Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Most Compelling Books of the Last Decade

Every year since I had my Book Report column in the Citizen newspaper, I have written a year-end column called the Most Compelling Books of the Year. Since we have hit the end of a decade, I decided to review those columns and create the Most Compelling Books of the Decade, pulling one book from each of my annual selections, along with their orginal descriptions. These are books that still today evoke such strong feelings in me, I hope they will in you as well. (Click on the book title under the photo for more information.)

2010- Mary Karr's memoir Lit- This is Karr’s third in a series of memoirs (Liar’s Club and Cherry being the first two), and for my money it is the best of the three. It deals with Karr’s life as a wife, mother, literature professor and alcoholic.  She is a poet, and her prose is so beautiful and deeply felt. Her attempts to get and stay sober are touching, but it is her search for religion that really moved me. Some of this book is set in Syracuse as she teaches at Syracuse University, and the local angle is interesting. 
Lit



2011- Jennifer Haigh's novel Faith- Jennifer Haigh wrote one of my favorite novels, Mrs. Kimble, a few years ago, and this year her novel Faith made my list. Set in Boston, a sister tells the story of her half-brother, a priest accused of a crime by a woman he befriends. It is a story not just of faith in religion, but faith in your family. Beautifully written, it will make you think. My full review is here.
Faith

2012- Adriana Trigiani's The Shoemaker's WifeAdriana Trigiani has written her most epic novel to date, The Shoemaker’s Wife. It takes us from the Italian Alps in 1907 to New York City and the Metropolitan Opera and ends up in Minnesota, sharing the stories of Ciro and Enza and their lifelong love. It is based on Trigiani’s grandparents, and pays respect to the immigrants who built this country. My full review is here.
The Shoemaker's Wife


2013-  Mary Beth Keane's Fever- Mary Beth Keane’s Fever takes the Irish historical character Typhoid Mary and brings her to vivid life. The characters, the setting, Keane gets all of the details right, and we see how immigrant women, particularly those who were not servile in attitude, were looked upon with suspicion.  My full review is here.
Fever

2014- Matthew Thomas' We Are Not Ourselves- Matthew Thomas’ debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves is an emotional book about the daughter of Irish immigrants who lives in Queens, New York, and whose goal is to become part of the middle class. She is on her way, until her husband’s illness derails her plans. My full review is here.
We Are Not Ourselves

2015- Jeff Hobbs' The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace- The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace tells of Jeff Hobbs’ quest to learn what happened to his friend from college. Peace was a young black man who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, the son of hard-working blue-collar worker who sacrificed so her son could go to a good private school and on to college and a drug-dealer who was convicted of murder. Peace was torn between these two worlds and this is an eye-opening book, a must-read for everyone. (My full review here.
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace


2016- Lisa Fenn's Carry On I didn’t read much non-fiction this year, but two titles in that genre made the list, including the one book I was most moved by: Lisa Fenn’s Carry On. Fenn, a producer at ESPN, was looking for a good documentary subject when her father told her about two high school wrestlers — one was blind, the other lost both legs in an accident, and both lived in poverty. Fenn becomes involved in trying to help these young men make better lives for themselves. It restores your faith in humanity and helps you to understand the world better. My full review is here.
Carry On


2017- Ayobami Adebayo's  Stay With Me- The best book I read this year is Stay With Me a debut novel by Nigerian author Ayobami Adebayo. It tells the story of a young married couple in Nigeria who are having trouble conceiving a baby. When the husband’s family insists on bringing in a second wife, it begins a downward spiral. I cried throughout this stunning novel, and when someone asks me what to read, Stay With Me is it.  My full review is here.
Stay With Me


2018- Tayari Jones' An American Marriage- And finally, the book that everyone from Oprah to Michelle Obama has been talking about: Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage. It’s the story of Celestial and Roy, married for a short time when Roy is falsely imprisoned. It’s about loyalty, love and faithfulness set against the subject of mass incarceration. It’s better than everyone says it is, a true American story. My full review is here.
An American Marriage



2019- Lisa Grunwald's Time After Time- I’m not usually drawn to books with a time travel feature, but Lisa Grunwald’s Time After Time utterly captivated me. Set in 1937, a young woman named Nora returns every year on the same day to the place where she was killed in a train accident at Grand Central Station in 1925. When she meets Joe, a railman, they fall in love, but the fact that she disappears complicates things. It is a love letter to Grand Central Station, and a love story for the ages. It asks the question, what would you sacrifice for love? My full review is here.
Time After Time

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