Books of the Noughties

I feel a little like all I have been doing of late is compiling lists. If it wasn’t the two lists for best books of 2009 for next week, or books for 2010 for both work (I now have the books page in the magazine hoorah) and for the blog then it was shopping lists for the family Christmas presents, even though not seeing most of them till the end of January, and the never ending Christmas food fest shopping list. This is the list that has proved the most difficult.

I will admit that it’s really only since 2006 that my reading got out of hand. It’s interesting that that was also a year where escapism was the thing that I needed the most, it wasn’t the happiest year – well until I met The Converted One – a long bad relationship ended and I had a rather huge health scare all in all not the best. Yet the positive that came out of that year, roughly from February on, was that I utterly embraced my love for books again. I had been reading but maybe one book every month or so.

Now you would think in the nearly four years its been I wouldn’t have read that many of ‘the books of the noughties’ but this list has taken ages, books have been fighting with each other its been carnage. I have always preferred contemporary fiction to classics (though this has changed rather a lot this year) looking back over my blog and pre-blog ‘books I have read’ lists which I compile each year I have actually consumed quite a few though not all the big contenders I have seen in the papers. So bearing in mind I haven’t read every great book since 2000 (not that we will all agree on the great books since then, Cloud Atlas for example which I loathed) here are the books that made my top ten of the noughties with their blurbs, I could write a paragraph on each of them but am a) listed out and b) I loved them end of…

The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. His disappearances are spontaneous and his experiences are alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s passionate love for each other with grace and humour. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. “The Road” boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Small Island – Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. Murakami’s new novel is at once a classic tale of quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is an entertainment of a very high order.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character. As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

Laura Chase’s older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister’s tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one; while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama. 

Atonement – Ian McEwan

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

This is the story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of grandeur) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. Suddenly at the age of 12, Augusten found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian house in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients and a paedophile living in the garden shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules or school. The Christmas tree stayed up until Summer and valium was chomped down like sweets. When things got a bit slow, there was always the ancient electroshock therapy machine under the stairs.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusack

Here is a small fact – you are going to die. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – Death will visit the book thief three times.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley

The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century’s signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Nancy, the scalding wit who parlayed her family life into bestselling novels. Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home. Debo, who adored pleasure and fun, and found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life. Jessica, the runaway, a communist and fighter for social change. The Mitfords became myth in their own time: the great wits and beauties of their age, they were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people. Virtually spanning the century, these letters between the sisters — alternately touching and explosive — constitute a superb social chronicle, and explore with disarming intimacy their shifting relationships. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontes has a single family written so much about themselves, or been so written about. Their letters are widely recognized to contain the best of their writing. Mosley, Diana’s niece, will select from an archive of 18,000, to which she has exclusive access.

So that is your lot, not necessarily in order as it changes every hour or so. As I said lots of books fought for the top ten spot and I could easily have added The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Child 44, What Was Lost, On Chesil Beach, The Kite Runner, Notes on a Scandal, The Secret Scripture and many many more. A top 40 would have been good but might have been somewhat excessive. It has made me think how difficult doing this in 2020 will be considering I read so much more now. Anyway, this is my list in all its (some of you may think questionable) glory. What are your top books of the noughties? Oh and what do we call the next decade, the tensies, the teens?

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20 Comments

Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Augusten Burroughs, Charlotte Mosley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Marcus Zusack, Margaret Atwood

20 responses to “Books of the Noughties

  1. Great choices. Many of them I haven’t read yet but Atonement is definitely a favourite and anything by Atwood is wonderful.. at least the ones I’ve read. I have the Mitford letters but I only read a bit at at a time. I’m overwhelmed by it’s size.

    Have a Merry Christmas Simon!!!

    • I think you are right Mrs B, I dont think so far I have read a bad Atwood book, I wonder if I ever will? I think its highly unlikely.

      The Mitford Letters is just AMAZING and one everyone should read. I love, love, loved it back in 2008 it was my book of the year!

      Merry Christmas to you too!!

  2. I’d defo agree on Time Traveler’s Wife…it’s hard casting my mind back ten years, considering when we entered the ‘noughties I was only 13! So long ago!

    I haven’t read most of the ones you list but I want to…especially The Road.

    Merry Christmas Simon!

    • You were 13!!! Oh how it is to be young. I cant believe I was almost 18 thats quite scary. I thought I was so grown up back then hahaha.

