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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 24, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

    Feeling listless? We can help

    Fiona McCann

    So it’s the listing time of year. One must simply get over and get on with it, particularly because not only are we at year’s end this time, but decade’s end to boot. So here’s the thing: we’re making a list of the ten most influential books of the last decade. If you care whether Dan Brown beats Dave Eggers for a place in the limelight, or have an opinion about Dawkins versus Klein versus Diamond versus Fukuyama, we’d love to hear from you. Does Sebastian Barry merit inclusion for The Secret Scripture? And what of Seamus Heaney’s District Circle, or has Dennis O’Dricoll’s Stepping Stones had more of an impact on you than the poet’s most recent collection? Would Brokeback Mountain have had such an influence without the Ang Lee film version? Does anyone really care about Ian McEwan (because I’m struggling to understand his inclusion on so many of these lists myself)? Did Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs say more about women in the 21st century than all of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club choices put together?  Can any of you even remember back as far as the beginning of the decade any more? What were the books that most influenced you over the past ten years, and why? Tell us, quicksmart, and influence our list of influentials.

    • Damian Morrissey says:

      The Road by Cormac McCarthy was my favorite of the decade.

    • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides would be near or atop any list of my most influential books of the decade. I consumed it – ingested it, more like – in two-and-a-half days back in 2003. I loved the sheer balls (so to speak) and originality of the narrative, and was dazzled by the breadth of imagination on display throughout. Beautifully written; epic and yet deeply personal. It spoiled me so badly that it took me a long time afterwards to find a book I enjoyed as much

    • Ciara Norton says:

      Middlesex is definitely near the top of my list too, such a beautiful book. My favourite has to be Colm Toibin’s The Master. I recommend it to everyone I know on an almost daily basis, something about it has stuck with me since I read it in 2004. Toibin’s writing is flawless, sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful.

    • Eleanor Fitzsimons says:

      To fly the flag for home-grown talent I’d certainly include Joseph O’Connor’s richly evocative and wonderful Star of the Sea, Anne Enright’s chilling Booker winner, The Gathering and for sheer impact on the literary and wider world, John Boyne’s Boy in the Striped PJs.
      McEwan’s Enduring Love (his best) undoubtedly deserves a place on the list. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is a worthy and quirky contender as is book club favourite, Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveller’s Wife. Although it made me squirm I’d have to include Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. More recent contenders as far as I’m concerned are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s thought provoking Half A Yellow Sun and Lloyd Jones’ startling Mr. Pip.
      However, close to the top for me are David Mitchell’s wonderful trio of Ghostwritten, Number9dream and especially Cloud Atlas (Black Swan Green was less impactful).
      For non-fiction I’d single out Blood River by Tim Butcher and to a lesser extend The Bolter by Frances Osbourne.
      Middlesex is wonderful and deserves a place amongst the best.

    • Elaine says:

      Ian McEwan? Definitely! He’s brilliant. Although ‘Saturday’ was overrated. ‘Enduring Love’ and ‘Amsterdam’ are fine books. Earlier work such as ‘A Child in Time’ and ‘Black Dogs’ are chillingly gripping.

    • Agree with Eleanor on Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. A deeply unpleasant book – I mean that in the best possible sense – and I, for one, was truly shocked by the ending. I had to re-read it to make sure I’d understood it properly.

    • Elaine says:

      Agree with Eleanor and Declan about ‘Kevin’. A shocker – one that leaves you reeling for days afterwards. I loved Tóibín’s ‘The Blackwater Lightship’ but just checked and it doesn’t scrape into this decade. 1999. Who’d have thunk it?
      John Banville’s ‘The Sea’ is another favourite. Trevor’s ‘The Story of Lucy Gault’ is another that lingers long after you’ve read it.
      Sorry to say, I didn’t think ‘Love and Summer’ deserved the high praise it got from my colleague Eileen Battersby. It was, of course, beautifully written but I found the story clichéd and just a little dull.

    • Catherine O'Reilly says:

      The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has to be my favourite non-fiction book that I keep returning to every now and again!

