I intended to get this post up back in January, when the whole “We’re starting a brand-new decade!” felt a bit more relevant. Needless to say, having three kids now is keeping me busier than ever, and now that my oldest’s preschool has been canceled due to the pandemic, that designated blogging bit of time has now gone by the wayside.
Although I have faith that the current pandemic will cease and that life will normalize, this current season has been exhausting, as I’m sure is the same for many of you. Even though I feel like I have less time now to read than ever before, when I do get the chance, I relish the chance to escape a bit from the messiness of our current situation and dive into the messiness of someone else’s (especially if that someone else is fictional!).
So maybe it was fortuitous that I didn’t get this published until now, when all of us can use a good book to dive into more than ever. Maybe you could even say that my inner blogger wizard even intuited that this post should fall into your hands at this very moment.
Yeah, let’s go with that.
For each year, I tried to pick one fiction and one nonfiction book published in that year that particularly stood out to me as either life-changing, particularly entertaining, memorable, or some other such adjective. For the year 2010, I cheated and picked two nonfiction because I wasn’t *so* impressed by the small amount of fiction books I read that year that I felt they deserved to take out one of the other two books listed there.
A few of the years included honorable mentions, because I couldn’t help myself.
I will also note that it became increasingly more difficult from about 2016 on to choose, simply because that’s when I started letting myself read whatever the heck I wanted–rather than try and follow my prescribed “recommended reading” lists so much–which meant that I started reading a LOT more contemporary books and keeping up with the current book scene.
Read on to see my favorite 20 books published in the last decade!
Note: There are affiliate links in this post, which means I may get a small commission based on any purchases made, at no extra cost to you.
- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
- This amazing biography covers former Olympian Louis Zamperini’s reality-defying WWII experience, from surviving at sea for over a month when his plane was shot down to living through the harrowing experience of being in a POW camp. While it was difficult to read about some of the truly horrific things he went through, I was mesmerized by his vivacity, by his spirit, and by his indomitable will to live. (And every time I think of how much I loved this one, I chide myself that I haven’t read Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, which I think I’ll probably like just as much.)
- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
- Okay, so this is cheating a bit since this was *technically* published three days before 2010 started, but I was scraping the bottom of the barrel to find amazing books from 2010, so I’m counting it! I loved this year-long account of Rubin’s quest to apply all the latest happiness research to enhance her own life experience so much that I taught a whole unit around it when I was still teaching 7th graders. This is one of the (very) few books I’ve reread in the last decade!
- An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler
- This lesser-known gem has forever changed the way I will think about cooking. Equal parts poetic prose about the process of cooking and preparing food and solid suggestions for how to make a meal based on the ingredients you have at hand (without a recipe), this book seems especially applicable right now, when so many are living off their pantry and having to make do with limited trips to the grocery store. I used to be a devout recipe follower and felt terrified of straying the least bit from what was written, but this book taught me to hone my cook’s intuition through such chapters as “how to boil water” and “how to season a salad.” It’s hard to peg this book into a simple category, but if you like reading foodie-type memoirs, love luscious descriptions of food, and want to be a master of the kitchen Depression-era style, this is a book worth picking up.
- The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
- I need to reread this one to assure myself that it really is as good as I remember it, but two things stick out about this title, even after the lapse of these 9 years since reading it: 1) I couldn’t believe Obreht’s writing talent and all the awards she won with this at the age of just 24, and 2) this book’s odd blend of myth and reality and a touch of magical realism somehow just worked. The Tiger’s Wife is the story of young doctor Natalia, who is coming to grips with the death of her grandfather, specifically through two folkloric characters that he was always obsessed with–The Deathless Man and The Tiger’s Wife. If you need something light and fluffy and easy to jump in and out of, this isn’t it, but if you’re looking for an exquisitely written story with many, many layers to disappear into, give this one a try.
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
- This is the book that put Ivey on the map for me (and made me realize that she’s hardly published anything, which is a shame, though her book To the Bright Edge of the World is also phenomenal). The premise of this fictional read is that a childless couple moves to Alaska to try and start a new life after their dreams of having a child of their own were dashed. One night, in a moment of youthful glee at a snowfall outside, the couple builds a snowgirl together. The next day, a strange girl turns up, and the wife is left to wonder of a folk tale she often heard as a child. This flirts the line between magical realism and realistic fiction, and the writing about the Alaskan setting in particular is truly stunning.
