Some of my favorite books of the decade

Gilligans-Wake-BAll these books-of-the-year and books-of-the-decade lists are out now. I’m too far behind on ’09 to make any sort of guess about what book I liked most. But I can feel some coalescence about the decade by just looking around my study. If a book stuck around from my circa-2000 apartment and made it here to my 140 square-foot retreat in 2005, and is still here today, it must’ve meant I thought it was a pretty freakin’ good read. Here are faves from the ’00s, I think. I’m sure I’ve left something out, likely because I gave my copy away to someone else to read. There has to be more to this list, and I’ll realize later “Oh, no, I left off [blank]!” but I also like the pop-quiz nature of this blog post, on which I’ll spend no more than 15 minutes throwing together a list. No particular order…


“Harbor,” by Lorraine Adams. Best 9/11-era novel, in my opinion, and really gripping. Also, if you’ll notice (which you shouldn’t), fantastically researched and reported.

“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” by Michael Chabon. More like this, please, and less of Chabon mucking around on collaborative comic books, children mysteries, unfilmed screenplays and essays about fatherhood. Get to work, genius.

• “Gilligan’s Wake,” by Tom Carson. The 20th century as reimagined through the prism of TV’s castaways. I am a freak about this book. I think it is amazing and re-read it every couple years.

• “American Wife,” by Curtis Sittenfeld. I know, I know — enough with the Hank/Curtis lovefest, but I think this is a brilliant, towering novel by a writer who is really going to last. (“Prep,” too!)

• “Everything is Illuminated,” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Hard to not be jealous of this one.

• “Home Land,” by Sam Lipsyte.

• “Pastoralia,” by George Saunders.

• “March,” by Geraldine Brooks. Still gobsmacked by how good this one was. (Also her “Year of Wonders.”)

• “The Blind Assassin,” by Margaret Atwood.

• “Dear American Airlines,” by Jonathan Miles. Heartbreaking and hilarious. Made even better by the fact I read it on a nice vacation.

• “Lying Awake,” by Mark Salzman. Gorgeously spare novel about cloistered nuns. Amazing. I still laugh about the sin of “wasting Joy.”

• “Shopgirl,” by Steve Martin. The movie was kinda meh, but the first time I read this, I thought it was so beautiful. I still do.

• “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy. On the afternoon I finished it, I just stared at the ceiling for an hour and mourned for a world that was not yet technically gone, but felt gone. That’s what I call good.


• “Nickel and Dimed,” by Barbara Ehrenreich, a shining example of two things, I think: morally conscious journalism and hilariously illuminating feature writing.

• “The Woman at the Washington Zoo,” by Marjorie Williams, someone who has been dead almost five years and whose work I still hear about (or think about) all the time.

• “Where I Was From,” by Joan Didion. She finally became household-namous in 2005 by writing about her husband’s death (“The Year of Magical Thinking”), but I think this book, two years earlier, was better — it’s about the death of her California notions and ideas.

• “The Good Soldiers,” by David Finkel. Yes, he’s a friend, so part of how heartbreaking this book is to read is — for me — knowing just a little about how much it took out of him to do. Glad to see it on so many “best books of the year” lists, because it certainly belongs there. (And while we’re on the subject of friends’ books, I still go back and look at what Ann Gerhart did in “The Perfect Wife,” a biography of Laura Bush, when she had absolutely no help from the subject and the complicated circles of people around the subject. What emerges is an altogether different sort of book that did not always get its due. I think this book explains in a whole other way how strange the Bush years were to our culture, and where it all came from. Without this book, there’d be no “American Wife” [see above].)
• Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic, by Robert Lanham. It looks like one of those jokey humor books you find at Urban Outfitters. But I’m telling you, this is Audubon-level scientific/sociological work. Absolutely right, totally true, and yes, hilarious.
• “The Whole Equation” by David Thomson (and also his “Nicole Kidman”). I’m late to the game when it comes to savoring Thomson’s film writing, but I really do.

• “Pictures at a Revolution,” by Mark Harris. Loved this book, which was well-assembled and fascinating and not only explains a lot about our movie culture, but scintillates the ’60s as well. (The actual ‘6os, and not “the Sixties,” if you know what I mean.)

• “The Beatles,” by Bob Spitz. I read someplace that the original draft of this book was twice as long as the 800 pages that were published. I would have happily kept going. It’s still amazing, after all these decades, to have the story of the Beatles told in a linear way.

• “Heat,” by Bill Buford. You don’t have to care about cooking or Italy. This is just an amazing work of reporting and synthesis and good writing.

• “Dog Man,” by Martha Sherrill. Made me cry. Such a strangely inviting and determined little book about living and aging in a faraway place.

• “The Fabulous Sylvester” by Joshua Gamson. I think this book has one of the most amazing opening chapters I’ve ever read. And I’ve never read such a compelling biography of such a marginalized celebrity. An excellent book made possible by deep, deep reporting from primary sources.


  1. Nance on December 13, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    I haven’t read nearly enough of these. I’m headed to the library with your list, just as soon as I finish “Chronic City.”

  2. tom shroder on December 14, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Geez, that’s about the number of books TOTAL, I’ve read in the decade.

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