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The decade's best books 

As we've said here before, these are simply the picks of one book addict. Any additions by readers are welcome.


10. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2001). Beautiful and harsh, this retelling of the story of legendary Australian bandit Kelly, in his own words, says volumes about national identity, family, and the interface of myth and real life.

9. A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus (2006). The first great "9/11 novel" turned out to be a dark comedy about a divorcing NYC couple who, after both are disappointed that the other accidentally survived the 9/11 attacks, engage in terrorism on a personal level.

8. The Appointment by Herta Muller (2002). I knew nothing about 2009 Nobel Prize winner Muller, so I picked up this novel of a Romanian seamstress who is summoned for questioning by the secret police, and was knocked on my butt. Writing so taut it's about to snap, serious political nastiness, and deep personal revelations -- wow.

7. Drop City by T.C. Boyle (2004). Boyle writes convincingly about the troubles of a hippie commune in the early 1970s. A wealth of vivid characters in chaotic culture clashes, plus the ironic realization that the era's communes were as American as apple pie.

6. Serena by Ron Rash (2008). With the Depression-era lumber industry in western N.C. and a budding conservation movement as his setting, Rash created a story for the ages, complete with Shakespearean levels of ambition, cruelty and deception -- and a female protagonist unique in American literature.

5. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002). An epic of three generations of a Greek family in Detroit, including the narrator, Calliope, who finds she/he is a hermaphrodite. A big family saga, American life, intelligence, heart, and explorations of gender questions -- what more do you want?

4. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2003). Utterly unique, largely written in broken English, the story of an American Jew searching for his heritage in Ukraine is hilarious, heartbreaking, mind-bending and audacious.

3. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (2006). Two extraordinary, incisive short novels of the French in World War II, written by a Jewish author as the war was happening, and rediscovered more than 40 years after her death at Auschwitz.

2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000). A big, fat masterpiece that's brilliant and inventive from start to finish, Kavalier & Clay is ostensibly about two cousins who help launch the golden age of comics. It's also about mid-century America, fantasy, myths, ethics, art triumphing over hate, exploration, and well, nearly everything.

1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000). This astonishing first novel of multiple cultures blending and bumping around in North London was the debut of a major talent, and a streetwise, inventive, compassionate look at the evolving cultural mix we're living in today.


10. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (2001). The book that jumpstarted Americans' re-examination of our love/hate relationship with quick, greasy foods.

9. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2009). Fiction prodigy Eggers switched to narrative nonfiction to tell the true, closely observed story of one New Orleans family and their experiences of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Eggers penetrates both the goodness in America's psyche as well as its darker dysfunctions in times of crisis.

8. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq 2003-2005 by Thomas E. Ricks (2007). If you want to know just how things went so wrong, this is the one, definitive book to get, period.

7. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001). The author tried to live for two years on the wages of the average unskilled American worker, in order to find out how the working poor make it. Her answer: A lot of them don't. These visceral dispatches from the ragged fringe of the American dream are indispensable.

6. Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan (2004). Dylan's deadpan account of his breakthrough onto the Greenwich Village scene is told with all the verbal panache you would expect of the greatest lyricists of all.

5. Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995 by Joe Sacco (2000). Sacco essentially invented a new genre, historical journalistic narrative in comics form. He went to Bosnia and came back with this wrenching story of the human side of war (while breaking news stories left and right). A landmark book.

4. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross (2007). Classical music critic for the New Yorker blew the doors off usual concepts of music history with this breathtaking look at 20th century "serious" music, its creators and the contexts within which they worked.

3. In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman (2004). This tall, 48-page graphic nonfiction book by Art Spiegelman, the author/artist of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, is a complex, delightful and harrowing work that tells a riveting story of living in lower Manhattan in September 2001, and how the attacks changed everything, inside Spiegelman and out. A genuine masterpiece of human imagination.

2. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta (2005). Wonderful, energetic writing that brings the fire and spirit of one of the world's most fascinating, delightful and dangerous places to life.

1. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda's Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (2006). An unquestioned masterwork of journalism, Looming Tower relates how semi-competent Islamic militant groups grew in size and ingenuity, up to the 9/11 attacks. Phenomenal reporting riding on great writing, the book packs an emotional punch lacking in most political histories.

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