Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Books

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’m also doing decade lists. Following are my favorite books that were released between 2000-2009. It turns out my two favorite books of the early aughts – Douglas Copeland’s Girlfriend in a Coma and Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – were released in the mid-1990s. Oh well. With one exception, I only included books that were newly released in this decade…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Books

10. Ian McEwan: On Chesil Beach

This unique little novella is probably not one that I would re-read, but I did like it enough to buy it after I’d checked it out from the library. There was just something so elegant and insightful about its painfully realistic depiction of an inexperienced couple’s awkward wedding night in 1962.

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9. Lin Enger: Undiscovered Country

2008 was a very good year for novels. As I said in my review: “Undiscovered Country is a modernized retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in small town Minnesota.” I still think it’s a shame a certain bloated, boring copycat Oprah book club selection stole the attention and praise this novel rightfully deserved.

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8. Maggie O’Farrell: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

I summed it all up in my review: “Irish author Maggie O’Farrell has quickly become a favorite writer of mine. Her new novel The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox is a beautifully written, enthralling piece of Gothic fiction that effortlessly weaves together the emotional and riveting threads of one family’s multi-generational tale. “

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7. Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness

One of the most unique books ever written. I would have put it at #1, except it’s too painful for me personally to ever re-read. As I said in my review, “Harvey’s beautiful, intelligent prose weaves the frayed threads of Jacob’s turbulent life and decaying mind together to create a magnificent tapestry of tragedy and hope.”

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6. Emma Forrest: Namedropper

Compared to the rest of the list, this book probably ranks higher for nostalgic value than the quality of the novel itself. It’s a fun read about the loves and semi-adventures of vivacious, melodramatic, Elizabeth Taylor-obsessed Viva, including her encounter with an ill-fated indie musician that was inspired by Jeff Buckley.

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5. Lee Maynard: Crum

Most of the world may not know who local writer Lee Maynard is, but he is known in West Virginia as the infamous author whose book Crum has been banned in various bookstores throughout the state. The book fictionalizes and scandalizes portions of Maynard’s adolescent years in Crum, WV. It’s been called an Appalachian Catcher in the Rye, but I think it’s far superior.

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4. Robert Cremins: A Sort of Homecoming

This book was originally released in Ireland in late 1999, but the paperback edition wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2000. It was Brendan‘s favorite book then, and I read it when we were living in Ireland during the summer of 2000. I agreed with Brendan’s assessment that the novel perfectly and humorously captured the real Dublin of that time.

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3. James Long: Ferney

I’m cheating a little here, as Ferney was originally released in the late 1990s. But the edition I bought and read this year was a 2001 reprint. As I said in my review: “Ferney is a tale of immortal love trapped within the confines of mortal flesh…the narrative is intricately and intelligently crafted.” This is one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I finished it.

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2. Mary Ann Shaffer: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

This delightful little book is one that I expect to read over and over again throughout my life. I said in my review: “I found myself cheering for these fictional people I had unwittingly become so invested in. “.

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1. Markus Zusak: The Book Thief

As I said in my original review, “The Book Thief is one of the most brilliant and emotional books I’ve ever read. The book is narrated by the personification of Death, and tells the story of nine year old orphan Liesel Meminger in World War II era Germany..” It was #1 on my 2008 book list, and I think it will eventually be considered a classic.

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Mary Ann Shaffer: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is a delightful, intelligent, and often emotional novel written by Mary Ann Shaffer with help from her niece Annie Barrows (Shaffer died before the book’s completion and publication). The title does the story a disservice, as this is not some Jane Austen chick lit book club schmaltz – though Austen is one of the many authors referenced in the book. Instead, the plot involves the serendipitous correspondence between a London writer and various inhabitants of one of the Channel Islands recently freed from German occupation in the post-war 1940s.


I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is told entirely in the form of letters between author Juliet Ashton, her publishers and other acquaintances in London, and the residents of Guernsey Island. It all begins when a farmer on the island, Dawsey Adams, finds Juliet’s contact information in an used book by Charles Lamb. Adams initially writes to Juliet requesting more information on Lamb, but soon he and many of his neighbors share their personal stories with Ashton as she begins assembling a novel of her own about the island and its German invaders.

Like Ashton, I found myself being drawn to a character that we never really meet. Elizabeth McKenna was the founding member of the Guernsey Literary Society, which originally began merely as an alibi for a group of Islanders who missed the German enforced curfew one night. Soon the group made their fictional book club a reality, and even the most uneducated members found themselves pontificating over the classics.

At times I was reminded of 84 Charing Cross Road or Ella Minnow Pea, but the Guernsey story is so complex and its characters so original that comparisons didn’t last long. There is a bit of fluff in the middle involving Juliet’s short-lived romance with a London cad, but it’s worth trudging through for the second half of the novel. Amidst all of the humor and light-hearted anecdotes that make up the book are heart wrenching stories about the war and concentration camps. But despite a very sad revelation toward the end of the book, the finale itself is so joyous that I found myself cheering for these fictional people I had unwittingly become so invested in.

You can read an excerpt from the novel at NPR. I discovered after reading the novel that Shaffer was a West Virginia native and relative of Strange As This Weather Has Been author Ann Pancake.

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