Dec 30, 2009

Favourites of the Decade, if such a thing is at all possible...

You know, making up a list of favourite books of the year is hard enough, but of the decade? Sheesh.

I'm not sure if I can even adequately create such a list - there's a hell of a lot of novels published in the last ten years that I never read, most of them the critical blockbuster darlings. So any list I make cannot help but be inadequate. Years from now, I'll still be reading books from this decade, and the list will invariably change. Forget years, how about days from now - I'm just starting China Mieville's
The City & The City, and can't help but think it could already make the list.

And what about fairly recent books? Sometimes, only the passage of years allows me to fully appreciate how a novel has affected me over the long-term. I'm sure I'll be coming back to Jeff Vandermeer's
Finch or Jedediah Berry's The Manual of Detection at some point, but it's just too soon to make a final judgment at the moment.

But this is
my blog, and as such, is an inherently self-serving enterprise. So it behooves me to go through the years and pick a few choice winners, even if the whole process is tainted by irrelevancy.

Actually, what is most surprising about the last ten years is how many books I cannot remember reading, but am sure that I have. I read
The Tent? Really? It was short stories, that I remember, but after that, pfft. Nothing. Ditto Vernon God Little, although I think I liked that one. I even defended The Solitude of Emperors at a McNally Robinson Giller event, but right now, couldn't tell you word one about the plot.

Also, many of my favourite authors are nowhere to be seen. Stephen King is absent (although Under the Dome is on my TBR pile). No Clive Barker. No John Irving. No William Kotzwinkle.

So here is, in place of an objective, quantifiable list, are the novels published in last decade or so that have made a true, lasting impression on me. These are the personal favourites, the novels I could reread on a moment's notice; if I included all the novels that
almost made the cut, the list would be endless. They run the gamut, from serious to silly, from sci-fi to sedate, from s-word to other s-word. These are the novels that made me want to write, and the novels that made me want to quit writing altogether. (All links are to pages from LibraryThing, the Internet's pre-eminent site for cataloguing essentially useless collections.)

The Big Why (2004), by Michael Winter - my favourite Canadian novel of the past ten years.
The Book of Illusions (2002), by Paul Auster - Maybe Auster's least-appreciated novel, but my favourite from him since City of Glass.
The Brief History of the Dead (2006), by Kevin Brockmeier - I cried at the end.
The Crash of Hennington (2003), by Patrick Ness - Weird, glorious satire.
Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife (2006), by Sam Savage - I wish I wrote this one, it said so many things I wanted to say so much better than I ever could.
From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain (2007), by Minister Faust - Best superhero novel I ever read, right up there with Watchmen.
The Fortress of Solitude (2003), by Jonathan Lethem - I will never forget this novel, if only for the fantastic character name of Mingus Rude.
Inside (2006), by Kenneth J. Harvey - Harvey never disappoints, but Inside is a pared-down masterpiece.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004), by Susanna Clarke - I practically ate this book whole.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (2002), by Christopher Moore - Damn, this was funny.
The Life of Pi (2003), by Yann Martel - It's gotten a huge backlash, but Martel's fable etched a deep trench in my soul.
ManBug (2006), by George K. Ilsley - Best romance I've ever read.
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (2000), by Steven Sherrill - Greatest title on the list, and a wonderfully odd ode to loneliness.
Norman Bray, in the Performance of his Life (2004), by Trevor Cole - Captures the antics of age (and ageing actors) as perfectly as anything I've ever read. Also, the funniest Canadian novel in a long time.
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (2005), by Lydia Millet - A satire as penetrating as Vonnegut and as heart-felt as, well, Vonnegut.
Planet Reese (2007), by Cordelia Strube - This one was a surprise to me, too, but Strube's satire has lingered with me.
Quicksilver (2003), by Neal Stephenson - Sheer insane brilliance.
Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey (2007), by Chuck Palahniuk - I saw J.G. Ballard in this tale.
A Small and Remarkable Life (2006), by Nick Di Chario - Theodore Sturgeon's heir.
Winkie (2006), by Clifford Chase - Again, I wish I wrote this fable/satire of terrorism and stuffed animals.

So, there you go, a little glimpse into my life via the novels of the past ten years I cannot imagine living without. If you read them on my say-so, great. If you like them, terrific. If you hate them, why are you taking advice from me anyway?

See you in twenty-ten, y'all.

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