The 6 Best: My Favorite Books of 10 Cities/10 Years, So Far


As I head into my 7th year of a 10 year project, I’m looking back on the art that I’ve discovered in my first 6 cities.  I’m examining the music, films and literature that have had the greatest impact on my life throughout the previous 6 cities.  In doing so, I’m only discussing the albums, movies and books that were released since June 1st, 2005, the official start of the project.  My intention is not to proclaim these as the greatest works of art in the past 6 years, but rather to spotlight the art that has had the deepest, most consistent effect on my life and the entire 10 Cities Project.

Regular readers will probably recognize a few of these from previous posts.  But maybe a few will surprise you.

Listed in order of release date.

Note: For my top 6 books, I’m focusing only on novels.  Instead of the usual “Honorable Mention” section, I will list my favorite non-fiction books from the last 6 years.  Because books cannot be digested as quickly as albums or films, the number of novels published post-June 1st, 2005 that I have read is considerably less than my consumption of music and movies.  I won’t claim to have read even a fair sample of all the books that have been published in the last 6 years.
Still, the 6 novels I have chosen here are unequivocally great books, ones I would recommend wholeheartedly.  Unfortunately, I could much easier come up with a list of 6 recent novels that disappointed me.  But I digress.

Novels

So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor
Published: August 7, 2006

Own or Checked Out From Library: Own
Thoughts:  Where do I begin?  This was the novel that gave me faith in modern literature.  Before this book, when it came to fiction, I pretty much only read works written before my birth, and usually by a few decades.  This book (along with McGregor’s debut, “If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things”) showed me that there were authors who were writing fiction the way I want to write, with character-driven narratives, poetically-crafted language and plots that felt true to real life.  Since this book, I’ve found many other modern authors creating literature of this quality, but when I read this it was like I had seen a miracle.

Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris
Published: March 1, 2007

Own or Checked Out From Library: Own
Thoughts:  A novel set in an office?  Why would I care?  This thought is exactly why, after having bought this book for a few dollars at a thrift store, it sat on my shelf unread for months.  But then I was out of books to read and too busy to visit the library, so I picked it up.  I’m glad I did.  So much more than “Office Space in book form,” this novel weaves together the lives of coworkers by simultaneously shifting the narrator’s point of view while maintaining the central, plural first-person point of view.  It’s funny, it’s tender, it’s ultimately forgiving of all of its characters, even as we witness their many, many (many) flaws.  All first novels should be this good.

Lush Life by Richard Price
Published: March 4, 2008

Own or Checked Out From Library: Checked out.
Thoughts:  After praising a book for being more than a movie in book form, it’s probably a little weird for me to say that this book is “The Wire” in book form, but trust me, that is high praise.  “The Wire” may be the greatest television show ever created, and certainly the greatest Cop Show.  So, when one of the writers of that show writes a crime novel, you know you’re in for a treat.  A truly great story with intriguing characters and twists that feel natural, not contrived for effect.  Price has been in the business a long time, and this book displays his status as a consummate professional and talent.

Sunnyside by Glen David Gold
Published: May 5, 2009

Own or Checked Out From Library: Own, though it’s the free Advanced Reader Copy (one of the great perks of working at a bookstore).
Thoughts:  Just when I was beginning to think Jon McGregor may be an anomally in modern literature, I found this book while working at the San Francisco bookstore.  My God is this book good.  I wish so desperately I had written this book.  Set in the early portion of the 20th century (pretty much my favorite period for literature and history), Charlie Chaplin serves as the central character around which all the other narratives orbit, and there is a wealth of other narratives.  Gold has taken some of my favorite themes – re-imagined history, Young Hollywood, Celebrity-culture – and tied them all into an intricate and, ultimately, human story.  And, like with McGregor, Gold’s first book, “Carter Beats The Devil,” proves this is an author for the ages.  I can’t wait for more from him.

36 Arguments For The Existence Of God by Rebecca Goldstein
Published: January 12, 2010

Own or Checked Out From Library: Checked out.
Thoughts: A novel with an atheist as its central protagonist?  Sign me up.  Of course, that probably sends 85% of the population running for the doors, but it shouldn’t.  While this book makes no qualms about doubting spirituality (it even ends with a dissection of the 36 “best” arguments for God), it’s also not judgmental of faith.  In fact, the books greatest sympathy probably lies with a particular sect of Orthodox Jewish characters.  But lest you think this is the equivalent of Richard Dawkins writing a novel (which would probably actually be good), this is really a story of love and sex and family.  And it even manages to make a scene featuring an academic debate quite enjoyable and tense.  An intellectual read, if that doesn’t scare you off.

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Published: June 8, 2010

Own or Checked Out From Library: Checked out.
Thoughts:  This is the most recent novel I’ve read, and boy did I need it.  I’ve been in such a slump of reading ‘just okay’ novels by so many authors (even authors on this list), and I really needed to read something fresh, interesting and well-written.  And something that worked from beginning to end.  So many novels I read start strong and then drop off, or start weak but gradually build to something faintly praise-worthy.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this novel at first and wasn’t hooked by the first chapter.  But by the second chapter, everything was in place and I was thoroughly engaged.  And then this novel had the audacity to ignore the two main characters for large chunks of the book.  Ignore might not be the right word.  It writes around them.  This book travels through their personal histories, even going so far as to shift its focus to completely tangential characters for entire chapters.  This is a book about dozens of characters, and yet, in the end, just about two.  Well written, experimental at times and still wholly true to the characters, my faith in modern literature has (once again) been (re-)restored.

Top 10 Non-Fiction:

The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower
Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson
The Family by Jeff Sharlet
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder
Joseph’s Bones by Jerome M. Segal
A Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut
The Post-American World: Release 2.0 by Fareed Zakaria
Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne


Albums / Films

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