      The Road is very good, very dark and very bleak. Am planning on seeing the movie though apparently they have added a relationship into it which considering the book is about a father and son seems a little odd. If they get it right the film will be moving but bloody scary!

  3. Oh, there is The Mitfords again. Cornflower was talking about this just this week. The only book on your cool list here that I have not read. And it is calling to me. Looks like such fun.

    • I am going to have to repeat myself because you all must be made to know… The Mitford Letters is just AMAZING and one everyone should read. I love, love, loved it back in 2008 it was my book of the year! Sorry but the message needs to be sent to you all and often hehe!

  4. Excellent list if I may say so myself! I have TTW and Running with Scissors are both on various lists for my challenges next year, and I do have Kafka on my Kindle, patiently waiting for me! Thank you!

    • Thank you very much Sandy, you are too kind!

      With those three alone you already have some wonderful reading ahead of you in 2010. I am quite jealous as you never get that first read magic again.

  5. Great list! I don’t fully agree with a couple but others are definites. I have Small Island, Kafka on the Shore and The Mitfords all high on my TBR list (hah – another list for you!) I don’t want to read The Mitfords though until I’ve read some of their novels (also of course high on the TBR).
    I’ve read a lot of fabulous books since I was eighteen and I can’t imagine trying to compile a list – maybe one day!

    I too have been wondering what you call the teenies…

    • Thanks Claire. Its a bit subjective between what I have read and I suppose when I read certain books and as I mentioned there are a few more that some days will be in the top ten and somedays just miss out… just.

      Kafka on the Shore is brilliantly bizarre (am very excited about The Wind Up Bird Chronicles for Book Group) Small Island I just found breathtaking and as for the Mitfords… I could go on and on and on about those letters.

      Is it the teenies… sounds very like the Tweenies hahahaha.

  6. My list would be very similar to yours – except the Atwood and McEwan which wouldn’t get close – I’d probably swap them with Cloud Atlas!

  7. Dot

    Great list Simon! As you know I finally got round to reading The Time Traveler’s Wife only a few weeks ago but it is one of the books that I will remember the most from this year. The Book Thief and The Mitfords stood out for me as well. I hope that you have a really lovely Christmas and here’s hoping for even more brilliant books in 2010.

    • The Time Travellers Wife is such a wonderful book and it’s one I believe will be deemed a classic in the future as it has a bit of everything about it.

      I hope you have a wonderful first married Christmas Dot, they do feel a little bit different, mine last year was the first I cooked a Christmas dinner which felt doubly grown up!

  8. Eva

    I’ve read Time Traveller’s Wife, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Blind Assassin, Atonement, and The Book Thief and loved them all!!! I’ve been wanting to read The Mitfords since it was published, but I think it’d be better to own it than get it from the library…maybe I’ll use my gift card to get it! I’ve got Kafka on the Shore waiting for me on my bookshelves, and I just put Small Island on one of my challenge lists, so I’m happy to hear you enjoyed it.

    That leaves The Road, which I don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. I don’t like postapocolyptic books (and I’m sure I spelled that wrong), and I just don’t think I would enjoy it at all. Oh, and Running w/ Scissors…I saw the movie and turned it off halfway through, because it was so weird and pointless. Is the book different from the movie?

    • The Mitfords is definatley a book to own as it is one that takes forever to read, I read it on and off for a few months as wanted to treasure it. Its also one I know I will be reading again and again. I may have quite a Mitford moment in 2010, maybe a Mitford midsummer?

      The Road is amazing, seriously its about so much more than postapocolyptic things. I thought it was amazing and read it in one sitting. The book of Running With Scissors is hysterical and heartbreaking. I didnt love the film so much.

  9. A really great list – many that I would agree with (particularly The Book Thief). I think I’m going to stick with your list for this one – making up my own makes my heard boggle!! I’m going to have a hard enough time just choosing my best books for 2009!

    • Oh thank you Karen. It took me ages and ages to go through the lists, one of them I would possibly swap at the moment but thats jut because each day I feel somewhat differently, I think we all get that. I have had to do a top 20 for 2009. I couldnt do ten or like last year 13!

  10. Bellezza

    I so love Kafka On The Shore…We’ll talk more later, I just stopped by to wish you a very Merry Christmas! It’s so nice to have met you in 2009.

  11. Thank you very much thats lovely and very kind. It has been a pleasure meeting you this year too! I am going to be dipping into another Murakami in a weeks time for book group.

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