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10 x 10: The Best Books of the Decade

Best Realistic Fiction and Memoir

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • December 06, 2019

Counting down to 2020, we present week two of our 10 x 10 series—ten lists of the ten top books from the past ten years. Each week until the end of the year, we will publish lists for two genres together. Last week's lists (in case you missed it) were Kids and Young Adults. This week, it's Realistic Fiction and Memoir. Needless to say, there were myriad options and we've definitely missed many wonderful books, so please let us know about your favorites in the comments below!

Realistic Fiction 10 x 10

This list of our favorite realistic fiction from the last decade represents a variety of cultures and time periods.

  • RoomEmma Donoghue's intense story is told from the POV of five-year-old Jack, who has never been outside the room where his mom has been held captive for seven years. Made into an acclaimed 2015 film.
  • The Art of Fielding—With an appealing cast of characters, each in the midst of a profound life transition, this warmhearted novel from Chad Harbach deals with themes of family, friendship, and love.
  • Bring Up the Bodies—The second in Hilary Mantel's award-winning Thomas Cromwell Trilogy delves into the heart of the Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn from a new perspective.
  • Americanah—In this powerful, tender romance by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, a young Nigerian couple, separated from each other and their homeland, grapple with issues of race and identity.
  • All The Light We Cannot See—Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Anthony Doerr's breathtaking WWII novel tells the story of a blind French girl and a German boy struggling to survive the devastation of occupied France.
  • The Sympathizer—Also a Pulitzer Prize-winner, this gripping espionage tale from Viet Thanh Nguyen explores themes of identity, love, friendship, and betrayal.
  • The Underground Railroad—This tour de force from Colson Whitehead won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. A young slave makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.
  • Pachinko—A sweeping saga from Min Jin Lee, this novel charts the path of four generations of a Korean immigrant family as they struggle against the tides of prejudice and unrest in 20th-century Japan.
  • The Overstory—Absorbing and beautiful, this elegiac epic by Richard Powers speaks to the collective sorrow and passion of environmental activists (and trees!) as they battle against the destruction of the planet.
  • Women Talking—Based on true events, this novel from Miriam Toews documents secret meetings held by a group of Mennonite women who learn that they have been systematically drugged and violated by men in their community.

Memoir 10 x 10

The popularity of memoir has been steadily on the rise and, along with that, the quality of the material has definitely been elevated. A tough field indeed!

  • Hitch 22—Journalist and provocateur Christopher Hitchens examines turns his fiercely intellectual gaze inward. Published just one year before his death at age 62, this book gives a glimpse into his extraordinary life.
  • Just Kids—Legendary musician and artist Patti Smith offers a lyrical account of her remarkable relationship with renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and their life in New York City in the 60s and 70s. National Book Award winner.
  • Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal—A witty, fierce, and celebratory exploration of identity, family, and home. Jeannette Winterson tells the story of her upbringing as a gay, adopted daughter in a Pentecostal family.
  • Men We Reaped—Two-time National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward contends with the deaths of five men in her life, over the course of five years. A beautiful take on the harsh world young, black men face in the rural South.
  • I am MalalaMalala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel laureate ever, brings us her story of standing up to the Taliban and nearly paying the ultimate price. Miraculous and inspiring!
  • Barbarian DaysWilliam Finnegan's vivid, hypnotic coming-of-age story about his surfing days takes readers along on his worldwide wave-chasing adventures. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
  • Born a Crime—Born to a white father and black mother at a time and place when the union was punishable by five years in prison, Trevor Noah relays the compelling, remarkable story of his journey.
  • Hunger—Bestselling author Roxane Gay shares her devastating story of being brutally raped at age twelve. Her clear-eyed observations of the resulting emotional fallout, i.e. overeating and abusive relationships, cut deep.
  • Educated—The youngest of seven children born to survivalist parents, Tara Westover grew up without conventional schooling or medical care. Her story of breaking free from this isolated—and often violent—world is not to be missed.
  • Once More We Saw Stars—After losing his two-year-old daughter in a freak accident, Jayson Greene navigates a landscape of unfathomable grief. A profound and beautiful exploration of the redemptive powers of love amidst unimaginable loss.

Too Many to Choose!

These are just a few of the books from the past ten years that we've loved, but it really was nearly impossible to winnow it down! Surely you have some favorites to add. Let us know in the comments! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily book suggestions, book news, and more.

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Memoir | BestOfTheDecade | Nonfiction | Fiction
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