Thursday, January 14, 2010

books of the decade

I’ve been fighting the urge to post a list so close on the heels of another list. That said, January is a “listy” time of year, what with making resolutions and refreshing the “to-do” lists. But, here we go: At some point during my vacation in Princeton, I realized that we were upon the end of a decade. Yes, I’m late to the “close out the aughts” party, but I’ve been hunkered down as an art student with nary a moment to come up for breath. A breath that would allow me to see what I’m missing while mired in deadlines and revisions. Yes, I missed all those fun end-of-the-decade lists of best music, best books, best movies. And I think it’s okay because, as an inveterate list-maker, those round-ups would have driven me to the brink of insanity, if I wasn’t there already. Yet I decided to make my own favorite books of the decade, which was relatively easy to do. I just dipped into the black Filofax where I have recorded my reading habits since 1993. Someday, I’d like to marry this list with the one I started in 1984.

Between the dawn of the millennium until the last day of 2009, I finished close to 400 books (395, to be precise). I don’t keep track of abandoned books, even if I almost finished reading them. Imposing a little discipline to my crazy is sometimes necessary. I love maintaining these lists because they are a great reminder of what I was up to. In the last decade, I had four jobs, one of which had a book group that met over the lunch hour. I had two babies in 2000 and distinctly remember cradling Simon while he napped, reading Mark Kurlansky’s A Basque History of the World. After I left Holtzbrinck in 2000, freeing me to read whatever book struck my fancy but obligating me to purchase my own books, I got the first library card of my adult life. When I see Linda Greenlaw’s fabulous Lobster Chronicles on the list, I’m transported to our first magical trip to Maine. Likewise, Alan Bennett’s subversive Uncommon Reader was devoured on a plane to New York City for a whirlwind weekend of museums and food, while Vincent Lam’s quiet Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures was read in a bright window at Vesuvio’s in San Francisco, channeling the ghosts of Kerouac and Ginsburg. Tony Bourdain’s Cook’s Tour (2002) began an obsession with Thomas Keller and The French Laundry. And the countless books that I have read with the Storknet gals or with my book group trigger warm feelings of community that share the love of reading.

A few statistics:
First book finished in the decade: Galileo’s Daughter (Dava Sobel, read for book group)
Last book of the decade: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson)
First book checked out on the first library card of my adult life: Two Moons (Thomas Mallon)
Books by men: 179
Books by women: 216
Nonfiction: 113
Fiction: 182

And now, my favorite books, by year, in no particular order. What constitutes a favorite books? Anything I'd press on someone else to read or that I would re-read in a heartbeat. Clearly, some years were better reading years than others! 

2000: Catfish and Mandala (Pham), Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri), Bee Season (Myla Goldberg), The Fig Eater (Shields)

2001: Operating Instructions (Anne Lamott), Being Dead (Jim Crace), A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson), In a Sunburned Country (Bill Bryson), The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen), White Teeth (Zadie Smith), Up in the Air (Walter Kirn), Personal History (Katherine Graham), Lecturer's Tale (James Hynes)

2002: The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien), A Beautiful Mind (Sylvia Nasar), Atonement (Ian McKewn), Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

2003: Empire Falls (Richard Russo), The Quiet American (Graham Green), The Two Towers (JRR Tolkien), Soul of a Chef (Michael Ruhlman), The Singular Pilgrim (Rosemary Mahoney), Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde), Lobster Chronicles (Liinda Greenlaw), Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi), Bel Canto (Ann Patchett), Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs (Alexandra Fuller), Saul and Patsy (Baxter)

2004: Naked from Baghdad (Paul Auster), Long Quiet Highway (Goldberg), The Photography (Penelope lively), Miles from Nowhere (Savage), Three Junes (Glass), Candyfreak (Steve Almond), Cook’s Tour (Tony Bourdain), Bangkok 8 (John Burdett), Swimming to Antarctica (Lynne Cox), Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

2005: Gilead (Marilynne Robinson), Polysyllabic Spree (Nick Hornby), Man Walks into a Room (Nicola Krauss), Saturday (Ian McKewn), Nice, Big American Baby (Judy Budnitz)

2006: The World to Come (Dara Horn), Toast (Nigel Slater), Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton), Calcutta Chromosome (Amitav Ghosh), Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Iishiguro), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark), My Life in France (Julia Child), The Big Oyster (Mark Kurlansky), Housekeeping vs. The Dirt (Nick Hornby), Girl in Landscape (Jonathan Lethem)

2007: Shadow of the Wind (Zafon), Henry Huggins (Beverly Cleary), Fieldwork (Mischa Berlinski), Girls of Slender Means (Muriel Spark), Astrid and Veronika (Linda Olsson), Brief History of the Dead (Kevin Brockmeier), Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert), The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon), The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion), The Places in Between (Arthur Phillips), Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie), Uncommon Reader (Alan Bennett), Feeding a Yen (Calvin Trillin)

2008: What Is the What (Dave Eggers), Service Included (Pheobe Damrosch), Sunday Philospher’s Club (Alexander McCall Smith), Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan), Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Winifred Watson), Death at La Fenice (Donna Leon), Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper (Fuchsia Dunlop), Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris), Hens Dancing (Raffaella Barker), Homer Price (Robert McCloskey), Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick), Gumbo Tales (Sara Roahen), French Milk (Lucy Knisley)

2009: Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris), Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates), Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman), Script and Scribble (Kittey Burns Florey), Acqua Alta (Donna Leon), Beat the Reaper (Josh Bazell), Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz), Case Histories (Kate Atkinson), How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff), Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons), Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John leCarre), Elephanta Suite (Paul Theroux), Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins), Mysteries of Pittsburgh (Michael Chabon), Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson)


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