Sunday, 30 September 2012

Books of the Decade

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.
The L Magazine, New York 


  1. This article goes on to list the notable books of each year. Which titles can you tick?
    The Human Stain, by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)
    White Teeth, by Zadie Smith (Random House)
    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon (Random House)
    The Feast of Love, by Charles Baxter (Pantheon)
    Mrs. Hollingsworth's Men, by Padgett Powell (Houghton Mifflin)
    The Name of the World, by Denis Johnson (HarperCollins)
    The Night Listener, by Armistead Maupin (HarperCollins)
    Pastoralia: Stories, by George Saunders (Riverhead)
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers (Vintage)
    You Might Have Missed:
    The Verificationist, by Donald Antrim (Knopf)
    Off Keck Road, by Mona Simpson (Knopf)

    1. One I can recommend is Roth's 'The Human Stain'. I've spoken of it on other threads and it features on my list of 'favourite books'. There is a movie, too, but watch it after you've read the book - it leaves too much out.

  2. 2001:
    Austerlitz, by W. G. Sebald (Random House)
    The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen (FSG)
    Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Alice Munro (Knopf)
    Among the Missing, by Dan Chaon (Ballantine)
    Demonology: Stories, by Rick Moody (Little, Brown)
    Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (Knopf)
    My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk (Knopf)
    Perfect Recall: New Stories, by Ann Beattie (Scribner)
    Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)
    Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett (HarperCollins)
    You May Have Missed:
    Niagra Falls All over Again, by Elizabeth McCracken (Dial)

  3. 2002:
    Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer (HarperCollins)
    Atonement, by Ian McEwan (Doubleday)
    Female Trouble: A Collection of Short Stories, by Antonya Nelson (Scribner)
    Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides (FSG)
    July, July, by Tim O'Brien (Houghton Mifflin)
    The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt (Knopf)
    Seek My Face, by John Updike (Knopf)
    You May Have Missed:
    In The Forest, by Edna O'Brien (Houghton Mifflin)

    Yonder Stands Your Orphan, by Barry Hannah (Grove)

  4. 2003:
    The Known World, by Edward P. Jones (Amistad/HarperCollins)
    Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer (Riverhead)
    A Box of Matches, by Nicholson Baker (Random House)
    Cosmopolis, by Don DeLillo (Scribner)
    A Distant Shore, by Caryl Phillips (Knopf)
    The Effect of Living Backwards, by Heidi Julavits (Putnam)
    Liars and Saints, by Maile Meloy (Scribner)
    Loot: And Other Stories, by Nadine Gordimer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
    Love, by Toni Morrison (Knopf)
    Old School, by Tobias Wolff (Knopf)
    Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
    You May Have Missed:
    Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, by Matt Ruff (HarperCollins)
    How to Breathe Underwater: Stories, by Julie Orringer (Vintage)
    Bay of Souls, by Robert Stone (Houghton Mifflin)

  5. 2004:
    Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (FSG)
    War Trash, by Ha Jin (Pantheon)
    Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (Random House)
    I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe (FSG)
    Little Children, by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin's)
    Snow, by Orham Pamuk (Knopf)
    Wake Up, Sir!, by Jonathan Ames (Scribner)
    Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte (Picador)
    You May Have Missed:
    Red Ant House, by Ann Cummins (Mariner)

  6. 2005:
    Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)
    Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf)
    No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf)
    Please Don't Come Back from the Moon, by Dean Bakopoulos (Harcourt)
    Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel (Random House)
    On Beauty, by Zadie Smith (Penguin)
    Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill (Pantheon)
    Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf)
    You May Have Missed:
    Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link (Small Beer Press) Last Night, by James Salter (Knopf)
    The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (Atlantic Monthly Press)

  7. 2006:
    Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl (Viking)
    Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart (Random House)
    Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin)
    Apex Hides the Hurt, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
    The Dead Fish Museum, by Charles D'Ambrosio (Knopf)
    The Keep, by Jennifer Egan (Knopf)
    The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud (Knopf)
    Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf)
    Trouble, by Patrick Somerville (Vintage)
    The View From the Seventh Layer, by Kevin Brockmeier (Knopf)
    You May Have Missed:
    Nice Big American Baby, by Judy Budnitz (Knopf)
    Twilight of the Superheroes, by Deborah Eisenberg (FSG)

  8. 2007:
    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz (Riverhead)
    Cheating at Canasta, by William Trevor (Viking)
    Falling Man, by Don DeLillo (Scribner)
    Like You'd Understand Anyway: Stories, by Jim Shepard (Knopf)
    Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson, translated by Anne Born (Graywolf)
    The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer (FSG)
    The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro (Knopf)
    You May Have Missed:
    Delirium, by Laura Restrepo, translated by Natasha Wimmer (Nan A. Talese)
    African Psycho, by Alain Mabanckou, translated by Christine Schwartz Hartley (Soft Skull)
    Refresh, Refresh, by Benjamin Percy (Graywolf)
    The Interloper, by Antoine Wilson (Handsel Books)
    God Is Dead, by Ron Curie Jr. (Penguin)
    Fires, by Nick Antosca (Impetus Press)

  9. 2008:
    Beijing Coma, by Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew (FSG)
    The Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon (Riverhead)
    Lush Life, by Richard Price (FSG)
    The Boat, by Nam Le (Knopf)
    2666, by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer (FSG)
    Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf)
    You Might Have Missed:
    In a Bear's Eye, by Yannick Murphy (Dzanc Books)
    All Over, by Roy Kesey (Dzanc Books)
    Hotel Crystal, by Olivier Rolin, translated by Jane Kuntz (Dalkey Archive)
    Shelter Half, by Carol Bly (Holy Cow! Press)
    All About Lulu, by Jonathan Evison (Soft Skull Press/Counterpoint)

    Mafeking Road and Other Stories, by Herman Charles Bosman (Archipelago Books)

  10. 2009:
    The Cradle, by Patrick Somerville (Little, Brown)
    A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore (Knopf)
    Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower (FSG)
    Once the Shore, by Paul Yoon (Saraband)
    The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese)
    Delicate Edible Birds, by Lauren Groff (Voice)
    You Might Have Missed:
    Death in Spring, by Merce Rodoreda, translated by Martha Tennent (Open Letter)
    The Mighty Angel, by Jerzy Pilch, translated by Bill Johnston (Open Letter)
    Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, by Lydia Peelle (Harper)

  11. Well I feel really ignorant now - I haven't read any of the above!

    1. Don't feel badly, Jay. I've only read a handful and that's because I follow the award winners. Most I've never heard of - neither the book nor the author...... and it is an American magazine. Jonathan Evison is on my to read list (2008). He's a contributor on a site I follow.

  12. I think we are getting some undesirable posts on here folks!

  13. Yes, being spammed again. Ignore it, I guess.

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