BOOKS OF THE DECADE: 2000-2009


PART II OF IV: NOVELS

Some of these are obviously from well before the year 2000, but I only came across them in the last ten years, and hey, it's my list. And I'm strictly sticking to one book per author here, so you'll just have to trust me that such fabulous books as Byatt's The Biographer's Tale and Crace's Quarantine are well worth your time.

 

The Girl in a Swing/ Richard Adams

A pleasant jolt, this one, even for a rabid fan of Watership Down: a perfectly pitched tale of overwhelming love, shot through with increasingly unsettling elements of supernatural horror. Not like anything else I've read.

 

Oryx and Crake/ Margaret Atwood

Possibly the best science fiction novel I've read this decade. Atwood has all the imagination and panache of the genre's best practitioners, but she's also got wicked good prose skills and a keen eye for structure.

 

The Stars My Destination/ Alfred Bester

Good grief. HERE is a book that was ahead of its time. First published in 1956, it seems utterly contemporary: a startling and original tale of interstellar intrigue, with an antihero you'll never forget, told in a style that treats the rules of SF as mild suggestions. Terrific.

                       

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War/ Max Brooks

A simple enough horror story transformed into something great by its structure: using a Studs Terkel-style group of narrators to recount events that haven't happened yet, with a global view of the zombie menace, quirky details, and memorable scenes aplenty.

 

Possession/ A.S. Byatt

A stirring tale of love, literature, and libraries, with gorgeous faux-Victorian poetry and mysteries of research galore. This is not only a gem of a book, but one that came very close to making me turn, when I had finished, to read all 500+ pages again immediately.

 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay/ Michael Chabon

I had a tough time picking between this and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, but my love of the four-color universe gives this one the edge: a rich and satisfying tale of two immigrants creating that most American of art, the super-hero comic.

 

Being Dead/ Jim Crace

A gorgeous, heart-rending account of two parts of a couple's life together: what happens after their murder in the dunes, and the long path through life that they followed to that end. Stunning in structure, rich in characterization, gorgeous in prose.

 

Little, Big/ John Crowley

A delightful, sprawling, wistful, disturbing dream of a book, so full of rich details that they nearly spill out of the covers. Fantastic in every sense of the word, and perhaps the best-ever book at capturing both the fear and wonder inherent in the word "fairy tale."

 

Middlesex/ Jeffrey Eugenides

A deeply personal story that covers decades and continents and oceans, all of it revolving around the astonishing, unlikely figure of Cal, whose life itself sprawls over multiple genders and cultures. If John Irving had written Orlando, it might look something like this.

 

The Graveyard Book/ Neil Gaiman

I've loved so many of his past writings that it seems almost sacrilegious to say it, but this may be Gaiman's best book yet: alternately nightmarish, soothing, sad, and hopeful, it says things about death (and life) that ring completely true, even if they never happened.

 

High Fidelity/ Nick Hornby

If you have ever gotten into an argument about the world's best bass player or written a top-ten list--ahem--this book is for you. A funny, exasperating, and wholly believable novel about negotiating the shoals of pop culture, romance, and adulthood.

 

The Lecturer's Tale/ James Hynes

The center of one of the best discussions ever at Readerville, Hynes' tale of an adjunct professor given magical powers is both a hysterically funny satire of academia and a grand statement about identity. Creative, witty, and utterly fearless in its execution.

 

The Debt to Pleasure/ John Lanchester

A complete surprise, this: a tale of Epicureanism and crime, gorgeously rendered in near-Nabokovian prose from the point of view of a narrator that old Vlad might well have been happy to create. Check it out.

 

The Dispossessed/ Ursula K. Le Guin

Yes, it's a mid-70s examination of politics and culture that obviously has its roots in the Cold War, but it's lost none of its potency today. Le Guin's anthropological insights and speculations have never been framed more perfectly, and her world-building remains peerless.

 

The Fortress of Solitude/ Jonathan Lethem

A tale of city life, friendship, family trials, and 1970s boyhood with all the trappings, but one whose rich detail is accompanied by a startling turn toward the fantastic. Lethem's imagination is always at peak form, but his strongest narrative weapon here is his memory.

 

The Road/ Cormac McCarthy

It ain't cheerful, but you're unlikely to find a more beautifully rendered tale of life after the apocalypse than this one. McCarthy's stylistic quirks can be off-putting for some, but his depictions of life's moral and physical extremes make them insignificant.

 

Enduring Love/ Ian McEwan

Yes, the title sounds like a made-for-TV movie, but don't be fooled: this is a superb book. In the aftermath of a bizarre balloon accident, an ordinary man's life is turned upside-down by another man's seeming fascination with him. Creepy, powerful stuff.

 

Lamb/ Christopher Moore

The subtitle, "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal," tells you it's a comedy based (loosely) on the New Testament, but not that it's creative, loving, and even respectful of its subject. God knows it shouldn't work, but it does.

 

Lolita/ Vladimir Nabokov

The prose. Oh, the prose. Even if the characters weren't rich and believable and the story of Humbert Humbert's obsession completely convincing, there would still be that thrilling, gorgeous prose. It's enough to make you give up writing forever, knowing you will never write anything this good.

 

Pale Fire/ Vladimir Nabokov

And yes, I'm violating my one-book-per-author rule, because it's Nabokov, dammit, and this fantastic story of a poet, his self-appointed literary executor, and the hallucinatory tale of politics and assassination that surrounds them simply can't be left off this list.

 

Nation/ Terry Pratchett

Freed from the constraints of the Discworld, Pratchett delivers a home run: the saga of a young boy whose island home is devastated by a tsunami, and the choices he and the ragtag survivors must make to preserve their way of life. Hilarious and thoughtful, as usual.

 

Housekeeping/ Marilynne Robinson

The perfect book for a grey and rainy afternoon. Robinson's account of a small town, a railroad disaster, and an unconventional family is one you'll remember for a long, long time, even when it's sunny out.

 

The Terror/ Dan Simmons

It's a historical novel of the bold mariners called to explore the polar reaches! It's a bloodcurdling tale of supernatural horror! It's two great tastes that taste great together, featuring a single action sequence that loses no steam over 25 pages. Read it! Read it!

 

Cryptonomicon/ Neal Stephenson

Imagine hyperactive triplets spawned by the unholy union of a WWII epic and a cyberpunk novel: a shy codebreaker wrestling with Nazi secrets, a computer jockey trying to create a data haven, and a Marine trying to win the war in the Pacific. Have fun!

 

Triangle/ Katharine Weber

I spent much of this decade at Karen Templer's Readerville.com, where I met many wonderful people who write wonderful novels, and I simply can't fit all of them on this list. I can mention The Book of Dead Birds by Gayle Brandeis, Wonder When You'll Miss Me by Amanda Davis, The Midwife's Tale by Gretchen Laskas, In Open Spaces by Russell Rowland, More Like Wrestling by Danyel Smith, Spilling Clarence by Anne Ursu, and Sleep Toward Heaven by Amanda Eyre Ward, but I know I'll have left someone off, so I need one book to serve as a capstone for the whole bunch. That book is Katharine's wonderful, heart-rending story of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and those still caught up in its ramifications today, much as I remain caught up in Readerville after its demise. If you read it and love it as much as I did, give some of these other Readervilleans' books a try.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on January 4, 2010 12:36 PM.

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