Every decade has its best books. You know what I am talking about, those books that stand out by making a lasting impression. Since the first novel was published 1000 years ago, there have been so many books written in each decade.
As all passionate readers know, there are too many books and too little time. If you want to read the best books, then you need to consider the best books in each decade. Some decades provide many of the best books ever written.
Think of the 1960s. The social upheaval and resistance to the status quo led to the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Ariel by Sylvia Plath, and the autobiography of Malcolm X (to name only a few).
We can get a sense of the decade from what novels are written and what people consider to be the best books of that decade. And that is what this article will consider.
What are the 10 best books or novels of all times?
There are so many options to choose from filtering lists according to fiction, non-fiction, or other genres. Then we add readers’ specific tastes as well! Not every person is quite as happy reading Shakespeare as the next.
The best books of all time is a list that could be endlessly debated. And the book crowned as the best is often an interesting reflection on the reader themselves. However, we will try to be as objective as possible. This list is compiled by using an algorithm to overlap entries from 130 “best books” lists and is a great place to take a look if you are wanting to consider weighty questions of the best book of all time.
We will list them in the latter section.
What are the best books of the present decade?
Rather than asking grandiose questions of history or all of the best books ever published, it can be far more interesting to consider the best books of the decade that we are currently in.
If books are a reflection of who we are and the stories we tell, what is the more immediate reflection of the best books of the last decade? 1000 years in the future, when they look back at the years 2012 to 2022 and the books we valued, what will that say about us?
Again, we could consider different genres separately, and philosophically consider what makes the best books a best for the decade. But books, in whatever decade they are written, are first and foremost about being read.
This list of best books in the decade is published between 2012 and 2022. We consider not only the impact or the importance of the book or novel but the readability as well. Sometimes you just want to read a good book!
The 15 best books of the decade
1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013):
This is a flawless novel about Ifemelu who leaves Nigeria to live in America. She is forced to navigate what it means to be African in the US.
This book has won multiple awards and deserves its place as the best book of the decade.
Adichie writes the story in a way that captures the urgency and heartache of finding your way in a new country and the lengths one goes to feel a sense of belonging far from home.
2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015):
A Little Life is astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving. While it should come with a trigger warning, this epic tale follows four college friends as they make their way in the world by moving to New York.
As time passes their friendship evolves, and Yanagihara effectively navigates the reader through some of the darkest moments presented in fiction with empathy and authenticity.
This is the second best books of the decade.
3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013):
13-year-old Theo Decker miraculously survives an explosion that kills his mother while visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see an exhibition that includes Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch.
Tartt tracks the development of Theo and how he becomes part of the gritty underworld of art collecting.
The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing book that you will want to tell everyone about. While this best books of the century was controversially received, it is a book that is great to read.
4. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011):
Barnes presents a mystery that is steeped in psychological and emotional complexity.
Tony Webster is a man in his sixties who has to return to his memories of his early twenties and reevaluate how he remembers himself as well as others in his life.
How one-sided are these memories? And what does this mean for the life that he has lived?
You’ll get to understand all these when you read this best books of the decade/century.
5. The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (2012–15):
This story in four books spans 50 years and follows the twists and turns of the friendship between Elena and Lila. This book tells the story of a friendship that rings true and explores the transformation of their neighborhood, city, and country during their lives.
This best books of the century is a must-read.
6. Less by Andrew Sean Greer (2017):
This tragicomedy follows the journey of Arthur, a writer in the grips of an existential crisis.
Haunted by the memory of the relationships he has had, he encounters old and new friends during his travels across the globe, all the while struggling with a lingering question of whether he will ever be good enough.
7. Severance by Ling Ma (2018):
Severance explores themes of nostalgia, modern office culture, monotony, and intimate relationships against the backdrop of a pandemic that causes the zombie apocalypse.
Haunting and sharply sardonic, Ling Ma writes with a sense of prescience that is difficult to shrug off.
This is another in our archives of the best books of the decade.
8. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017):
This book grapples with the truth at the heart of the American story as well as the power and limitations found within the concept of family.
Ward expertly charts a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and a searing insight into society.
Richly written, this book will move you and stay with you long after you have finished it.
9. Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018):
This is a love story. A love story about two people who are not allowed to love each other.
While this does seem rather cliché, Rooney brings a psychological acuity to the relationship through which she explores the subtleties of class in modern society as well as the complexities of love entanglements that leave their mark on who we are.
Trust me, this is a worthy read from the staples of the best books of the decade/century.
10. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017):
A heart-wrenching story, this book follows Nadia and Saeed as they step through a magical door, emerging into an alien and uncertain future from a city torn by violence.
Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, this book tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage.
11. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (2019):
This book follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Even while there are things that they have in common, they are also incredibly different from one another.
Evaristo traces these lives with insight and empathy, weaving a network of women that intersect one another in ways that shows the mastery of her craft.
12. The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2015):
A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, this book showcases Beatty’s comic genius.
It challenges the normality of urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship as well as the legal systems’ idea of justice.
As the name of this decade’s best book, it is a banger that you must read.
13. NW: A Novel by Zadie Smith (2012):
NW follows four Londoners as they try to establish their adult lives outside of the council estate of their childhood. A deeply urban novel, there is a devastating reality captured in this book.
Anyone who lives or wants to live in a city should read this.
14. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (2020):
Powerful, raw, intimate, this is a layered novel about a Ghanaian family who has immigrated to Alabama.
The family struggles with depression, addiction, and grief in their new home. This is a story about faith, science, religion, love, and belonging. A story that is both emotionally searing and exquisitely written.
As a lover of all things science, read this best-seller which is one of the best books of the century.
15. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (2020):
Focusing on identical twins who are separated and live very different lives, Bennett weaves together multiple narratives and generations of their family that move from the Deep South to California.
In equal measures a story of family and a story of American history.
Lastly, this is the last book on our list of best books of the decade.
These 15 best books of the decade/century spanning from 2012 to 2022 are brilliant, moving, challenging, and engaging.
What do they show about us as we live through this decade? They show that we can tell innovative stories that still reflect on humanity and most importantly, togetherness.