- French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
- This book combines two of my favorite things–a fun, compelling memoir-driven narrative about the author’s (regular) life, and extremely useful nuggets of information that legitimately changed my life (in this case, the way I feed my children). Le Billon’s husband’s work ends up taking the family to France, where the author quickly learns that French food culture is not at all like American food culture. In this, she details how her daughters went from being some of the pickiest eaters of all time to being willing to try a wide variety of foods, including more “grown-up” tastes like strong cheeses and seafood. I loved this one so much I ended up purchasing my own copy after I’d finished it.
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
- Reviews of this Pulitzer winner are sharply mixed, with many falling into the camp of “hated it” and many falling into the camp of “this was brilliant.” I obviously fall into the latter, though I do recognize why some people had issues with it–there is an extremely slow, meandering section set in Las Vegas that’s hard to get through (plus a ton of profanity by one of the characters, which bugged me every time he showed up), but all in all, this book kind of blew my mind, and I think about it all the time even still. Basically the story centers around Theo, who was walking through a museum exhibit with his mother when a terrible explosion happened. In the chaos of the accident (which kills his mother), he steals a painting from the museum of The Goldfinch. His initial reasons for doing so were more noble than not, but as the book goes on, he must wrestle with the right thing to do, as well as with his ongoing journey of grief over the loss of his mother. I loved this huge doorstop of a book, but be warned that this won’t be for everyone.
- Honorable Mention (Fiction): A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
- Deliberate Motherhood by The Power of Moms
- While I don’t know if this would have the same impact on other moms, this was definitely a case of “right book, right time” for me. I picked this up on a whim very soon after giving birth to my second child, and the collection of essays on how to be intentional in your mothering efforts (even and especially when it’s such a struggle some days and some seasons) was both hugely motivating for me and hugely comforting. This is another one that I purchased my own copy of soon after finishing.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Remember when all the new WWII fiction started sweeping all the bestseller lists? Yeah, this was one of the ones that started off that “best of the best” WWII list, and even though this is one hugely long book, it is INCREDIBLE. Told in vignettes that vary perspective, this book mainly follows a blind French girl who’s forced to relocate to the country with her father and a young German soldier who’s recruited specifically for his mechanical genius. Oh, and there’s a huge, extremely rare and valuable jewel involved. Fun fact: Anthony Doerr was paid to go live in Italy in order to write this book, and after reading it, you’ll understand why. This one is a stunner, and it’s one of the (very) few books published recently that I’ve awarded five stars to.
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- I discovered this book soon after I started following the minimalism/simple living movement, and even though a lot of the ideas in this are framed around business and work, the concepts can apply to multiple areas of life. Basically, this nonfiction read argues that the best way to be as successful as possible is to stop spreading your focus over so many things and instead focus on just the most essential and put pretty much all your energy there. Seeing as I’m the kind of person who has a million different interests and projects going on at once, this book was a great reminder to me to stop trying to do it all.
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
- Another WWII pick here, this is one about a pair of sisters who are about as different as can be yet about how they both take life-changing and life-threatening risks to defend what’s right and help humankind in the ways that they can. The ending of this remains one of the most beautiful endings of a book I’ve read to date.
- Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
- While I didn’t love this Rubin work has much as The Happiness Project, I decided to include it as my “best of” nonfiction pick for 2015 because this is when she first introduced the idea of The Four Tendencies, which has stuck with me ever since. This is a book all about habits and how you can make good habits stick better, specifically by labeling which of the four tendencies you are and going from there. (She actually later wrote a whole book just about the four tendencies, but the original idea started here.) If you want to take her quiz to find out which you are, you can find that here. (P. S. I’m a questioner, in case you were wondering!)
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
- Oh Amor Towles, you need to publish your books more quickly! Towles’s books are exactly the kind of writing I like best—rich, memorable settings, character-based plotlines, and writing so exquisite I find myself reading and rereading the same passages just to savor it a little more. The premise of this book is kind of strange—basically, a rich Russian aristocat is condemned to house arrest in a luxury hotel for the rest of his life because of crimes against the new government. This book follows the many (many) years that follow and the colorful characters and situations he meets along the way. Wait, a book that’s all about being stuck indoors for a really long amount of time? Sounds like a perfect book to read during the current situation!
