The Best Books of the 2010s

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

I have never read anything like Annihilation, and to be honest, I don’t know if I ever will again. Vandemeer’s stylish science fiction novel is book one of the Southern Reach Trilogy. Annihilation stands up on its own, but I strongly recommend you read the rest of the trilogy. You may also recognize it from the amazing 2018 adaptation by Alex Garland. Vandermeer builds unique, though somehow familiar, world. Our heroes travel through a postapocalyptic world where fantastic creatures and strange phenomena are inexplicable. The dynamics between the four nameless women traveling through this land on a seemingly doomed expedition are even more fascinating. The story is surreal and sometimes impossible to unpack, but somehow, in the end makes perfect sense.  

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

In this work of art, Isabel Wilkerson tells a great tale from American History — the migration of millions of black Americans from the South to the North and West. Wilkerson brilliantly frames this story through the eyes of three unique people: Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster. This novel truly captures this history form the harrowing journeys out of the South, to the amazing cultural changes they brought with them. The beautiful stories and writing and in-depth research makes this a true historical classic.   

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The unreliable narrator isn’t anything new. From Nabakov to Ken Kesney, it is a tried and true narrative device that has provided us with some of literature’s most memorable villains and heroes. That said, we have never met someone like Amy Dunne. She is profane, infuriating, and careless. Almost a decade later, it is much easier to measure the impact that Gone Girl had. The twist left man critics scratching their heads at the time. Today, it has spun out hundreds of rip-offs. Unlike these cheap imitations, Gone Girl brings up many questions around marriage, womanhood, and being a victim. Flynn surpasses the cliches common with novels like this to create a true American classic.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks went into Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for a biopsy. A few months later, she died of cervical cancer. Unknown to her, researchers stole her cells and created the HeLa cell line, which is the first instance of immortalized human cells. Skloot raises fascinating questions about ethics and privacy in medical research while telling Henrietta’s beautiful story and how her cells have changed the world.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

The Goldfinch is a controversial work – loved by some and hated by others, it is hard to argue that it wasn’t one of the most important books of the 2010s. Alone after the tragic death of his mother, Theo Decker, a 13-year-old child, tries to adjust to a new life. The only connection to his dead mother is a small painting of a goldfinch which will eventually immerse him in the world of art. The novel is 771 pages with a slow pace, so it is not for everyone. If you’re willing to put in the effort, The Goldfinch will not disappoint you.  

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book is one of the most common choices for the best book of the decade. The unsurprisingly Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a masterpiece. Doerr’s writing style is inspiring as he tells the story of a blind French girl who flees Paris to live with her Uncle and Werner, a Nazi collaborator. The fascinating storytelling and unparalleled character development will keep you glued to the page.  

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is a story of lies, secrets, and murder set in Sydney’s beaches. Liane Moriarty weaves together a darkly comic work exploring the overdramatic parenting and conniving politicking one can only find the world’s wealthiest suburbs. It has captured the public’s imagination, to the point that it became one of HBO’s most popular shows of the last decade. 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This Kristin Hannah novel is one of the decade’s best pieces of World War Two Historical fiction. Set in German-occupied France, it tells the tale of two sisters. One is forced to toe the line of collaboration to protect her daughter from the German officer staying with her. The other is compelled to resist the Germans with every ounce of her being. This book is a celebration of women and the human spirit in the face of evil.  

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin made history with three Hugo Award wins for Best Novel three years in a row for the same trilogy. This is the first book of that series. Set in a world racked continuously with catastrophic weather, earthquake, and other events, The Fifth Season tells three women’s stories. A young girl is taken away from and forced to come to terms with her magic powers, a young woman seeing the truth behind her society’s corruption and a mother who’s searching for a child while cataclysmic changes rage over the world. The book will keep you gripped to an exciting final reveal at the end.  

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy is an autobiographical tale of white poverty in Southwestern Ohio. He recounts how disappearing jobs, Hillbilly culture, and ethics his grandparents brought from rural Kentucky, shaped his an many other poor rural American’s lives. Many of Vance’s conclusions are biased because he is one of few who escaped this poverty, the book will open your eyes to many facets of rural poverty. It certainly expanded my horizon.   

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Michelle McNamara’s search for the Golden State Killer is the pinnacle of true crime novels of the 2010s. For years, a murderer and violent serial rapist plagued Northern and Southern California, suddenly disappearing without a trace. Around thirty years later, Michelle McNamara took up the case with an obsessive determination reigniting public interests and eventually leading the arrest of a suspect based on DNA evidence. Sadly, McNamara was never able to see his capture, as she died two years before her husband, Patton Oswald, published her work.  

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Delia Owens tells the story of a Kya Clark, a young girl who was abandoned by her parents and forced to live in Marsh on the coast. Rejected by society, she raises herself with a little help from Tate, a boy who teaches her to read and write. Her loneliness and alienation become too much to bear, manifesting in a desperate desire to connect with other humans.  Where The Crawdad Sing is a heartbreaking, yet inspiring work that is one of the best pieces of fiction of the 2010s.  

A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning book is a work of art. It tells the story of 13 larger-than-life characters connected through Bennie Salazar and his assistant Sasha. It spans from the 1970s to the 2010s, telling a tale of self-destructive characters forced into uncharacteristic and unusual life directions in life. Do yourself a favor, and pick up this book if you haven’t read it.  

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I only recommend this book if you have read Murakami before. This book is one of his least accessible (at first) but proves to be one of his greatest works by the end. Set in Toko in 1984, it follows the story of Aomame, as she unpacks strange changes in the world around her. Quickly, she realizes that she is inside a parallel existence that she dubs 1Q84. Simultaneously, a writer named Tango’s life begins to fall apart as he takes on a new project. As they come together, we learn about all the connections at work that destined their meeting. Part mystery, part romance, part science fiction – 1Q84 is an ambitious and essential piece of literature.  

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A middle-aged man comes home to attend a funeral in Sussex, England. His childhood home is gone, but he finds himself compelled to visit the end of the road. Things come flooding back, revealing a traumatic past that shouldn’t have happened to anyone, let alone a child. Neil Gaiman is an absolute master whose unparalleled understanding of human nature oozes from the pages.   

Alan Behrens

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