Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Best Books of the Decade?

The Times featured its The 100 Best Books of the Decade, including both fiction and non-fiction titles.* I guess the titles are arranged in reverse order of wonderfulness - and these are the final five :

5 Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (2006)
Its astonishing rediscovery more than 40 years after Nemirovsky’s death in Auschwitz should not overshadow that the two novellas here are miniature masterpieces. In the first the veneer of civilisation is stripped from a group of Parisians fleeing the advancing Germans, while the second is a moving tale of forbidden love across the divide of war.

4 Masterworks of the Classical Haida Mythtellers trans Robert Bringhurst (2002) One hundred years ago Ghandl and Skaay, two great native poets of the northwest coast of Canada, spoke their stories aloud; Bringhurst’s translations and analysis bring a lost world brilliantly to life.

3 Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama (2004)
The book that revealed Barack Obama as not just an ambitious politician, but also as an eloquent writer and deep thinker. The fascinating story of his early life, first published in 1995, was reissued in 2004 and became a worldwide bestseller as momentum for the presidency built.

2 Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2003)
With its feisty, irresistible heroine and shapely, naive style, Satrapi’s comic-book account of her childhood during the Islamic Revolution in Iran is hugely enjoyable — and an essential, humanising eye-opener on a little-understood country. From an interview with Oprah Winfrey, 2007

1 The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Cormac McCarthy’s gripping, shattering novel walks in a long line of tradition. Mary Shelley tried her hand at the literature of post-apocalypse with The Last Man, published in 1826; Russell Hoban’s 1980 novel, Riddley Walker, sets the aftermath of doom in Canterbury. The Road’s wilderness — coming to the cinema in January — is an American one: blasted, ruined, destroyed by an unnamed calamity that has scorched the Earth with biblical fury and lit McCarthy’s prose with holy fire. In this awful landscape walk a father and his young son, treading towards a future where it would seem there could be none.

McCarthy has always been a poet of extremity; his earlier novels stripped romance from the myth of the frontier. The Road is stripped back even farther, its father and son the near-sole survivors of what might be called humanity; the book’s narrative is simply that of their survival. There are respites from their suffering —- a cache or two of unspoilted tinned food —- but more often there is horror; this is existence pared to the bone. For this reason, it is McCarthy’s language that must carry the book, and so it does, triumphantly, its Hemingway-like concision shot through with cadences that sometimes recall the sprung rhythms of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The Road is our book of the decade; but it will outlast that judgment, too. It is a work of force and dark brilliance, a perfect expression of the early 21st-century’s terrors —- and of the hope we must all have that we shall not destroy ourselves, nor yet be destroyed.

Like all lists it is an Aunt Sally, I suppose, put up to be knocked down, and there is indeed some interesting dissent in the readers' comments. The paper also features a five worst list which makes me sad because I actually really enjoyed Vernon God Little.

Is The Road the book of the decade? For me, I think it could be. I've never been so haunted or disturbed by a work of fiction as I've said before.

Sarah Crowne on The Guardian blog is also in search of readers' choices for the books of the decade, beginning with 2000 (which - help - feels just like yesterday.)

Good Reads has a best of the decade list for fiction based on reader votes.

And no doubt there will be more, and if so, I will update this post later.

But anyway, the important thing is, what do YOU think?

*(Hint - spread over 17 pages this is a tiresome online read, so click the PRINT button and read it from the print preview.)


lishun said...

the list on good reads certainly looks like a layperson's list, although i can't help but suspect most of the voters are in their early 20s! lol. i can't believe i haven't read "the road" yet. the things medical school does to you...sigh.

C said...

I think two books that really were inspiring are The Oath by Khassan Baieve and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.

Stefania - The Italian Backpacker said...

I didn't know the expression "Aunt Sally", thank you.
I'll Aunt Sally the list: I've read "Persepolis, it's a nice book and quite funny but I don't think it should be considered the second best of the decade. I should check where's "White Teeth" in the list, that's definitely one I'll put in my Aunt Sally list!

Oxymoron said...

Sharon, how about sharing YOUR list of best books?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the list Sharon...now to figure out which ones go on my reading shelf!

Chet said...

Guardian's list of top 100 books of all time is determined from a vote by 100 noted writers from 54 countries.