The 100 Best Books of the Decade

An interesting list from timesonline.co.uk.

Not sure if I agree with The Road by Cormac McCarthy being the best of the decade, but to each their own.

See the full list here.

Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife (Niffenegger’s first book) is one of my all time favourites so I had some high expectations going into this one. I have to say it really didn’t meet them at all. It’s about American twins inheriting their aunt’s flat in London, and them going to live there for a year with the quirky neighbours. The aunt they inherit it from also haunts the flat.

I don’t have an issue suspending belief for a book if it’s done well (like in Time Traveler’s or Harry Potter), so weirdness is not the issue, but this book just seemed a bit, well, stupid I guess. The characters weren’t even that great so you didn’t really care that much what happened one way or another, but then what ends up happening is just so ridiculous I couldn’t really believe I’d just wasted all the time reading what had led up to it.

The writing is still good, but even if I wasn’t comparing this to her first book I’d still think it was pretty average. There are a lot better things out there to read.

Overall: 5/10

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work – Alain de Botton

Wow, this is a really tough book to describe. I had thought it was going to be about people in different industries and careers and why they do or don’t like what they do, and it is to an extent, but it’s also a lot more. Sometimes he focuses on certain people in a field (an artist or a career counsellor) and other times he examines an industry more as a whole (accounting or aviation).

His writing is beautiful and the book also has a lot of pictures which really add to it. I guess the best way to describe it would be a mix of Discovery Channel, poetry, and light philosophy. Both educational and enlightening. I’m definitely going to look for a few of his other books like The Architecture of Happiness in the future.

Overall: 8/10

P.S. This talk by Alain dy Botton from Ted.com will give you an idea of what the book is like

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestI just finished the last 150 pages to this last night. As with all three Millennium books, once you’re more than half way it becomes hard to put down.

This was a good conclusion to the trilogy, but I still think the first book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is my favourite out of the three. This one is a little harder to get into than the others because the first 100 pages are mostly catching people up with the end of the last book and introducing new characters – and there are a LOT of characters.

The one thing that bothered me with Larsson’s trilogy was that the first book was very much it’s own story, and the second two were almost one big book. I guess for obvious reasons they didn’t want a book to be 1200 pages, but I just thought they could have been a bit more different.

That said, these are great books to get into, even if you’re not usually a mystery fan (which I don’t consider myself to be). Definitely start at the beginning though.

Overall: 7.5/10

The Forever War – Dexter Filkins

The Forever WarI have to admit, I kept putting off reading this book since it didn’t look like the most uplifting or easy read (even though it got good reviews). I’m glad I finally bit the bullet and read it though since it’s one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while.

Filkins is a journalist who’s been reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq since 2000 and currently works for the New York Times. He wisely doesn’t touch on the politics of the beginning of the war, but rather tells stories of the day to day life in battles and gives glimpses of what it’s like living in the war zone as a journalist. Although there are a few chapters about Afghanistan, it is mostly set in Iraq. The snippets you read in the news don’t begin to convey how complicated things are over there, it really takes a book.

I highly recommend this if you want an interesting way to learn more about what’s going on in the middle east.

Overall: 8/10

P.S. I watched the movie The Hurt Locker while I was reading this which was good since it focuses on Bravo Company in Iraq, which features in the book as well. The movie and the book make a good pair.

The Flying Troutmans – Miriam Toews

The Flying TroutmansFinished October 2009

I’d heard a lot of good reviews from friends about Toews’ first book, A Complicated Kindness, but for some reason had never got around to reading it. I’m so glad I gave this one a shot though since now I’ve discovered a new favourite author.

Basically Min is a mentally unstable mother of two who has to be hospitalized, so her younger sister Hattie steps in to take care of her children and they end up on a bit of a road-trip. The kids are 11 and 15, and she manages to create such quirky and realistic characters for them that you miss them when you’re done.

Although the overall premise is quite sad, the book manages to still have laugh out loud funny moments and manages to not be depressing at all (I have a pet hate for books set in small towns in Canada about depressing dysfunctional families). It also deals well with the subject of mental illness, with Hattie’s flashbacks offering insight into what it was like growing up with a depression prone sibling. I’d recommend this to anyone and will be reading A Complicated Kindness in the near future.

Writing: Very good, although her habit of not using quotation marks takes a bit of getting used to. Her dialogue is excellent.

Humour: Toews injects laugh out loud (seriously) funny bits in between more serious sections. There are also parts where I teared up a bit, so the book runs the whole emotional scale.

Plot: Although maybe slightly far fetched in parts, that’s not really the point. It’s all about the journey rather than the destination right?

Overall: 9/10

A Fraction of the Whole – Steve Toltz

A Fraction of the WholeFinished October 2009

Despite this book’s daunting size (my copy was over 700 pages) it was a pretty easy read. It follows the story of the Dean family and is told mostly from the son and father’s perspective. The jumping around of the story could be tiring, but Toltz’s crazy imagination and witty writing keeps things interesting.

It is the sort of book you keep reading sections out loud to anyone around who will listen. It also makes you jealous any author could produce something so brilliant on their first novel. I can’t wait to see what Toltz comes up with next.

Writing: Excellent, refreshingly free from cliches and uses descriptions that make you stop and think.

Humour: Again, excellent. Slightly kooky and very smart, right up my alley.

Plot: Sometimes things went on a bit long in parts, but overall it was very original with some good twists at the end.

Overall: 9/10