    • Tanjert says:

      I find anything by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense Of Food, Botany Of Desire) is a delight in the Non-fiction category

    • David says:

      The finale of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials… And there was the rise of Eoin Colfer, Malorie Blackman and Kate Thompson.

      Oliver Jeffers, Emily Gravett and Lauren Child hit the world of picture books.

      And there was Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

      Crikes, ten years ago I was 15…

    • mise says:

      Well, if we’re focusing on ‘generally influential’ rather than ‘favourite’, John Ashbery is still going strong in the US, though I’d name himself as influential poet rather than any in particular of his latest collections as influential book. Part prattling DJ figure, part bewildered life coach, he’s controversial, much imitated, and very much of his time, which may not say much for his time. And to add a more personally influential choice, I still remember Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood from the beginning of the decade.

    • Richard says:

      Agreed that ‘Enduring Love’ is probably McEwan’s best, but it was published in ’97. ‘On Chesil Beach’ is my vote for his best of the decade. In fact it’s pretty close to perfection in my humble opinion. There’s not so much as a word out of place.
      Other favourites include A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Everything is Illuminated, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

    • Knut says:

      I’d just like to second Eleanor’s support for the David Mitchell “Trilogy”. Three books which managed to bewilder and beguile in equal measure. Can we though mention those books without referencing the translations of Murakami’s books which grew ever more popular in the west as the decade went on?

      Jonathan Safran Foer is worth a mention as the one of the most influential writers of the decade. I’m not sure I actually like his offerings, but he has definitely been an influential writer.

    • Eleanor says:

      Oops! Quite right Richard, Enduring Love doesn’t qualify – I just got carried away in my defence of McEwan and don’t really feel that anything more recent quite measures up. Atonement is fine but a bit overblown, Saturday is really quite disappointing relatively speaking but On Chesil Beach is a little gem and his best of the decade.

    • Fiona says:

      I concede; On Chesil Beach was a cracker of a book, which made up for all the other also rans. I’m glad to see Michael Pollan get a mention, too, and the wonderful Cloud Atlas . . . What’s the most influential feminist book of the decade (or has there been one?) And what about economics . . . given this was the decade where things went belly up?

    • Markham says:

      What about Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation?

      A great compendium of the ills of modern eating, and if you wanted a companion to bookend the decade, Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham. Too new to have been influential, but quickly acknowledged as a great contribution.

    • Conor Pope says:

      The Corrections? Say what you like about Frantzen’s book, it had a massive impact when it was published – has a ‘literary novel’ ever sold so many copies so quickly? And all down to Oprah.

    • Eleanor says:

      This is the Blackwell Booksellers top 10 of the decade.
      2000 – The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell (Abacus)
      2001 – Atonement – Ian McEwan (Vintage)
      2002 – Life of Pi – Yann Martel (Canongate)
      2003 – Music of the Primes – Marcus du Sautoy (Fourth Estate)
      2004 – Watching the English – Kate Fox (Hodder & Stoughton)
      2005 – The Secret Life of Trees – Colin Tudge (Penguin)
      2006 – The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins (Bantam)
      2007 – The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett (Faber)
      2008 – The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga (Atlantic)
      2009 – 2666 – Roberto Bolano (Picador)

      Gladwell and Dawkins for non-fiction yes but Bennett in 2007? Also, I don’t get the Life of Pi.

    • Medbh says:

      Hated that Ariel Levy book.
      Blaming women for patriarchy or for following what culture says they should do or be is absolutely ridiculous. Figures she got a book deal and a job at the New Yorker.

    • Tony S. says:

      The barest smatterings of non-English/Irish/American so far … why? Does good writing cease once one steps out of the Anglophile world?

      And while we’re on the subject of Irish, so far nobody has mentioned the greatest Irish writer of recent times – John McGahern for both ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ and ‘Memoir’ – the two Irish books of the decade …

      Good to see ‘The Master’ given the nod – a wonderful book

    • Ann Ingle says:

      Non fiction choice for me is ‘Somewhere Towards the End’ by Diana Athill. An honest and amusing memoir by a lady now in her 80s.

