I don’t really know what to call this decade. The 2010s? The Teens? The Decade That Provided Solid Evidence We Are Living in the Dark Timeline? Despite not knowing its name, I will absolutely remember this decade for its eventfulness. I made a bunch of new friends. I attended too many funerals, but fortunately attended even more weddings. I started new hobbies and rediscovered old ones. Like reading books.
I was an avid reader as a kid and teen, but I didn’t read very much for a long time. I just didn’t prioritize it. Well, around 2016, searching for ways to spend my spare time in healthier ways, I read some of the books on this list, and I fell in love with reading again.
So here are, in order of publish date, my Top 15 books of the Decade. Maybe they’ll make you fall in love with reading too.
a visit from the goon squad ~ Jennifer Egan (2010)
It’s an experiment in style and format. It’s not quite a novel, it’s not quite a short story collection. Each chapter follows a different character and uses a different format. For example, one chapter was written in the First Person, another in Third Person Omniscient, and another chapter was a Power Point presentation. What could have been a book that just employed an artsy gimmick was instead a book filled with terrific characterization and astoundingly profound insights into aging and human nature. It contains the only Power Point presentation that has made me cry.
The Disappearing Spoon ~ Sam Kean (2010)
It’s a book about the history of each of the elements in the Periodic Table. Full of fun facts, weird anecdotes, and interesting science history, it’s written in a “light” style accessible to general audiences. I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in science.
Tenth of December ~ George Saunders (2013)
It’s the best short story collection by the best Literary Short Story Writer in the game right now. Some of these stories are going to end up in high school English textbooks. If they aren’t already.
The Martian ~ Andy Weir (2014)
It’s not particularly Literary. It doesn’t have the prettiest words, the most clever use of language, or subtle characterization. What it does provide is a tense tale of survival and suspense, with a main character clinging to life alone on another planet, using only his knowledge of engineering and botany. I stayed up all night reading it because I just couldn’t put it down.
Uprooted ~ Naomi Novik (2015)
It’s a fairy tale. Wizard takes a young girl from her village. Stuff happens.
There might be other fantasy novels that are more well-constructed, that are more original, that have better characters. But this is the book that made me love reading again. And for that, it earned a place on this list.
Homegoing ~ Yaa Gyasi (2016)
Two half-sisters are born in eighteenth-century Ghana. One is captured, sold into slavery, and shipped to America. The other sister is married to an Englishman and stays in Ghana. One thread of the novel traces the descendants of the sister in America, the other thread traces the descendants of the sister that lived in Ghana. Engrossing, thought-provoking, and beautifully-written.
Lab Girl ~ Hope Jahren (2016)
A memoir of a scientist. She has a literary-writing background, too, and it shows.
News of the World ~ Paulette Jiles (2016)
In post-Civil War Texas, an aging man attempts to escort a young girl who had been captured by Native Americans back to her kinfolk. It’s a Western, written in a style that’s like a mix of Cormac McCarthy and Emily St. John Mandel, sparse and beautiful.
Kings of the Wyld ~ Nicholas Eames (2017)
The most fun fantasy novel I’ve read in a long time. Bands of heroes are treated like rock stars in this world, and no band was bigger than Saga. Saga broke up years ago, but when the daughter of the frontman is in trouble, he tries to get the band back together one last time, to save her and the world. Funny and deep, an exploration of aging and friendship, and an original take on the classic fantasy line-up, this is a must-read for any fan of the genre.
Chemistry ~ Weike Wang (2017)
A grad student has a breakdown and tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life.
While composing this list, I looked at each of the potential entries to make sure I still liked them. Usually I read just a few sentences or a page, thought “yep, still like it,” and moved on. I read 15 pages of Chemistry without realizing it. I love it so much, but I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why. I guess it’s a combination of things. I like the narrator, even when she is being unlikeable. I like the direct prose. I like the subtlety. I like the dry humor. I feel like this is one of the most underrated books of the decade as it should have gotten a lot more attention from the awards circuit.
Killers of the Flower Moon ~ David Grann (2017)
A nonfiction true crime thriller that investigates the murders of members of a Native American tribe.
Exit West ~ Mohsin Hamid (2017)
Refugees use magic portals to get to other countries. It’s a poetic exploration of the immigrant experience, of leaving home, of living in a foreign country as an outsider, of love…well….it’s a lot of stuff in a really short book. Read this if you like pretty words.
Pachinko ~ Min Jin Lee (2017)
This is a family saga about a four generations of a Korean family, set in Korea and Japan. I loved it a lot, and you can read more about my thoughts in my review of this one.
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries ~ Kory Stamper (2017)
An editor for a dictionary wrote a book about dictionaries. I liked it so much I bought a dictionary.
Daisy Jones & The Six ~ Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019)
A fictional oral history about a fictional 1970s band. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll are features, but feminism, addiction, love, and family are the real subjects of this book. I couldn’t put this book down.
I considered other books for this list. They’re pretty great. You should check them out too.
- The Bear and the Nightingale ~ Katherine Arden
- The Sisters Brothers ~ Patrick deWitt
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane ~ Neil Gaiman
- Circe ~ Madeline Miller
- Reincarnation Blues ~ Michael Poore
- Station Eleven ~ Emily St. John Mandel
- The Wanderers ~ Meg Howrey
- Lincoln in the Bardo ~ George Saunders
- Noumenon ~ Marina J. Lostetter
- A Gentleman in Moscow ~ Amor Towles
- Eliza and Her Monsters ~ Francesca Zappia
- Empire of the Summer Moon ~ S. C. Gwynne
- At the Mouth of the River of Bees ~ Kij Johnson
- Wise Man’s Fear ~ Patrick Rothfuss
Obviously, I didn’t read every book published this decade. There are many books that I purchased that are still laying in my To-Read pile. It’s entirely probable that there are many books that I would have included in my Top 15 or Honorable Mentions list if I had read them. But I didn’t and this is what I’ve got! Maybe you’ll find some enjoyment from them too!