Author: Peter Matthews
For anyone who enjoys reading, being asked to name your favourite book from the last ten years would be quite a challenge.
For starters, there are books we pick up for different reasons – to escape from your daily commute, because your best friend told you it will be the best thing you’ll read all year, or so you can compare it to that film adaptation that’s just come out.
And while you may fall in love with a book for one reason or another, the next person who reads it may feel indifferent about what you thought was moving and inspiring. Or, it may turn out that your friend’s recommendation wasn’t so great after all.
When Spear’s asked ten readers, ranging from fiction buyers, award judges and critics, what their favourites were, we thought there may be some crossovers. However, what we got was ten recommendations of very different stories. Some made the readers laugh out loud, others brought pangs of sadness when the story came to an end – but all had one thing in common: they stuck in the readers’ minds as among the best books they have ever read.
From award-winning authors to writers whose novels have made it onto the big screen – a film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron was released in 2009 – our list of the best ten books of the decade features everything from humour in David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, horror in Peter May’s crime novel The Blackhouse and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, and love in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.
Families and relationships are explored in Edmund de Waal’s memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes and A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard, while at the centre of McCarthy’s The Road is a father and son’s struggle in the post-apocalyptic world.
Roth’s second title on the list, Nemesis, delves into human experience with the story of a teacher dealing with a wartime polio epidemic, while Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic follows the story of Japanese ‘picture brides’, who were sent to pre-war America in the hundreds, only to find disappointment and struggles. Meanwhile, George Saunders’ Tenth of December collection includes stories that explore class, sex, love, loss, work, despair and war.
While the majority of the books recommended are set in the United States, these take on very different parts of the country. Whereas Wallace’s “wildly funny and moving” novel is about trainee accountants in the city of Peoria, Illinois, Saunders’ short stories are mostly in small-town settings, and Roth’s The Plot Against America is at the centre of political America – the White House.
May’s The Blackhouse takes us to the other side of the globe for a story that uses the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides as the setting for a journey of exploring and confronting a dark past, while Vienna and Paris feature in The Hare With Amber Eyes, which follows the story of de Waal’s family in the 20th century.
In The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, readers are transported to the Far East, to the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay, which used to connect Japan with the western world until the end of the 18th century. Here, David Mitchell tells a love story set against a backdrop of confrontation between the east and west.
Meanwhile, in Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic, the ‘picture brides’ leave behind Japan in anticipation of the American dream – only to discover on their arrival in San Francisco that the pictures of their husbands are 20 years old.
Here is our list – what would you add?