Through so many literary and publishing trends, good and bad books, literary blockbusters and forgettable duds, my passion for reading and talking about books has not subsided. It’s always difficult when people ask me what is my favourite book of all time, because I have been exposed to so many good and enjoyable tomes throughout my lifetime; however, it’s made a little bit easier when I look back every January to decide what were my favourite books of the past year (I usually compile my list in mid-December, and it takes me a matter of minutes to round up my top 10). This year, as we begin a new decade, I was asked to compile a list of my top 10 books of the 2010s; believe me, there were no shortage of memorable titles to choose from the 500-odd books I read over the past 10 years, and the end result is what you are about to read below (and don’t worry, there are no “50 Shades” books included in my list).
Top 10 books of this past decade
Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff / Fear by Bob Woodward– I haven’t seen an American President who has been the subject of a plethora of books (whether they were written by journalists or insiders, both favorable or critical in tone) before the completion of their first term; not even Richard Nixon got that literary treatment until the Watergate Scandal broke wide open early in his second term. But if you are not a fan of Mr. Trump and want to know what really went on within the corridors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under his watch, these two books (which quickly became runaway best sellers) should be read in tandem. Michael Wolff wrote his account as a sort-of accidental insider, in which he plopped himself in the middle of the White House undisturbed and unnoticed by any staffer; Bob Woodward, on the other hand, drew his inside account the way he penned his other presidential accounts since All the President’s Men… by having access to countless documentation and conducting interviews with hundreds of sources. So whether you read one or both books, the impression garnered is the same: the Trump White House is one messy administration.
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro – This was the fourth volume of Robert A. Caro’s epic five-volume biography of the 36th President of the United States. This volume covered the period between 1960 and 1964, which focused on Johnson’s sort-of “wilderness” period as Vice-President during the Kennedy administration (in which he was maliciously referred to as “Rufus Cornpone” behind his back by some of the members of the JFK cabinet), to his immediate ascent to the presidency as a result of the Kennedy assassination, to his commitment to continue Kennedy’s legacy during the early months of his administration leading up to the 1964 presidential election. This is the art of biography at its best.
11/22/63 by Stephen King – Next to his Robert Hodges mystery-thriller trilogy (which includes the excellent Mr. Mercedes),11/22/63is probably the best book written by King during this decade. It’s the story of a man from Maine who somewhat gets the ability to travel back through time, uses that power to set himself in Dallas on November 22, 1963 and manages to avert the assassination of John F. Kennedy during his fateful visit to that city. It’s a brick of a book, yet the narrative flows so smoothly that you can race through it in a couple of sittings. What makes this experiment in historical “what-if” so fascinating is that King examines what the world would have been like had Kennedy survived, and it’s not always such a rosy picture.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – Published in 2018, Heather Morris’ novel brings to light a story of the Holocaust that many knew about on the surface, but wasn’t aware of what was really involved when it came to the human side of the story. Based on a true story, the book tells the story of Lale Sokolov, a Jew from Slovakia who is deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Because of his ability to speak many languages, the Nazis give him the task of being the camp’s tattooist, in which he has to mark the arms of all incoming inmates of Auschwitz (who survive the terrifying selection process) with a permanent ink number. During one day of tattooing new arrivals, he marks the arm of a scared young woman who automatically captures his heart and through a great deal of dogged determination (which at times put his life at risk), wanted to find out more about this young woman who was more than just a number to him. This story of horror and survival is mesmerizing not only with the descriptions Morris constructs with how painful the tattooing process was in the concentration camps, but also how getting a rare high status job in a place like Auschwitz can make someone more resourceful with what little one had in order to survive one hellish day after another. A fine addition to the Holocaust literary canon, which spawned a sequel called Cilka’s Journey, which was published last year.
Life, Itself by Roger Ebert – This very thoughtful memoir of the much-respected film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times (who became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1975) and half of the “thumbs up” duo of Siskel and Ebert that made movie reviews more approachable to the public thanks to their very popular TV shows on PBS and syndication, the late Roger Ebert examines his life and career in an introspective manner, especially what motivated him into a life of journalism, how the movies inspired him, and what gave him the courage to continue as a battle with cancer cost him his jaw and ability to speak. This book gets an enthusiastic “two thumbs up” from me.
Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman – Probably one of the best rock journalists around, Philip Norman has made a career over the past 40 years of churning out detailed biographies of a number of rock music legends, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Elton John. In his most recent rock bio, he focuses on Paul McCartney (aka the “Cute Beatle”) and his long road to superstardom with the Beatles and on his own. Although McCartney did not agree to do any interviews with Norman for the book, he did give him “tacit approval” to speak with anyone who was associated with him throughout his life and career. And this is what makes the difference to what is such a thorough, definitive biography of the individual who helped change the face of rock music, and still performs to sold-out crowds around the world whenever he does a tour of his amazing three-hour concert.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett – I originally read this novel back in the winter of 2010 because the members of a book club that I was leading at the time unanimously chose it for their next spotlighted title. Thinking it was just another piece of “chick lit”, I was pleasantly surprised how excellent this novel really is, as a young aspiring journalist returns to her antebellum Mississippi home during the early 1960s and decides to write an anonymous account of the Black women who worked long, hard hours as maids in her home and the homes of her close friends. Doing this unthinkable (and sometimes dangerous) task, the book is published and causes quite a firestorm. Based on fact, The Helpshows that these maids were in their own way, the unsung heroes of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. It also became a terrific Oscar-winning movie in 2011 that starred Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. And by the way, be aware of anyone who suddenly delivers a chocolate cream pie to you.
Bossypants by Tina Fey – Since the success of Jerry Seinfeld’s 1993 book Sein Language, it unleashed a whole torrent of stand-up comedians who wanted to prove their literary mettle by producing a book that was either autobiography, a collection of their best comedy routines, or a combination of both. Some books have succeeded (Born Standing Upby Steve Martin), or have bombed the moment it hit the bookstores (Bookby Whoopi Goldberg). But SNL alumnus, writer, director and comedian Tina Fey’s 2011 comic memoir Bossypantsis indeed the gold standard of this genre. Through a lot of self-deprecating humour and painfully honest recall, Fey chronicles her uphill battle to succeed in the world of comedy, which was – and some extent, still is – an old boy’s club. However, Fey’s impressive body of work – Bossypantsincluded – proves she is one of the major forces who helped to break this glass ceiling.
Up, Up and Awayby Jonah Keri – This was the book that Montreal Expos fans waited a long time for. Montreal-born sports writer Jonah Keri wrote the complete history of Les Amours from its birth in 1968 to its demise 36 years later. Through its triumphs, failures and great moments and players that are forever in our memories, Keri shows why the Expos are still in the hearts and minds of its many fans, who hope that one day they will be resurrected from the ashes; and this is from a franchise that was practically bitten with bad luck even before their inaugural game in 1969.
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