    • Toby Somers says:

      Number 1 for me would have to be The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Thought it would have been mentioned already. Others for me are

      The Sea – John Banville
      Life of Pi – Yann Martel
      Home – Marilynne Robson
      Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
      Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes – Danile Everett (Book of the year)

      On an Irish note “There Are Little Kingdoms” by Kevin Barry was astounding as a first work. Can’t wait for more from him

    • Sheila50 says:

      For me the best were;
      Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture because it sums up so much of what was awful about Ireland back then and it is beautifully written.
      The Road by Cormac McCarthy is just so chilling and devastating but unforgettable, it should be compulsory reading.
      I loved the Time Traveller’s Wife for the idea of security in such enduring love.
      Ian McEwan has a mixed bag of books but Chesil Beach, Saturday and Atonement are very striking and wonderfully written.
      We Need to Talk About Kevin is admirable for tackling such a difficult subject.
      William Trevor’s Lucy Gault is wonderful and so heartbreaking.
      For me McGahern is the king and I loved his Memoir but my favourite book of his is That they may Face the Rising Sun. He sees so much in the banal and the everyday, it makes me feel like I go around blindfolded and he also captures the the unique joy of the familiar as opposed to flitting around looking for new experiences.
      The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns makes for compelling reading about Afghanistan and its people.
      Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is a lovely read and shows the healing power of time out of the rat race.
      Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a book I wished I never read, I found it so disturbing, but I could not get it out of my head for ages.
      The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen for its depiction of American life and indeed family life.
      The House of Sand and Fog for showing how irresponsibility can have devastating consequences
      And the Lovely Bones, a compelling book in which the picture of Heaven provided little comfort.

    • Deirdre says:

      Can’t believe how many of these I agree with. That 3 for 2 offer at Hughes & Hughes…!
      We Need to Talk about Kevin is definitely up there. So disturbing but so important in having said the unsayable.
      The Secret Scripture is a masterpiece. I can’t praise Sebastian Barry highly enough – what a beautiful book.
      The Time Traveller’s Wife – just a pity about the film.
      If it’s a list of the most influential (rather than the best) books of the decade I’m afraid Dan Brown certainly has to be in there. The Da Vinci Code spawned a phenomen. You would probably have to include Twilight as well, and certainly the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman – they are a modern Narnia series but better written.

    • Ciaran says:

      I loved Colum McCann’s ‘Dancer’…

      I haven’t read Let the Great World Spin just yet but going on the premise of the Award – I’m looking forward to it!

    • Aidan says:

      For me “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie would have to be the book of the decade. After that I would the two Mary Lawson novels would be up there.
      For books written first in other languages I would pick “The Speed of Light” by Javier Cercas and “Lei It Be Morning”by Sayed Kashua.

    • Tony S. says:

      Thanks for reminder about ‘Gilead’ and its perfect counterpoint – ‘Home’

    • Festus Delcassion says:

      I nominate The road By Cormac McCarthy; and every thing by Umburto Eco especially his latest, A book about Lists and the madness and magic involved in them.I do not understand the deal with McCann ,Toibin, O Connor ,and all the other New Yawk wanabees,OH Yawn,How many more times will we have to endure an Irish novelist expressing ad nauseum their love and unbridled passion for the USA and especially New Yawk.I am still waiting for the great Celtic Tiger novel and the creative literature that will engage with the last ten years of amazing and relentless changes in Ireland,and I feel its a pity that more Irish Writers are not more engaged with the the European tradition and languages

    • kid Sumner says:

      There should be a division in the lists between fiction and non fiction,books in translation ,Poetry etc.There should also be a distinction made between Literature and pulp cures for insomnia like the ludicrous money spinning Da Vinci code

    • Eamonn Barrett says:

      Men in Space by Tom McCarthy was a wonderfully experimental effort which pointed the whole novel form in a new direction. There’s life in the old dog yet! The Book of Illusions by Paul Austen was pure reading pleasure while Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris was the novel of the decade because it achieved the impossible by taking the most unlikely and unlikeable characters and transforming them into people we care about deeply. Very moving and stunning prophetic of these recessionary times. It’s also a stunning stylistic achievement, being written in the first person plural. How did he do it?

