At the beginning of the decade I was a twenty-one-year-old graduating from university with an English degree and about to embark on a rather non-linear path to writer and editor. To say I read a lot of books during that time would be a massive understatement. But the truth is, I didn’t read even more, which is the always the problem with being a voracious reader. So many books, so little time—even in a decade.
So, in order to brush up on the ones I maybe missed, I asked several just-as-voracious readers their own top picks from the last ten years, and I’ll be kicking off my 2020 reading list by adding all of them (yes, I only have managed to read one of these books) to my growing list of must-read books. My own favourite of the decade? I managed to narrow it down to two (no easy feat.) so please add Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey and Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper to your lists as well.
Keep reading for 7 of the best books of the last decade as chosen by big readers:
Anne T. Donahue, author of the Bestseller Nobody Cares
Admittedly, Wild didn’t register on my radar when it dropped in 2012. I don’t hike, I don’t camp, and I’m judgemental so when I saw the hiking boot on the cover, I made the egregious assumption it wasn’t for me. But, like most things I take a hard stance against for no real reason, I was wrong. Wild quickly morphed from a memoir I was sure I’d feel distant from into a book that completely consumed me. Cheryl Strayed’s experiences with grief, with self-destruction, and her journey to finding her way back to herself are so profound, so affecting, and so generously told that it’s impossible to come away from her book unchanged and unchallenged. Her writing is so honest and so beautiful, and I’d be lying if I said Wild didn’t give me the courage to deal with my own shit and write the best way I know how.
Melissa Perri, public relations manager at Indigo
“I’ve never felt so compelled to immediately reread a book until meeting Daisy Jones and the Six. Centred around a fictional 70s rock band and its rise to fame, it was one of the most interesting stories I’ve read to date, and by far my favourite of the decade. Written as an oral history tell-all, the format is refreshing and immerses you in the lives of strong, believable characters with complex relationships. This book is perfect for fans of A Star is Born or anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the music industry. Taylor Jenkins Reid is an incredible storyteller and I can’t wait for her next one.”
Marissa Stapley, bestselling author of The Last Resort
“Hands down, my favourite book of the decade is The Mothers by Britt Bennett. I loved The Mothers because it reaffirmed for me, in so many ways, the magic of books. First, the way I came to read it was magical: I bought it to take with me on a tropical holiday and had been looking forward to reading it for ages. But then, somehow, I forgot the book at home! I was as despondent about this as only a true book lover (addict?) can be. As I trudged to the beach on the first day of holiday with my second choice book in hand, I even considered the possibility that my entire trip was ruined. And then, behold, there it was in the resort’s version of a little free library, tucked in amongst the Danielle Steeles, Dan Browns and Tom Clancys: the very book I had been wanting to read, as if it had been left there for me by my very own bookish fairy godmother. I devoured it in a day, not moving from the beach bed, but the absolute perfection of the circumstances under which I read it are not why I loved The Mothers so much. I read a lot, and forget many of the books I read. I will never forget the way I felt reading this one, I will never forget the characters names — Nadia, Luke, Aubrey — and I will never forget the way Bennett captured the universal experience of being a teenager, of the perils and allure of love, sex and friendship, but through a lens that was new to me. It made me realize that the need for more diverse books in literature was not simply a matter of fairness or duty to our fellow humans, not simply a matter of calling upon the literary world to finally become an actual reflection of the world at large. It made me realize what I had been missing, what we had all been missing, when we reached only for books on familiar topics by familiar authors. It is safe to say The Mothers changed my reading life. And it is also safe to say The Mothers is one of the most profound and gorgeous explorations of motherhood, community, friendship and coming of age I have ever read. If I close my eyes, I can still picture the final scene, even six years after reading it. I’ve read it twice, and I never reread books. Just writing about it now makes me want to read it again. So I think I’ll go do that now.”
Cindy Ma, book publicist
“Mairead Case’s See You in the Morning is a marvel. It’s a gorgeous and big-hearted novella about three young people who spend a summer growing up, finding themselves, and taking care of each other the best that they can, in both expansive and mundane ways, because that’s what you do for the people you love. It’s a very intimate slice-of-life book, and every word and detail feels like it was chosen with such care. This is the book I’ve literally purchased almost a dozen times to give to people in my life in hopes that it could mean as much to them as it does to me. This is also the book I’ll forever be jealous of anyone reading for the first time.”
Andrea Karr, freelance writer
“While it’s incredibly hard for me to pick a favourite book from the past year, much less the past decade, I’ve decided to choose The Power because it covers a series of topics that defined the spirit of the 2010s: women’s rights, sexual abuse and what the world might look like if women were in charge. The story imagines an alternate present where women develop the ability to release electrical jolts from their fingertips, which gives them physical strength over men and allows them to usurp power. I love the supernatural element, and it’s cathartic to read about the punishment of abusers and authoritarians. Ultimately, though, the book questions the belief that women are naturally calm, nurturing caregivers and explores the idea that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Add it to your booklist if you love a story with an agenda.
Honourable mentions: Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (2012), A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2012), The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013), The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)”
Yeldah Yousfi, blogging at Beautiful Bibliophile
“Honestly, there are so many books I’ve read in the last decade and to pick a favourite one was quite difficult. Going through my mind, one of the first book that clicked with this answer was Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I normally don’t read many memoirs, but this book ended up being my favourites (not only the year it came out in 2016) but for the decade. I listened to the audiobook again at the end of the year and it reminded me why I loved it so much!
I just couldn’t put this book down. There are many moments of comedy gold (that come across even better on audio, but still drew out-loud laughter when I read them in print) and lots of insight into what it was like growing up in South Africa under the later years of apartheid, and after its end (that many people still don’t know about). It’s a book about important issues in a country that has, throughout history, largely been portrayed through the eyes of white journalists and writers, but it’s also such a warm, lovable, funny book in many ways. Honestly, one of the best memoirs I have ever read not only this decade, but probably my life.”
Sara Cation, writer and editor
“I don’t want to cop out and say that the greatest book I read this decade was one of my most recent reads, but Heather O’Neill’s Lonely Hearts Hotel keeps coming to mind. A portrait of Montreal in the 1930s, the narrative is built on the most beautiful tension. It’s a happy-sad love story about orphans who are soulmates but grow up struggling against addiction and despair. Together, they build a world of whimsy in the face of the Great Depression, culminating in the greatest circus show the city’s ever seen. Lonely Hearts Hotel takes readers on an emotional journey that’s at once devastating and delightful. It’ll warm your heart then break it—but its lyrical prose will seem to soften the blow.”
(Story by Contributing Editor, Alexandra Donaldson)