After reflecting on our favorite books of 2009, it was only natural that we compile a list of our favorite reads of the 2000s. We actually spent weeks knocking around titles, constructing lists, tallying votes and proffering recasts — all sorts of obsessive fine-tuning to achieve what we believe to be a representative list of our favorites books from the past decade.
Through the long lens of recent history, it's easy to recall books that have stayed with us and remained a formative part of us. It's considerably harder to winnow the choices down, so we've constructed a list of twenty top titles, all of which received multiple staff member votes and reflect a kind of Turnrow ethos, if you will. The second list of honorable mentions reflects our personal and distinctive tastes, titles which may have been equally important to at least one of us and refuse to go unmentioned when considering the long list of stellar contemporary literature.
We must also mention that we kept our selections to long reads, omitting (unfairly perhaps) the bounty of wonderful cookbooks, art books and illustrated children's books we encountered over the years.
The short list:
20. The Heaven of Mercury by Brad Watson
Though it was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002, it somehow remains one of the great underrated Mississippi novels of recent years. A major work of Southern gothic by one of our favorite writers, who will sign and read from his new book here April 1.
19. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
For pure, simple pleasure, this novel of romance among the circus workers has plenty of swooning fans.
18. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
A major book that launched a new kind of food writing. For better or worse, it remains a book that will most definitely change the way you think about eating in restaurants.
17. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
A boisterous, ambitious and unforgettable novel by one of the most astonishing new talents of the decade — the story of an obsessive collector who travels the world, scraping up bits of his own family history.
16. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
A most unusual memoir by a major writing talent. Hilarious, genre-bending, and it blows the minds of young readers expecting a run-of-the-mill biography.
15. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
One of the era's defining novels about the crazed and unconventional modern family.
14. Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin
Franklin updates the Old West novel, bringing it to backwoods Alabama and heaping it with Southern grit. A modern classic begging to be made into a film.
13. Mary by Janis Cooke Newman
Not only a staff favorite, this fictionalized biography of Mary Todd Lincoln is one of the biggest Turnrow customer sleeper favorites.
12. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
A compelling love story, based on Frank Lloyd Wright's scandalous affair, told with depth, compassion and historic flair.
11. The Cave by Jose Saramago
A brilliant parable on consumerism, artfully told through the story of a potter and his family. We remain convinced that the Portuguese novelist (author of Blindness) is one of our greatest living writers.
10. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
Despite mixed reviews for the follow-up to her sensational debut, The Secret History, we found this novel to be a perfectly pitched depiction of growing up in Mississippi — both light-hearted and menacing. (She was born in Greenwood, by the way, and grew up just down the road in Grenada. She stopped in the store over the holidays and signed some paperbacks.)
9. City of Thieves by David Benioff
We love a cold Russian novel. This one, set amid the siege of Leningrad, has a lighter step than you'd think, with the most memorable odd-couple protagonists in recent memory, sent on a fool's errand with plenty of exciting turns.
8. One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash
Debut novel by the South Carolina poet who has become one of the most beloved Southern writers among our staff and customers.
7. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Reading this rich, deeply layered historical saga of black-owned slaves in Virginia reminded us of reading William Faulkner, Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There's nothing like a great story in the hands of a master storyteller.
6. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Maybe it's because we're in a food town, but Pollan's investigation into the modern food industry and our culture of consumption gave us plenty to chew on. This book was a major inspiration for much of the food-related activity we've engaged in outside of the store, and it remains one of our favorite hand-sell books. You'll never shop for food the same.
5. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Still the best book about a boy stranded at sea with a tiger (and several other wild animals) that we've ever read. A transformative novel.
4. Twilight by William Gay
"The other Twilight," as we've often referred to it. For Southern literature buffs as well as anyone who likes a dark, literary thriller. This one involves a kinky undertaker, a demented backwoods murderer, and a chase through a mythic and creepy forest in the hills of Tennessee.
3. The People's Act of Love by James Meek
A tremendous novel in every regard — full of adventure, terror, romance — that boldly (and successfully) stands alongside the great Russian classics. Still one of our favorite books to recommend for long, cold winter nights.
2. Among the Missing by Dan Chaon
Everyone on staff who read this unassuming collection of short stories put it on their best-of-the-decade list. Like great short story masters of previous decades (Carver, Cheever, etc.), this one continues to find and inspire new fans.
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
We labored over our list of favorites from the past decade, but selecting the number one book was a cinch. No book that we read, released during the past ten years, had the resonance to haunt us days, weeks, months and years after reading it. This post-apocalyptic road novel possesses the uncanny ability to take the reader to the depths of despair and leave us wanting more.
And the honorable mentions, taken from our individual favorites:
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd
The Eternal Frontier by Tim Flannery
Fay by Larry Brown
The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
The Friends of Meager Fortune by Davids Adams Richards
The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Lisey's Story by Stephen King
Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles
The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich
Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun
A Miracle of Catfish by Larry Brown
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure by Jack Pendarvis
My War Gone By, I Miss it So by Anthony Loyd
Oracle Night by Paul Auster
Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert
Seaworthy by T.R. Pearson
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Tender Hooks by Beth Ann Fennell
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Yonder Stands Your Orphan by Barry Hannah