    • ryancolm says:

      I reckon State of Fear by Michael Crichton. A very weak book in storytelling terms, and in no way is it Crichton’s best (for that, try Timeline, Disclosure, or Andromeda Strain), but it was this book that made me take a hard, critical look at the political and scientific establishment and question it. The book essentially cured me of my “state of fear” from the endless crises pushed at me by the media and government. Not a bad achievement for a popular novel.

    • mary says:

      So many of the above I loved and so many I haven’t read and probably won’t.
      Linn Ullman is a very fine Swedish writer. All of her novels are good.

    • Catherine says:

      “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann, “Saturday” by Ian McEwan, “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami

    • Sile says:

      Apart from a huge love of the irish writers all mentioned (obviously very accessible and relevant to us as Irish readers) I don’t think you can ignore two great contemporary American writers, Wally Lamb and Dave Eggers. Lambs’ I Know This Much is True, and The hour I First Believed are tremendous books, big in pages, story and heart. Dave Eggers A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius comes in a deliciously funny story frame, but still delivers a killer punch. And don’t get me started on John Irving…

    • Caragh says:

      Richard Dawkins-anything and everything by him, but namely The God Delusion. definitely constitutes a landmark in religious denunciation, if you havent read it, do before you criticize :)
      The Kite Runner/A thousand Splendid Suns-Khaled Hosseini
      A short history of Nearly Everything-Bill Bryson
      If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things-Jon McGregor, beautiful, and tragic
      Must give a mention to philip pullman, because i think he was mentioned in an earlier post, although i don tthink thats within this decade
      Bookkeeper of Kabul
      Winterwood-Patrick McCabe

    • Octopus Caveman says:

      The AV club’s list of the decade is scarily close to my own (novel-wise anyway):
      http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-best-books-of-the-00s,35774/
      (even includes The Terror by Dan Simmons!)

      I’ll echo the praise for McEwan/Mitchell/Murakami but No. 1 has to be The Road.

    • clom says:

      McCabe’s Winterwood is a great pick.

      Would also go for either of the McGahern books.

      Ali Smith’s “The Accidental” is another stone cold classic and one we’ll look back on when we want a sense of the decade.

      My non-fiction book would probably be either “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” or “Standard Operating Procedure”. Both dispassionate, journalistic accounts succeeded in communicating the numb, disconnected horror evoked by the misadventures in the Middle East. I would also offer Art Spiegelman’s “In the shadow of no Towers” as a beautiful polemic response to the cynical hijacking of the tragedy from the victims of 9/11.

      Looking back again to Scotland I’d nominate Don Paterson’s “Landing Light” or maybe even his new collection “Rain” as key poetic works of the decade, and his aphorisms “Book of Shadows” would be a neat wild-card nomination.

      I also really enjoyed Sebastian Barry’s “A Long, Long Way”.

      For younger readers, the Aughts gave us a worthy successor to Roald Dahl in Andy Stanton whose Mr Gum series is one of the funniest, most underrated childrens series in a decade when the charts were largely infested with boring, overwritten, derivative glomm.

      While McCarthy’s “The Road” has been justifiably lauded, I went cold on it the minute a character in ER brandished it as a scrap of visual shorthand for his deteriorating mental health. I will always feel differently about “No Country for Old Men”, it was the first McCarthy I read and I still get flashbacks to the overwhelming joy I felt reading its spare, flinty prose. Within weeks I’d gobbled up a whole host of his previous work.

      A similar plaudit goes to Michel Faber for his amazing debut novel “Under the Skin” which is probably the best “story” in this list. In a decade when the world and his mother seemed intent on blending every genre into one another Faber is the absolute master.

      Alongside Under the Skin, his “Farenheit Twins” is one of the best short story collections, The Crimson Petal one of the best blockbusters and The Fire Gospel a sly satire about a publishing industry in a decade when it apparently went stark staring mad. .

    • Darth Dawkins says:

      Sile,Theres more to the world of books than Irish WRITERS believe it or not,If Fiona had said Irish writers list you could go down to easons and have the Xmas shop over with in a jiffy! Very insular and narrow minded viewpoint


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