Well, At Least There Was Good Stuff to Read: The Books of the Decade

12/29/2009 1:00 PM |

Anybody remember how anxious and thrilled we were in those last months of the 20th century? When we weren’t at war and we had a budget surplus and it looked like Al Gore would be president? The prospect of a 21st century filled with new technologies, new art and literature loomed large and bright. But now, as we look back at what was decidedly a shitty decade for an incredible variety of people in an equally incredible variety of ways (evictions/invasions/bombings/etc), it’s surprisingly hard to be pessimistic about the books that assessed, satirized, dramatized and distracted us from the events of the past 10 years.

Goethe said that the decline of a nation’s literature is the precursor to that nation’s fall, and with this look back at the books that defined the decade, we’d like to tell Goethe to suck it. Almost in spite of ourselves, we’re still writing, translating, publishing and even occasionally buying good books in this country.

To be clear: there were plenty of bad books over the course of the decade, as well. We watched that Nick McDonnell kid rake it in and James Frey get a well-earned tongue-lashing on television. We need not mention Dan Brown, and if that makes us elitists, then, fine. We’re elitists. Dan Brown sucks.

Worse still may be the self-help arena, which has continued to distinguish itself as a place where the insecure can go to justify their inane self-love or equally inane self-loathing. He’s Just Not Into You, The Fast-Track One-Day Detox Diet, any of Dr. Phil’s gems, The Secret… nonfiction is a treacherous arena, so we’ve decided to skip it altogether. Which isn’t to say that there wasn’t plenty of wonderful non-fiction published in the last decade. Evan Wright’s Generation Kill made the best of the ridiculous embedding of reporters while Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion helped pull atheism out of the closet. Still, the following list sticks to fiction because, well, we like it more. And it likes us (we think).

While the following list has not attempted to qualitatively rank books within in a particular year or in comparison to other years from the decade, we’ve selected titles that we believe have staying power and/or that we feel helped define the year it was published. We’ve also taken the liberty of including titles that we feel were underrepresented upon publication or that you may have missed. So get reading—you’ve got some catching up to do.

16 Comment

  • Dan Brown does, in fact, suck. Jonathan Franzen, Philip Roth, and Wells Tower, not so much. In fact, not at all.

    Well done.

  • Great list. Glad to see some books that went under the radar here “All about Lulu” by Evison, & “Mighty Angel” by Pilch. I read and enjoyed so many books on this list that I think I might go back and try a couple that I skipped originally.

    I think that 50 years from now Pynchon will be remembered for first of all ‘Inherent Vice’, so I would have included it.

    Also, I do think that ‘No Country for Old Men’ was better than the “Road” which is missing, but in my mind they were published like a 1-2 punch and read like they are two halves of a single book.

    Lastly, you have several acknowledged masters here who are dabbling in genres. Could not a genre writer like Dennis Lehane and his ‘Mystic River’ be considered for this list?

  • Thanks for the fun and interesting list — always good to discover those writers I do not know. Eisenberg rocks and I’m glad to see her story collection in your line-up. Quick question: isn’t Egger’s book a memoir?

  • Thanks for the fun and interesting list — always good to discover those writers I do not know. Eisenberg is a master and I’m glad to see her story collection in your line-up. Quick question: isn’t Egger’s book a memoir?

  • Would have liked to have seen something from Haruki Murakami – perhaps Kafka On the Shore – though I prefer Windup Bird Chronicle. Dan Brown is ok, for fluff – honestly, I thought Angels & Demons was a good read – just don’t see the movies…

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  • Why do you always ignore the great novels written and published in Africa?
    So any book not on the New York Times Bestsellers List is not a great book?
    Western narrow mindedness is sheer intellectual ignorance.

  • Wow cannot believe I haven’t read any of these books.I know I have some pretty obscure taste in books but there has to be something in these books that makes them so widely read.I’ve actually always meant to read white teeth,must get around to it,nice to have a list to work through though.

  • Mjust found this article @ http://www.kizlarsoruyor.com surprised as kafka on the shore is my favorite book

  • Thanks for this list

  • Some of these are great books. Thanks for sharing!

  • Here’s some to add to “You Might Have Missed”, for the entire decade:

    Books by Canadian and Australian authors (aside from the obligatory nod to authors like Atwood and Munro). American-centered lists like this should simply call it what it is: American books of the decade, with a few British and books-in-translation thrown in to make the list look international. I mean, Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis? Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon? A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore? Are these names here because, well, they’re authors who’ve had successes and therefor get put in because they’re recognizable names?

    There’s nothing wrong with lists, but please call a spade a spade.

  • a great list, even stumbling across the article several years later it still gives some great choices of books to read. I’ll check you’re blog for further updates!!
    Many thanks, Dave R – http://www.jdandj.com

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  • Thanks for sharing such a source of information and knowledge. The information does not grow old so these books will be read by generations and geneartions