Posts filed under ‘Best of the decade’

Personal Favorites of the 2000s

Last week I promised I would compile a list of my own personal favorite books of this past decade. Without further ado…

1. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, 2005

I could not stop thinking about this book for weeks after I read it. It is one of the few books I couldn’t wait to re-read, and in Sittenfeld I found a new favorite author.  I thoroughly enjoyed her next two, Man of My Dreams and American Wife, also, but I always find myself going back to this, her debut.  In Lee Fiora, Sittenfeld has crafted a startlingly honest portrayal of a misfit Indiana girl in a wealthy New England prep school, and the thing I like most about Sittenfeld as an author is that she is not afraid to allow her characters to have major flaws and be quite unlikeable at times.  Don’t let the sweet chick-lit cover fool you.

2. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, 2007

I had a difficult time choosing between this, Shriver’s latest, and her excellent We Need To Talk About Kevin, but this is the book that turned me on to Shriver as an author so I thought it deserved its due. Irina  is a children’s book illustrator living in London with her partner, “think tank wonk” Lawrence.  A happily unmarried American ex-pat couple, Irina and Lawrence have no reason to think their union is in danger. Until one day when Lawrence is away on business, Irina has dinner with an old friend and fights a powerful urge to kiss him. Does she or doesn’t she?  From that point, through parallel story lines (think the movie Sliding Doors), Shriver lets us have it both ways.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005  

With this book, Ishiguro manages to be chilling and provocative, measured and subtle, all at once. Kathy, in her early 30’s,  is an alumna of an elite boarding school in Britain’s countryside. But the school has a special purpose and the students are of…unexpected origin. The students themselves are “told but not told” what is really going on, and it is the same for the reader as Ishiguro subtly and masterfully reveals meaning. Go into it blind, but with an open mind.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, 2005

In Oskar Schell, nine-year-old hero of this funny and poignant book, Foer has created one of the most memorable characters in recent memory.  Oskar distributes business cards boasting his  long list of titles and accomplishments: inventor, jeweler, and Francophile being just a few.  But Oskar is also a confused but determined boy wandering through New York City after 9/11, searching for a lock that fits the key belonging to Oskar’s father, who died in the World Trade Center attacks.  One of the few books that grabbed me from the very first line: “What about a teakettle?”

5. Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres, 2005    

Fans of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle would definitely appreciate this lesser-read story of familial abuse and racial tension in 1970’s small-town America.  Scheeres narrates this gripping story in the present tense from the point of view of her as a child, when she was growing up in a cold, abusive home in rural Indiana with two adopted black brothers.  Julia and her brother David grow extremely close, while she has the opposite relationship with her brother Jerome.  It is a story of troubling contradictions–the children sit at home and eat a soup literally made of garbage while their father drives a Porsche; the Scheeres parents–devout Christians–abuse their children even when flaunting their supposed “tolerance.”  The first half of the book takes place in Indiana, the second half takes place in a bizarre Christian “reprogramming” camp in the Dominican Republic where Julia and David end up being sent. Its appeal lies not only in the mind-boggling story, but also in its honest and unsentimental telling.

6. Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller, 2008

What can I say? I really, really love this book! See my full review here:

7. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, 2009 

One of this year’s gems. See my full review here:…argaret-atwood/

8. Little Children by Tom Perrotta, 2004  

An excellent tale of suburban ennui.  Sarah is an over-educated one-time feminist who finds herself trapped in an unwanted life as a housewife and mother to a young daughter.   While her husband spends nights surfing the Web for porn, Sarah lets herself fall into an affair with a similarly frustrated stay-at-home dad, Todd. Meanwhile, a recently released sex offender, now living on Sarah’s street with his mother, threatens the town’s feelings of security and superiority.  Perrotta is a sharp, funny social satirist and a great character writer.

9. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, 2000  

The book that changed the eating habits of a nation. For the entire decade, it seemed whenever the name of a well-known fast-food restaurant was mentioned, I was invariably asked, “Have you read Fast Food Nation?” Now it seems like every other day an expose of the food industry is published, but we really have Schlosser to thank for getting Americans to start to think about where their food comes from.

10. On Beauty by Zadie Smith, 2005

If you are one of those people (like me) who picked up Zadie Smith’s much-lauded debut, White Teeth, and found it difficult to get through, try this funny, intelligent yet more accessible story about a mixed-race, academically inclined New England family.  Smith does a great job of capturing both teenage and adult insecurity and confusion with great wit.  A perfect book to get lost in on a breezy September day in Harvard Square.


December 30, 2009 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

The Top 10s

I might be just a little obsessed with lists, and also with markers of time.  That’s why I’m so excited that we are at the end of a decade, and get to enjoy all of the inevitable “Top 10” lists that go with such a milestone.  I sat down to make my own list of books that I think are the top 10 “greatest” of the decade, based on my experience working in the retail book industry for the second half of this decade – these are the books that people have asked for over and over again, the ones that generated the most discussion, and the ones that, in my humble personal opinion, have made the greatest cultural impact.  However I found it’s extremely difficult to limit a list to 10 books, only 10, covering the entire decade! Hence the split into Fiction titles and Non-Fiction titles.

Top 10 Fiction Books of the 2000s

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, 2003

2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, 2003

3. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, 2003

4. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, 2002

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, 2002

6. Atonement by Ian McEwan, 2001

7. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002

8. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, 2004

9. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, 2003

10. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, 2005

Looking over this list, I notice a couple of things. First, 2003 was apparently a really good year for fiction books. Second, all of these titles have been made into major motion pictures in the last few years, save two–Middlesex and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.  Might we be seeing those also on the big screen soon?

The Top 10 Non-Fiction Books of the 2000s

1. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, 2001  

2. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, 2003

3. Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, 2001

4. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, 2000

5. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, 2006

6. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, 2006

7. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, 2002

8. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2006  

9. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen, 2006

10. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, 2003

Looking at this list, it seems that 2006 was the good year for non-fiction titles.
What are your picks for best books of the decade? Was there anything I missed? Anything you disagree with? Comment on this post and let me know! Up next: my personal favorite books of the 2000s.

Happy holidays everyone!


December 23, 2009 at 2:28 pm 2 comments

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