored through several millennia – from a soupy, recently post-Bang Earth to a futuristic wonderland. Here pushes the bounds of narrative, characterization, and art. After 2000 years in the common era, creating something truly new is deserving of all our attention. (Full Review)
9. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2012)
Post-apocalyptic stories have been around for decades, but saw a sort of reemergence in the public eye in and around the 2010’s. From The Hunger Games to The Walking Dead, mainstream audiences in the 21st century have been exposed with various forms of their demise. It’s fitting, then, that one such story would showcase on this list. Heller’s disorienting style is hard to get adjusted to, but a perfect example of the deterioration a catastrophic event would have on humanity. It’s a risk that can (and has – just look to The Flame Alphabet) go horribly wrong. Here, it more than pays off. Heller’s love letter to humanity is a smorgasbord of themes – and a surprisingly cohesive feast fit for any reader. (Full Review)
8. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger (2013)
Kruger is best known for his mystery series featuring Cork O’Connor. While I haven’t read them, it isn’t hard to imagine that they give the impression of cheesy, if compelling mysteries in a typical series format. Lots of lovers, near deaths, and witty catchphrases. Even if this is a false impression of the actual books, it gives the impression of one to a naive reader such as me. Ordinary Grace is a compelling mystery, has a few plot and stylistic holes (detailed in my full review), and a familiar protagonist. However, Kruger’s novel exhibits a clear influence from the literary giant To Kill A Mockingbird, which Kruger has claimed as an inspiration in his vocation. The literary merit of this novel, the world-building and atmosphere, will solidify this as one of the greatest 21st-Century American novels (Full Review).
7. What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (2016)
Expanded from a short story, Greenwell’s novella is a stunning, intimate, literary tour-de-force lust story about two men in Bulgaria. Greenwell has claimed that his story was slightly inspired by true events which feels like a lie. This may as well have been a memoir. A written-as-fiction memoir, but a memoir nonetheless. The narrator bares so much shame in his portrayal, you start to feel as though the act of his truth telling is cathartic (something a tell-all memoir usually is). In a decade that saw same-sex marriage legalized in several countries (including the US), a narrative focused on two men feels an appropriate inclusion on this list. From a product level, the jacket is stunning and eye-catching (Jennifer Carrow). This feels like a complete winner, from the outside in (Full Review).
6. Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)
Love them or hate them, the Obamas will remain historical figures for centuries to come. Yes, I realize the same can be said about the Trumps. The beauty in the First Lady Obama’s memoir, however, is you don’t need to be a democrat, or an Obama fan to enjoy it. Yes, it would probably help and sure, as an Obama hater, you may have a less positive experience, but the book is about far more than politics. Becoming is about a process of… well, becoming. From childhood to adulthood, impoverished to wealthy, child to mother, Michelle Obama’s memoir is as readable as it is elevating. Unlike every other political memoir I’ve read, this book is deeply personal, engrossing, and actually relevant to a commoner. If you don’t hate her, the audiobook is a must (Full Review).
5. The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson (2014)
If you haven’t heard my sister of I gush about the Wingfeather Saga Series, our sincere apologizes. It’s one of our favorites (and we read them as adults, so the tragically common effect of something you like in childhood being disappointing in adulthood, doesn’t apply). For me, the fourth (and final canonical book) is, by far, the best. If you haven’t been told, series are my least favorite part of the reading experience. They are always disappointing and they take far too much dedication. It never ends how you want it to. Not so here. This is a damn-near perfect book. This series is worth your time, if for no other reason than to read the finale. Harry Potter fans beware: this may dull the Wizarding World for you. (Full Review – some mild spoilers.)
4. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (2011)
I will confess that most of my love for this book comes from its impact on my life. In between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, things were messy in my life. My core friend group abandoned me, I was going to community college instead of university, and I was feeling lost in who I was as a friend and a human. That summer reignited my love of reading and the characters in this book accompanied me through the thick and thin when it felt like no one else could. King’s sweeping time-travel novel is exceptional: magical while realistic and fantastical without compromising the reality of the past. I’ve tried King novels since and have been largely bored out of mind. I believe, largely for that reason alone, this is one of the best books of the decade. A must read for lovers of history, stories, love, or science fiction.
3. Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (2017)
The Beartown series is the exact fictional social justice fiction we need in a generation that has embodied that term. It’s subtle but present. For anyone who read A Man Called Ove and found it too simplistic and cliché (which many did), give these two books a try. The characters scream with life and the pacing problems of Beartown have disappeared. I cried, cheered, gasped, and was at once broken down and healed while reading this. Backman’s novel has the immense difficulty of representing not only a specific threat in the world while being interesting and having genuine literary merit, but also being applicable to a vast swath of issues, locales, and persons. It’s a story we need to hear and be reminded of, especially as we head into a political year that will be full, no doubt, of plenty Us Against You cries. (Full review of Beartown. The review for Us Against You has impossible-to-avoid Beartown spoilers).
2. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (2018)
It’s chaos. Be kind. Michelle McNamara’s death was the second most impactful celebrity death I’ve endured, only behind Rachel Held Evans earlier this year. Her posthumous debut could have been highly lauded solely for her death, been a mediocre text, and still have been deserved. The tragedy, however (aside from the obvious tragedy of a loss of human life), is not so much with Michelle’s passing, but with the immediate halt of brilliance. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is genuinely terrifying which, trust me, is difficult to fully achieve in true crime books. They have to be, first and foremost, well-researched (which it is), honoring to the victims (which it is), and genuine (again, yes). With all these requirements, a horror element is too much to be expected and almost feels disrespectful to strive for. McNamara somehow does it all. She honors, she terrifies, and she demands action to be done. Few books are genuinely good and accomplish real-world change. McNamara’s debut does both and it is my honor to award it the runner up (Full Review). Rest easy, Michelle.
1. Evicted by Matthew Desmond (2016)
This was the first book I ever gave a metaphorical six/five stars to. Non-fiction rarely plays to any audience. Fiction readers rarely feel comfortable diving into the depth and lack of pacing in non-fiction books. Non-fiction readers are rarely able to fall into fiction plots as they are far too fake to be believed. Evicted reads like fiction. Characters are neither good nor bad and they’re interesting to follow around and accompany. It’s an impossible sight to turn away from, and shatters the economic vision of America we’ve been fed post 2008 recession. It’s difficult to be thoroughly entertained and informed, inspired and disgusted. Demond grips us with both hands, ripping off our blinders and expectations, and forces us to see the world as our characters do. Businessmen and single mothers. Landlords and homeless humans. This was the only book I could think of that deserved a best book of the decade award. Read it, dear friends. You’ll be glad you did (Full Review).
Notes and References
- 11/22/63 does not feature a full review, as it was read before I began posting reviews on Goodreads.
- Basic fact-checking was conducted on a few books on this list. Author Wikipedia and author and book Goodreads pages were used, all of which are accessible in their respective pages. As such, no specific links are posted, as no specific facts were researched that weren’t already known.
Leave a Reply