Most Defining Books of the Decade

2022 marks 10 years since I started tracking my books and reading habits. I’ve always loved to read and read a lot as a child and teenager, but since I finished university I’ve had a lot more time to dedicate to reading and it has become a very important and enjoyable hobby for me. In the past decade I’ve read a whopping 670 books. I decided to look back over the past 10 years and identify the top 10 books that have defined the decade for me. These aren’t necessarily the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years (though some of them definitely are), but they are the books that I’ve returned to the most often and have influenced me the most. I can confirm I have read every book on this list more than once.

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I know, everyone loves this book and it’s been totally overhyped ever since it came out. But I read The Book Thief for the first time in 2012 and I definitely credit it as one of the books that brought me back to reading. I feel like I went through a reading drought in University and The Book Thief inspired me to create a Goodreads account and set me on a never ending quest to find the most compelling and beautifully written books. It’s one of those books that leaves you with the biggest book hangover, but sends you searching for other books that evoke such strong feelings and emotions. 

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was another book I discovered in my early Goodreads days, shortly after I first read The Book Thief and was on my quest for beautiful prose. Both books have a heavy focus on reading and books themselves, which is a great way to appeal to a book lover. However, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was so defining for me because it was a classic that I could relate to. Unfortunately, high school English class seems to turn a lot of people off the classics and this was one of the first classics that I read and loved for myself and not because I was required to read it. I’ve since discovered other classics that I adore, like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice, but A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a very accessible classic that gave me an appreciation for the classics and a reminder that old stories can ring just as true as new ones.

3. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

This is one of those books that it pains me a little bit to put on the list. If this was a list of the 10 Best Books I read in the last decade, it would not have made the list, but I can’t deny that Throne of Glass was a defining book for me. This was a series that I read because of the hype and it introduced me to a whole world of fantasy and fandom. These days Throne of Glass doesn’t really get as much press time as Maas’ other series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, which is literally all over Bookstagram and Booktok, but Throne of Glass always stands out for me as the series that brought me back to fantasy. I always loved Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and Throne of Glass defined a new era in which I was excited to participate in a fandom and able to read along with the books as they were released.

4. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime (along with Homegoing) stands out as the best book I’ve read with my book club, which I’ve been a member of for 7.5 years. I didn’t want to read this book and then ended up being totally floored by it and have now read it both as a print book and an audiobook. I constantly recommend this book to people and it taught me that non-fiction can be just as accessible as fiction. I used to be a bit afraid of non-fiction, but this book opened up a whole new world to me and I still think about Trevor’s wonderful blend of humour and history to this day. This is how you write a funny book about something that matters.

5. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I am obsessed with this book. When I think about it critically I can acknowledge that it has some flaws, particularly towards the end, which is overly dramatized. But The Great Alone is such a good example of how impactful setting and atmosphere can be. Kristin Hannah is a great storyteller and uses the Alaskan setting in this book to maximum effect. Everything about the remoteness of this story sings to my soul and it really highlighted for me how much I enjoy character driven, multi-generational family dramas. As you’ll see from the next 2 books on the list, my love for this book also inspired me to discover a whole litany of other stories.

6. Songs of a Sourdough by Robert W. Service

Songs of a Sourdough is a poetry collection that I was directly inspired to read from The Great Alone. Robert Service writes the most wonderful mix of funny and serious outdoor poetry, that is very much about his love and respect for the land. Despite being 100 years old, I found his poetry so accessible and this was one of my first forays into poetry, a genre that I’ve since come to love very much. 

7. The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

The Simple Wild is another book that isn’t going to get nominated for literary awards, but a book that I keep returning to nonetheless. This is primarily a romance novel, but it offers so much more about family and finding yourself, that I found it to be one of the most fun and relatable contemporaries with an excellent cast of well-realized characters. There are books that you read for pure enjoyment to lose yourself in the story and this is definitely one of them. It’s a simple story, but honest and relatable in its storytelling.

8. Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Speaking of books that are pure enjoyment, there’s no better read I can think of than Nevermoor. I have not been able to stop raving about Nevermoor since I first read it in 2018 because it is the most fun and immersive world I’ve discovered since Harry Potter. It’s middle grade and has a lot of similarities, but offers something entirely different than Harry Potter. Where Nevermoor gains its strength is from the well developed plot and world building and the integration of real life issues into the storyline. The characters in this book are a joy to read about and I love to escape into this series.

9. Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Beartown is probably the book I most recommend to people of everything on this list. Fredrik Backman writes the most gorgeous prose and creates the most memorable characters. This book focuses on a small hockey town in Sweden and how one event can create ripples that echo throughout an entire community. There is nothing shocking or crazy about this book, but the way Backman crafts every single one of his characters and their relationships with one another is so real and empathetic that you can relate to each of their heartbreaks.

10. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

There is no question that Jellicoe Road is the book that has had the single most impact on me over the past decade. I’ve read this book more times than I can count, as well as every other book Marchetta has ever written. This is a YA book, which I’ve generally moved away from over the past 10 years, but I think this story will always resonate with me. It is a deeply sad coming of age tale which examines relationships, love, and the families we create for ourselves. The writing is haunting and these characters will stick with you long after you finish reading.

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