First I want to preface this post by saying that I know the topic is hardly original; similar articles and listicles will be written soon – if they haven’t already. Hit me up with those links once they’re available because what a decade it’s been for books and I’m sure I’ll forget tonnes of stuff. Just quickly, I can think back to the start of the ’10s with the collapse of Borders. Some independent bookstores have struggled to survive (some haven’t), while others continue to thrive. Like libraries, many bookstores have transformed themselves into being community hubs or cultural centres, hosting events or even miniature festivals on top of regular-book launches. It’s also been the decade of ebooks solidifying their place and, even more tellingly, audiobooks coming through to secure their share of the market. It’s been the decade I’ve certainly opened myself up to both options. The former is handy because shelf space in this house is harder to come by than ever and the latter even more so when I’m training for long-distance runs or when my eyesight plays up.
I’ll also mention that this end-of-decade retrospect is going to neatly dovetail into a thirties as-it-was recap. I was born in December 1978. (That used to make me baby Gen X-er, but I don’t know what I am anymore? Still Gen X? Gen Y?) So the 2010s overlays with my thirties quite well. So with that in mind, these picks might end up being thematic or have certain parallels. For ease, I’ll break them down into imperfect categories. And as you’ll discover, these books are my favourite reads of the decade, but that doesn’t mean they were all first published then.
Picture Books & Children’s Books
This is also the decade when the kids became independent readers, although I still read their favourites to them on occasion (on my request, because I still enjoy it!). Lucky their favourites are also my own, especially Jon Klassen’s Hat Trilogy (just released in a fancy box set – ooh!). In case you’re not familiar with them the trilogy includes these titles I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat and We Found a Hat. They are clever and funny and just a delight.
Another favourite, which Riley is coincidentally studying for school at the moment, is Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. Over dinner the other night, we talked about books that have made me cry while (a topic that can wait for another day!) and this one came to mind. I read it not long after dad died, so I daresay that increased its resonance.
This is tricky. I can rattle off the names my favourite poets, but thinking about particular collections gets complicated. (Not to mention classifications; for example, a verse novel is below.) I was really impressed with Not Fox Nor Axe by Chloe Wilson, and The Hazards by Sarah Holland-Batt deservedly won the Winner 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Poetry. My friend Anna Ryan-Punch’s Night Fishing is terrific.
The title I can’t add to this list, no matter how much I want to (although that would make this case open and shut if I was picking an overall winner), is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. But my records show I finished that at the end of 2009. It missed by a whisker! Other notable books include classics I’ve long meant to read, like The Quiet American by Graham Greene, or accidental finds like The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones which led me to Mr Pip. I still think about The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan a lot and have yet to shake off Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woollett.
This was the decade of the soul-punching A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, Eimear McBride’s riveting The Lesser Bohemians, the intelligent, observant The Blazing World by Siri Husdvedt and a brutal vision of Australia as portrayed in Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook (which could count as historical fiction?). Other favourites came from the young adult realm, most especially The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Turning my attention to short story collections, I loved Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy, The High Places by Fiona McFarlane and A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan (although I know the last title is generally considered a novel).
Memoir / Nonfiction
First of all, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall was one of my surprise, happy discoveries of the decade and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in running – and even if you don’t, it’s entertaining, curious and compassionate. Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking motivated me to try crowdfunding a project (which succeeded – that’s how On The Many Shapes Bodies Will Take came into being).
This was the decade I caught up on some of the greats – for example, I finally understood the fandom of writers such as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. And I think The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson is, simply, stunning.
If I had to choose, this was my most significant genre for reading in the 2010s. I discovered icons such as Shirley Jackson and caught up on classics like Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, the delightful romp The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and the bleak On The Beach by Nevil Shute. Michel Faber features twice, first with his vision of an extraterrestrial on earth kidnapping hitchhikers in Under the Skin and then the story of a missionary in space in The Book of Strange New Things.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders features a grieving Abraham Lincoln and is one of those kinds of books that left me with a lump in my throat the whole time I was reading it.
From the Wreck by Jane Rawson still has me double-checking any kind of ink or pen mark whenever I find one on my skin.
Finally, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood is a seminal achievement.
What was your favourite book(s) of this decade?
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