Holly from Prince Books talks about the brilliant authors, compelling histories, and captivating narratives that have forever changed the literary landscape in America.
We started the decade obsessed with a boy wizard, and are closing it with a thirst for vampires.
But, mythical and magical creatures aside, the past ten years have introduced a wealth of brilliant authors, compelling histories, and captivating narratives that have forever changed the literary landscape in America.
Selecting the best books of the decade is a mammoth task, and one certain to generate passionate arguments during its creation and upon its release. With that in mind, I’ve determined instead to recall some of the bright lights of the decade: authors who have cemented their place in the communal reading psyche; books that became cultural touch-points for a country and a generation; and a few gems that may have gone unnoticed by the casual reader.
While Sedaris first graced us with his words in the 1990s, his fame and authority as a humorous, self-deprecating teller of tales solidified in the past ten years, with the publication of such works as Me Talk Pretty One Day, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (all New York Times Bestsellers). Named “Humorist of the Year” by Time Magazine in 2001, and nominated for two Grammy awards in 2006, Sedaris will no doubt continue to keep readers entertained into the next decade.
The Da Vinci Code (2003)
The book that inspired a million spin-offs, several movies, and fiery debates about the historical truth – or not – behind its story, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code became one of the must-read books of the decade, and has to date sold over 80 million copies. Outsold only by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in its release year, it consistently ranks in the top 10 of popular “best book” lists. While it’s not likely to make the curriculum of any high-school literature course, it certainly is a book of the decade.
Like David Sedaris, McEwan didn’t begin his writing career in the last decade, but he certainly hit his stride, with the books Atonement (2001), Saturday (2005), and On Chesil Beach (2007) all shortlisted for awards. With the successful transition of Atonement to the movie screen, and another book on the way in 2010, McEwan will no doubt be a writer to watch well into the next ten years.
The Book Thief (2005)
Implausibly published as a young-adult book due to its young protagonist, this is a lyrical, moving story narrated by Death. Set amidst the turmoil and fear of World War II Germany, it is the story of a girl, of a family, of a friendship, and of guilt and humanity in the midst of violence. An award-winner and long-time bestseller from Markus Zusak.
While you may not like Meyer’s Twilight series, it’s unlikely that you haven’t at least heard of it. The improbable romance of a teen misfit and a reluctant vampire fuels a four-book series that has dominated the New York Times Bestseller list – and the imaginations of its young readers – since its 2005 publication. Twilight has launched a rabid fan following, with films released or in development for the entire series, websites and fan-fiction galore, and even fashion and jewelry lines inspired by the books.
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s Freakonomics proved that a book about economics could appeal to the masses. This wildly popular non-fiction book discussed everything from the Ku Klux Klan to what your child’s name might mean for its future. One of the best-selling non-fiction books of the decade, it remains on best-seller lists today, along with its sequel, SuperFreakonomics.
The winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, Pamuk’s fame began to spread in the early years of the decade with his books My Name is Red (2000), Snow (2004), Istanbul: Memories of a City (2005), Other Colors: Essays and a Story (2007), and The Museum of Innocence (2009). Writing about the challenges of balancing Eastern and Western concepts of value and identity, Pamuk’s fiction is incredibly timely and intriguing.
Fast Food Nation (2001)
Eric Schlosser’s expose on the fast food industry in America opened the door for the many food writers and documentarians who would come after him, among them Michael Pollan and the minds behind the recent documentary Food, Inc. Throughout the decade, we have taken an increasing interest in our food and where it comes from, and in large part have Schlosser to thank for getting our feet wet.
Another non-fiction giant of the decade, Gladwell brought us The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005), Outliers (2008), and What The Dog Saw (2009). Both individuals and businesses quickly saw the wisdom in Gladwell’s social research-based books, and he has stayed on bestseller lists throughout the decade.
A graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is an illustrated chronicle of her childhood in wartime Iran, offering a perspective on the Revolution through the eyes of a young girl. Humorous as well as somber, it was made into a film along with its sequel in 2007.
Lahiri’s 2000 Pulitzer Prize for her collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, made her a writer-to-watch for the decade. Her subsequent publications, The Namesake (2003) and Unaccustomed Earth (2008), which debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, were met with acclaim. Her fiction focuses broadly on themes of the Indian-American experience and cultural divides across generations.
Life of Pi (2002)
Yann Martel’s award-winning tale of a shipwrecked Indian boy and his survival in a lifeboat amidst wild animals on the seas is a tribute to the power of a good story. A multi-award winner, it is now a frequent selection of book clubs and literature curriculums. A beautifully-woven tale that pulls the reader in, Life of Pi will demonstrate the staying power of a well-written fantasy.
A perennial favorite in the world of graphic novels, Gaiman began to publish fiction novels in the 1990s, and became increasingly successful with stories for all ages in the past decade: American Gods (2001), Coraline (2002), Anansi Boys (2005), The Graveyard Book (2008), Odd and the Frost Giants (2008), and Blueberry Girl (2009). With his passionate and loyal community of fans, Gaiman is generally regarded as one of the brightest writers in the fantasy and science-fiction community.
Little Brother (2008)
Cory Doctorow’s fictional Little Brother is timely and revolutionary in many ways. The story of teenagers caught up in a terrorist attack and its societal aftermath, Doctorow investigates themes of authority, technology, surveillance, and resistance. Published for the young adult market, this is an entertaining and educational story for all readers.
If you didn’t get a chance in the past decade to read something by one of these authors, don’t let the next 10 years go by without doing so: Sarah Vowell, Jonathan Franzen, David McCullough, Zadie Smith, Alice Munro, Michael Pollan, Gregory Maguire, Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Khaled Hosseini.