Writers and scholars share their favorite books of the decade
With 2010 drawing to a close, Ransom Edition asked writers and scholars to share their pick for the best book of the past decade.
Steve Harrigan recommends:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
(Harper Collins, 2009)
Selecting the best book of the first decade of the twenty-first-century would have been a difficult task for me if, at the beginning of 2010, I hadn't begun reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Mantel's blood-deep understanding of the world of Henry VIII's court, and her ability to convey that knowledge to the reader with such acuity and dexterity, is almost supernatural.
Steve Harrigan is a novelist, journalist, and former staff writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly.
Selina Hastings recommends:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy describes the journey of a father and son through a post-apocalyptic world of utter desolation. Surrounded by death and near-darkness, the two forage desperately for food, forced to be constantly on the alert for the gangs of murderous thugs also fighting for survival. McCarthy's magnificent novel is written in a beautiful, bleak, and poetic prose that frighteningly conveys the imminence of death; at the same time he allows for a small element of hope in the powerful bond of love between the man and his boy.
Writer and journalist Selina Hastings is the author of literary biographies on Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Rosamond Lehmann, and Somerset Maugham, as well as numerous books for children.
Randolph Lewis recommends:
Remainder by Tom McCarthy
Remainder follows a young Londoner suffering from the dulling sensation that modern life has become "plastic, imperfect, [and] unreal." His solution? To orchestrate the precise reenactment of small but vital moments—fixing flats, cooking liver, robbing banks. It's all part of an eccentric project, half art, half tyranny, designed to help him to simply feel real in an age that conspires against it. The mysteries of being have rarely been plumbed with such mordant wit.
Randolph Lewis is an Associate Professor in the American Studies Department at The University of Texas at Austin.
Penelope Lively recommends:
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro
(Harper Collins, 2005)
I like books that leave me better informed, that surprise me, that change my view. James Shapiro's 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare did all that. I suppose that I held—vaguely—the Coleridgean view that Shakespeare transcends his age "as if of another planet." Shapiro demonstrates with elegance and authority how the work of that year—Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, first draft of Hamlet—sprang directly from the action and the anxieties of the age: the war in Ireland, the fear of the Spanish, the question of the succession, and the possibility of Elizabeth's assassination.
Penelope Lively is a Booker Prize-winning novelist. Her archive resides at the Ransom Center.
Iain Sinclair recommends:
Poems by J. H. Prynne
(Bloodaxe Books, 2006)
The great yellow block of J. H. Prynne's Poems, gathered and delivered in 2006, is not fixed in that year, or this decade. It's a coming into light, into public gaze, of many privately published or small-press presented items. By choice, the poet has circulated his work among his peers, freely, without that vulture on the shoulder. Now it's here, present, provocative: of pleasure and mind-play and useful difficulty.
Iain Sinclair is a writer and filmmaker. His archive resides at the Ransom Center.