Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Favorite Books of the Decade

I hate choosing favorites. Especially when it comes to books…which is why I am just going to list these things alphabetically. I hope you'll ask about some of these choices in the comments section; I also hope that you will pick some of these titles up if you haven't read them. There are some great authors here, but before I reveal the list there is one caveat: my tastes unabashedly lean towards the British writers. Sorry Chuck Palahniuk and Don DeLillo fans (although I do love White Noise and Mao II…I just didn't think DeLillo did anything great in the 2000's). There are a few American authors on here – my favorite being Rick Bass, the best naturalistic writer since Thoreau, and his brilliant collection of short stories The Hermit's Story – but you'll mostly find British authors who either write classically (McEwan, Coetzee and Waters) or sardonically (Barker, Amis, and Rushdie). Because my tastes lean towards the British you could say my tastes are a bit aesthete. I don't mind sounding pretentious here. I get a lot of enjoyment out of postmodern takes on classical tropes likes a WWII story (Atonement), the detective novel (The Light of Day), or just a good old fashion love story (The Powerbook).

If I had a gun to my head I guess I could name a favorite amongst these twenty selections…that would have to be Ian McEwan's Saturday…probably the finest novel about September 11th to be written. It was also interesting to see Martin Amis go to a more classical style of storytelling with House of Meetings after his failed attempts at a September 11th novel, Yellow Dog. Meetings is like Dostoevsky lite…which is a compliment. It's a tightly packed novel with a lot of wonderful Amisisms in it. Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown is brilliant novel, too. Rushdie floods his story with usual pop culture allusions and at the end succeeds at flipping the end of The Silence of the Lambs and making the male the hunted. It's his most impressive and his most garish novel since Midnight's Children. Finally I want to give a shout-out to Nicola Barker's fascinatingly absurd novel Darkmans. It's audacious (800+ pages) and sardonic (it reminded me of Will Self and Martin Amis), and it's not all together a success; however, it's ambition gets you through the rough patches, and by the end of the novel – a hilariously dark and irreverent flip on Bergman's moment of Death playing chess (for Barker Death is more of a jokester, and instead of chess he flips a coin) – I found myself to have laughed more than I did groan throughout the novel. It's really one of the standout works of the last ten years.

Onto the list…

by Ian McEwan

The Book of Illusions  
by Paul Auster

The Corrections
by Jonathan Franzen

by Nicola Barker


Dead Air
by Iain Banks

Elizabeth Costello
by J.M. Coetzee

 by Salman Rushdie

The Hermit's Story
by Rick Bass

House of Meetings
by Martin Amis

How the Dead Live
by Will Self

The Light of Day
by Graham Swift

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Night Watch
by Sarah Waters

On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan

The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth

The Powerbook
by Jeanette Winterson

by Ian McEwan

The Sea
by John Bannville

Shalimar the Clown
by Salman Rushdie

White Teeth 
 by Zadie Smith


  1. Of these I've read Saturday and Shalimar the Clown, both of which quite nicely transcend the melodrama of their closing pages. I'd recommend Orhan Pamuk's Snow and Roth's Everyman off the top of my head. As for "September 11" or "Age of Terrorism" fiction I'd also recommend Pat Barker's Double Vision and Ward Just's Forgetfulness. But you have yourself a pretty impressive list already.

  2. Yikes, I've only read two of those as well, the Roth and Ishiguro novels. I'm sadly not very up on current fiction at all. Those are both excellent choices, of course, particularly the stunning Never Let Me Go, which we've discussed a lot before. And Roth's book admirably follows in the lineage of PKD's Man in the High Castle, imagining a potent and terrifyingly plausible what-if scenario for WW2. Auster's a favorite of mine, but I haven't gotten to that one yet.

    This makes me think I should do a best-of-the-decade for comics, an area in which I'd have much more to say.

  3. Samuel:

    I like what you say about the McEwan and Rushdie "transcending the melodrama of their closing pages". I think that's what separates them from other authors in my opinion: they are so in control of their writing that they can dabble in those rather ordinary melodramatic moments, but make it resonate more deeply than another author trying to do the same thing could. Rushdie's writing is on a higher tier than McEwan...meaning it's definitely not for everyone...while McEwan succeeds at appeasing both the masses and the aesthetes. He's the best.

    Thanks for the recommendations. I've written those titles down. I actually have the Roth novel on my bookshelf. I've just never picked it up. I'll rectify that soon.

    Thanks again for stopping by.

  4. Ed:

    The Auster is pretty good, but not one of his best, and really it finds its way on the list because I just didn't do that much reading for fun in the last five years. I spent most of my time reading for school. Granted I discovered almost all of the authors on this list because of my undergrad degree, but it seems that authors like Swift, Amis, Rushdie, and Winterson were at their best in the 80's -- the height of postmodern literature -- and if I wasn't reading the modern classics then I was acquainting myself with the classic poets or Victorian I rarely had time to read new novels.

    Anyway...the list was fun to do. It's hard for me to write about books more succinctly, so that's why I just listed them alphabetically...but I really recommend you check out Shalimar the Clown, Saturday, The Powerbook, or Darkmans...all are absolute favorites of mine from the past ten years.

    I would love it if you tackled a "best of" for comics. I always have to go to my brother for advice on comic books, so it would be nice -- speaking selfishly -- for me to have another person that I could trust when it comes to recommending good comics.

    Thanks for the comment, Ed. Nice piece too on El Dorado. I'll make sure to link to it later today so that people will know we're still updating that site.

  5. I Love Zadie Smith, and hate White Teeth.

    Its a conundrum.

    Have you picked up Changing My Mind yet? Its good!

  6. EDJ:

    Really? I think White Teeth is one of the most impressive debuts I've ever read. It even got the Rushdie stamp of approval...which is no easy feat. I haven't read her collection of essays yet, but I look forward to doing so soon...maybe this summer? What did you think of On Beauty?

  7. Hi,

    I've nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger award. Details here:

  8. Neil:

    I'm honored. Evil Dead Junkie also nominated me for the award. I will link to both of you later today when I have some free time. Thanks for thinking about the blog.

  9. Most of the time I subscribe to the French weekly magazine Les Inrockuptibles. It's probably my favorite French cultural magazine. Anyway, I thought you'd enjoy seeing their best of the year lists for books, films, and albums (even if you can't read French, I figure you'll be able to decipher the titles):


    Scroll down for their list of the top 20 films of the year: