Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top Ten Books of the Decade

I recently posted top ten book and movie lists for 2010. I really enjoyed that, so I've decided to do top ten lists for the decade. Researching books and movies from the past decade has given me something to focus on in a difficult time.

Apparently there is some disagreement about what constitutes a decade. I've seen 2000-2009 as the decade, and I've seen 2000-2010. For my list I'm going with 2000-2010. Curious to hear what others think about this decade thing.

10.  Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand (2001). This is nonfiction that reads like a novel. I am a marginal fan of horse racing at best, but this book is so much more than the story of a horse. Hillenbrand makes Seabiscuit a metaphor for America during the Depression, an underdog you can root for.

9.  The Book of Joe, Jonathan Tropper (2004). This is the story of Joe Goffman, whose debut novel trashed his hometown and then became a huge hit movie. He goes home when his estranged father falls into a coma, and while his return is rocky to say the least, the experience is life-changing. Tropper has become one of my favorite authors, and this is my favorite of his five books.

8.  Blink, Malcolm Gladwell (2005). A lot of decisions are made in the blink of an eye. Gladwell uses anecdotes and scientific research to explore the first seconds of the thought process. This may not sound like the most compelling subject matter, but Gladwell has a unique ability to entertain while explaining complex ideas. The guy can flat out write.

7.  The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon (2000). Joe Kavalier escapes Nazi-occupied Prague and winds up in Brooklyn, where he meets Sammy Clay. Together they help to usher in the Golden Age of comic books. This is one of the great literary friendships. Don't take my word for it, Chabon won a little something called the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.

6.  March, Geraldine Brooks (2005). Let's follow one Pulitzer winner with another. Brooks is a master of historical fiction. Here she imagines the life of Mr. March, the absent father from Little Women, as he serves as a chaplain in the Union army. Brooks creates a fascinating portrait of a flawed man trying to find his way home.

5.  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000). This was #1 on my 2010 list (different qualifications), so it figures it would show up on my top ten of the decade. David Foster Wallace called this a merciless book, and I think that description really fits. Eggers never shies away from showing readers the dark side of grief as he raises his brother after his parents' death. I found this book to be profoundly truthful.

4. City of Thieves, David Benioff (2008). 17 year old Lev Beniov finds himself in prison during the Nazi siege of Leningrad in 1942. There he meets an AWOL soldier, Kolya. The colonel running the prison gives them a chance to earn their freedom. All they need to do is find a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake. Benioff is a screenwriter, so not surprisingly, his writing is very cinematic. I wouldn't be surprised if this is made into a movie.

3.  Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004). This is the first of a three book series featuring Detective Jackson Brodie. As Brodie investigates three gruesome crimes, he also searches for elusive personal resolution. Atkinson made her name in literary fiction, so this isn't your standard crime novel, call it a literary crime novel.

2. The Boof Thief, Markus Zusak (2005). This is a World War II story like no other. Liesel Meminger is a young girl on the verge of adolescence in Nazi Germany. Liesel develops a strong bond with Max Vandenberg, a Jewish fist-fighter taking refuge in the basement of her foster parents' home. Liesel sporadically steals books throughout the novel, perfectly illustrating the transformative power of the written word. I'd say that's what this book is, transformative.

1.  The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006). On the surface this is a dark story. A father and son walk alone through a post-apocalyptic America. They must avoid lawless scavengers and cannibals on their journey to the coast, a destination that may or may not hold salvation. The beauty of this book, and the beauty of McCarthy in general, is that when you dig deeper, there is so much more. At its heart, this book is about a father's love for his son. He does his best for the boy, and hopes he can become a man who walks on his own. That is the story of all fathers and sons.

I enjoyed making this list, but it was tough, a lot of great books were left out. I'd love to hear some of your ideas for top books of the decade. Doesn't have to be a full top ten, could be your top book, top 3, 5, whatever works.


  1. Two of my absolute favourites on this list: The Book Thief & The Road. I recommend the Cellist of Sarajevo & The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.
    P.S. Hope you and your family are doing okay.

  2. I want to thank you for your movie list. I saw "The Town" on there and rented it based on your recommendation. Fun! Well, "fun" is not quite the word but, yes, good. However. If you read about a 38-year-old father of 2 knocking over an armored car in the Minneapolis area, know it is your fault.

  3. YAY! A book list ...

    Fanatical reader that I am, I am at a bit of an impasse - not being certain what to read next. I have been wanting and meaning and longing to read "A Heartbreaking Work ..." and now I have the kick in the ass to do it ...

    I've read quite a few books that I loved in the past few years, not to mention decade. Many are as yet unpublished, as I participate in a couple of writer's crit groups. One of my absolute favorites of the decade was "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion ... a very emotional read, not for everyone, but I sat down and began, and ended up reading it cover to cover in one sitting.

    Aside - Tim, it is good to see you back in the blog-o-sphere. Have been keeping you and your family in my thoughts.



  4. Pat Conroy has just written a new book called My Reading Life and it is an ode to the books that shaped his career as a writer. I have read recently The Room, The Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter and Sweet and Cutting for Stone. I liked all 3 and they were all very different from each other. I prefer mysteries and my favorite author is Lee Child - his character is Jack Reacher -- he always gets me on the first page and I am hooked.

  5. Wow. I don't think I can come up with a best-of list for the decade. If you noticed, I titled my book list for 2010 as "most memorable books." But I bet the process was fun.

  6. I have to admit that I haven't read any of the books on the list, and I thought Seabiscuit was a movie...I did however read the entire Twilight saga twice!...ok, probably didn't need to know that, right...