- How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White
- Dana K. White is a blogger at A Slob Comes Clean, and I feel like if I ever met her in person, we would just GET each other. My whole life I’ve struggled to keep my living spaces tidy (even though I love for them to actually BE tidy), and this book chronicles her journey out of slob-dom, basically. In the intro, she talks about how the problem with most organization books is that they’re written by naturally organized people, so what makes her book different is that she’s writing for the rest of us. I’m not always perfect at following her framework for keeping your house clean, but I am sooooo much better than I used to be because of it.
- Honorable Mention (Nonfiction): Deep Work by Cal Newport
- We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
- With all the WWII fiction being published in recent years, I wasn’t sure I could handle yet another one, but I’m so glad I gave this one a shot! The thing that makes this story so remarkable is that it’s based on what actually happened to the author’s ancestors, and the story is truly miraculous. Basically, a Jewish family is forced to all flee to different places during the war to try and survive–some get caught in work camps, others travel across oceans, some use their light coloring to bravely try and pass in broad daylight as non-Jewish. This is the kind of book that makes you want to hold onto your families a little closer, and it will make you marvel at the human capacity for resilience amidst opposition.
- Option B by Sheryl Sandberg
- This is a book I was super hesitant to read–2017 was a very hard year for me, and it brought on a lot of anxiety about what further hardships might be waiting around the corner. But, as it would happen, this book ended up being exactly what I needed, even though sometimes reading about other people’s trials in the book did occasionally make my anxiety flare up at the thought they could happen to me, too. Sandberg, who was the founder of the enormously popular Lean In movement, was on vacation with her husband when he suddenly and very unexpectedly died while exercising. This book covers the next year as she worked to wade through her grief and her new normal, and it also contains strategies she learned for finding resilience, optimism, and even joy amidst hard things. I have frequently reflected on things I learned from this since reading it, and it’s made me know a little bit better about how to try approaching others who are going through hard things, especially when you don’t know what to say or do.
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
- There’s a reason this one has gotten as much buzz as it has. While I’ll admit that I didn’t *love* the ending, I did love everything else about this—I loved the breathtaking descriptions of the marsh setting, the internal growth and progression of the main character, the hint of mystery throughout. Basically, at the beginning of the novel, someone in the community is dead, and the fingers are all pointing at “The Marsh Girl,” who was abandoned by her mother and siblings and finally by her father when still a child, and who had to teach herself how to survive a seemingly uncaring world. I don’t take the time to reread many books, but this is one that I definitely plan to.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- This is, hands-down, the best book on habits I’ve ever read. It not only includes inspiring examples and follows an easily readable, compelling format, but the strategies it lists are doable, motivational, and concrete. I was such a fan, actually, that I immediately subscribed to Clear’s free weekly newsletter, which is fabulous, and which I look forward to reading every week.
- This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
- Some years I don’t read ANY 5-star fiction reads, so I was pleased when I read this one just a month or so into 2020 and it definitely well earned its five! This is a Huck Finn-esque coming-of-age story of a group of misfits, including a pair of brothers, who escape from an orphanage/boys’ home to escape the law and the lack of opportunities for their futures. While on their way to the brothers’ aunt’s house (the only family they know of), they meet a colorful cast of characters–some helpful, some dangerous–and the ending took a twist I never saw coming. This one was both entertaining and illuminating (not to mention very well-written), which is quite a difficult combination to pull off. (Note: his book Ordinary Grace was excellent, as well.)
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- I felt like this book justified all the “crazy,” out-of-social-norms decisions we’ve made over the years, like not owning smart phones, watching our social media use (or bowing out of it entirely, as my husband has) and severely limiting our kids’ screen time. This book combines a ton of research on the ways that technology affects us, and much of it is not good (as I’m sure you could have guessed). However, I like that this book also takes a more realistic approach to how to cut down on but still use technology going forward to get the maximum benefit out of it. Fair warning: If you read this, prepare to change your screen habits.
What were your favorite books published in the last decade?
P. S. Have you subscribed to my email newsletter yet? If you go through this link, you’ll get a free copy of the mini ebook I created of 25 of the books on my reading bucket list, and you’ll also get a monthly email in your inbox that shares personal insights, book lists, things I’m learning lately, and more. Click here to get that ebook delivered right now!
P. P. S. If you’re going crazy while stuck at home and would like some resources on everything from preparing meals based on what’s at hand to homeschooling your kids to figuring out new routines and self-care, then check out the Stay at Home Survival Bundle, which includes 21 value-packed resources for just $19.97. However, the deal does end TONIGHT (4/8) at midnight, so act fast to get your bundle now!