Caitlin at Realms of My Mind featured a meme recently that I couldn’t resist: what were our favourite ten books of the past ten years? I tackled a fantasy-themed version of this prompt back in 2019; today, I’m keeping it wide open: all reads count. Let the hand-wringing begin…
Today, the focus is firmly on when I read the books (rather than when they were published) – the challenge is to pick an enduring favourite (not some torturous attempt at objective best) per year. I’ve kept semi-accurate lists of what I’ve read for over ten years and published an end of year round-up, which is helpful – but I know my feelings about some books have changed over time, so for the first five years or so I’m curious to see whether my top read from back then has had the staying power to be a book I still love now…
The dissonance starts here: wait, it’s been ten years since that came out? However, I can’t fault my picks for favourite reads, although my favourite Avengers have shifted dramatically in the intervening decade (I apologise for my past sins against Captain America. I saw the light). Trying to pick a favourite between Angelmaker (Nick Harkaway), Among Others (Jo Walton) and Night Waking (Sarah Moss) is an odd form of torture: I have huge wells of affection for all three and I’m not sure how I haven’t reread any of them. It’s been a busy ten years, I guess.
Put on the spot? I probably – shockingly – lean to the non-genre Night Waking, Sarah Moss’s debut novel dealing with the challenges of motherhood, marriage and finding a dead body in the back garden.
Huh, so the bit where I was sure I’d look at past favourites and have regrets? Guess that was back in the 2000s. 2013 was another barnstormer of a year – if also one where for all abiding love of my favourites, I’ve never made the time to revisit them. Double huh. I picked The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (Neil Gaiman) for the fantasy-themed version of this post; I’m sticking with it as my pick for today because I still can’t resist folkloric fantasy.
2014 was the year where I stopped my reading on LiveJournal, but that’s okay, because I did track it on LibraryThing (yes, I hopped around a bit in the 2010s before settling here at There’s Always Room For One More). It was also the year when I reread – and gained a deeper appreciation for – The Culture novels by Iain M Banks; and was chronically sick, living in pain for most of the year, which definitely affected my enjoyment of certain reads. In spite of that, the books that stuck with me have really stuck with me. I have no qualms about picking The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield as my favourite for the year (what? another non-genre favourite? I know, I know) as I picked The Prestige last time I did this and have already featured Sarah Moss today (Bodies of Light was superb though).
A huge year for me, as I was able to go back to work part-time and started up There’s Always Room For One More in the autumn. But how was the reading? Amazing, frankly. I followed recommendations from fellow reader/bloggers and encountered a heap of new-to-me authors who have been favourites ever since. Asking me to pick from my Top Ten is cruel, so I stand by the conclusion I came to at the time as Station Eleven (Emily St John Mandel) knocked my socks off.
The year where I truly embraced read-alongs (and have never looked back since) and started to get a sense of just how far out of control a TBR can escalate (cue manic laughter). Yoon Ha Lee, Silvia Moreno Garcia and Dave Hutchinson became must-read authors, but I can’t argue with my pick of what remains my favourite Wayfarers novel as my heart’s choice for the year’s favourite: A Closed And Common Orbit (Becky Chambers) is one of those rare books I reread almost as soon as I finished it.
2017 was one of the best reading years I’ve ever had, lavishly bestowed with 4.5 and 5 star reads, where my best of the year is a perfect guide to my genre sweet spots. This was hard last time I had to pick a favourite and I was only considering fantasy then – add in scifi and that sound in the wind is my whimpering. And yet. Of all the amazing books I read in 2017, there is one I’ve reread and championed more than any other. The whole series makes me absurdly happy, with its bleak world-building and gleeful role reversals. In the end, there’s no resisting Vintage de Grazon, Tormalin the Oathless, Noon and Hestillion: it has to be The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams.
Another epic reading year for me, albeit one where it’s much easier to identify my outstanding read of the year. This was the year I finally read The Fifth Season (NK Jemisin) and even in a year stacked with immense reads, The Broken Earth stands out from the crowd. I’m rereading it right now, and it still gives me goosebumps. Honourable mentions go to The Tethered Mage (Melissa Caruso), The Poppy War (RF Kuang) and The City of Brass (SA Chakraborty) for making almost as big – if very different – an impression.
The wild reading high ended in 2019, possibly because I started a new job that I knew within a week was a mis-step and subsequently spent most of the year stressed, irritated and working too many hours. That said, when the reading was good, it was very good: it added several books to my list of all-time favourites and routinely made me cry, sometimes in public. And hell, I’ve got to find some way to pick between I Still Dream (James Smythe), The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Seth Dickinson) and A Memory Called Empire (Arkady Martine) so the winner – by a hanky or three – is I Still Dream, which unstrung me to the point where my beloved stopped asking if I was okay and started asking if I was still reading.
Ah, 2020. What a fucking year. For reading, on the other hand, it was fab – especially for novellas, which made up half my top ten. My undisputed favourite for this year remains Mexican Gothic for taking familiar tropes and interweaving them with themes of racism and misogyny in a chilling, sharp-edged package.
Some books towered over 2021, getting the lion’s share of conversation and marketing support. Other slipped out quietly, but made my heart sing just as much. When it comes to picking a favourite, my choice will still shift daily – but She Who Became The Sun (Shelley Parker-Chan), A Desolation Called Peace (Arkady Martine) and These Lifeless Things (Premee Mohamed) will always be up there. I’m going with the novella today: These Lifeless Things punches far above its weight in its mingling of hope, horror and unnerving personal stories after the apocalypse.
What a ten years – I wonder what the next ten years will bring?
What are your favourite reads of the past ten years?