Tuesday, December 31, 2019

An Annotated List of the 50 Books that Had the Biggest Impact on Me in the 2010s

These are the books that really worked their hooks into me in the last ten years. I've been on Goodreads for the entire decade, but only blogging for the last few years, so it's possible my list will be skewed towards more recent reads. Some of these books weren't on yesterday's EVEN LONGER list because they were published before 2010, but I only read them this decade. Others weren't on the list because there are way too many books in my life to keep track of them all in a really organized way and still maintain the rest of my life. 

  1. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Life by Dashka Slater. This nonfiction report of what came before and after a Black teen set fire to the skirt a nonbinary teen was wearing was riveting.
  2. All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness by Sheila Hamilton. Hamilton was a local DJ and journalist, and her first book is about her ex-husband's death by suicide. I have loved ones who struggle mightily with depression, and her book was both painful to read and made sense in the way that only #ownvoices writing does.
  3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saénz. Ari and Dante are Latinx and gay in the late 1980s, when I was a teen as well. They have parents who love them (Saénz writes terrific parents for many of his characters), and they learn how to love each other as well. I could have chosen any of the author's books for this list, but I will stick with the one with the gorgeous cover that first introduced me to his poetic writing.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, #1)

4. The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller. This book is a bit of a synedoch for all the amazing teacher authors I've read in the last ten years, people that have pushed my thinking and teaching and completely renovated my career. 

5. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I'm sure I would have loved this book in print too, but I lucked into listening to the audio version as narrated by the author. True to its subtitle, this is NOT a celebrity bio, but a memoir of life in apartheid South Africa, and an homage to the author's amazing mother. 

6. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. Another graphic memoir, this ones deals with the aging and death of beloved, if annoying, parents. It's rare that a book makes me laugh out loud AND sob, but this one was oh so relatable. 

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?

7. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. Shusterman is pretty much the author of the decade for me. I think he approaches science fiction much like my literary hero, Ursula K. LeGuin, in that he is willing to raise questions he doesn't have The Answer to. Challenger Deep is not spec fic though, but a story of schizophrenia written with the support of his son, who has schizophrenia, and who did the art for this amazing, challenging, thoughtful and thought-provoking book. 

8. The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to your Adoptive Family by Karyn B. Purvis. My family owes what sanity we have to a workshop we took based on this book. 

9. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. I thought I knew novels in verse. I was a fan of Make Lemonade and Witness, and I'd read some Ellen Hopkins too. But Alexander blew the format out of the water with this hip-hop infused story of brothers, family, growing up, grief, and what it means to be not only a man, but a good one. This book deserved every award and accolade that came its way.

10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab.  Shwab is another author who blew me away this decade. I wouldn't want to have to choose favorites, but if I HAD to, I'm pretty sure this would be it. Red London, Kell's coat, Rhys's love life, Lila's boldness--I love it all.

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)

11. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I like to think I'm too curmudgeonly to fall for the feel good stories of the recluse who learns to let people in. Then again, The Secret Garden was one of my formative childhood favorites, and this book was my favorite of 2018.

12. Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. When people ask me what I like to read, I say, "adult mysteries and YA fantasy." Carson's first trilogy is a perfect example of why. It's smart, political without being boring about it, sex positive (with one of the healthiest views of romantic love in any book ever), innovative, and fun. 

13. Girl, Stolen by April Henry. In fall of 2015, during my first year teaching reading, I attended the Oregon Council of Teachers of English fall conference, where winners of the Oregon Spirit Awards signed books for us. I picked up Henry's book and shared it with my students. It's been a sure-fire read-aloud hit ever since, and I've taken two different groups of kids to see her speak at Powell's. The conference also opened my eyes to the national events, and really set my feet on the path to where I am now as a reading teacher. As I said above, I prefer adult mysteries, but this one has a great premise and several heart stopping twists towards the end that never fail to delight. 

14. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow  I liked the mystery of what happened, the bi-cultural aspects (I'm a sucker for Denmark), and especially the view of life in 1980s Portland from a point of view very different from mine.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

15. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. This series was brutal, emotional, exciting, enraging, and wholly satisfying to read. Did I mention I have a thing for Scandinavia? Lisbeth Salander is a fully realized, completely unique protagonist. 

16. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. You always remember the first time you read a favorite author. The Graveyard Book has one of the greatest opening lines in all literature, and the combination of sparse and spooky drawings with Gaiman's bizarre and wonderful story blew me away when another teacher loaned it to me in 2010. 

17. Heroine by Mindy McGinnis. I'm finding it interesting how many of my Very Favorite Books of the decade were written by authors with multiple contenders for this list. One thing I admire about McGinnis is her range. Heroine is a wholly believable book about a softball player's journey from car crash injury to full-on addiction, but you would do just as well with her historical fiction, murder stories, or dystopian fiction. 

18. Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. A graphic memoir about being raised by his grandparents due to his mother's addictions and his father's absence. I have so many students in non-traditional families, and I am so glad that Krosoczka decided kids like he was need to know they're not alone. Plus his grandparents, for all their faults, are fucking hilarious.

Hey, Kiddo

19. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. I've been talking this book up ever since I read it for my first time as a Cybils judge in 2017. A fantastic use of multiple voices to tell the story of what did--or didn't--go down when an unarmed black boy is shot and killed by a white stranger. 

20. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I signed up for Classics Club this year and then kind of forgot about it altogether, but it will not be for naught--I read this novel despite my distaste for true crime, and WOW. Worthy of its status as a classic indeed. 

21. Internment by Samira Ahmed. A chilling near-future imagining of what a Muslim registry might look like and what it might lead to. 


22. Just Mercy: Young Readers' Edition by Bryan Stevenson. Intense, eye opening, and convincing. I remain hopeful that the upcoming movie adaptation will get more people interested in reading it--and then in changing our system.

23. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. I do pretty well on winning books on Twitter for my classroom, but this is about the only Goodreads giveaway I won and was excited about. Mosley outdid himself in this book, and I say that as a fan of both Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones.

24. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. Listening to an audiobook slows me down enough to really dig into a story, and this time-travel, alternate universe, historical fiction novel was rich enough that I'm glad I experienced it that way. 

25. Marcelo in the Real World by Marcelo X. Stork. With a cover to rival Aristotle and Dante's, Marcelo's story is another intersectional wonder, this time with a character who is Latinx and on the spectrum. His dad is a complete tool, but luckily Marcello has other people in his corner. 

Marcelo in the Real World

26. Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick. A trip backwards through time with two Nordic soulmates. Books with untraditional formats and nonlinear styles can by annoyingly gimmicky (I'm looking at you, Illuminae!) or they can be breathtaking, like this one. 

27. Nine Horses by Billy Collins. My taste in poetry is pretty mainstream and middle-brow. Give me Frost, cummings, Oliver, Grimes, and Hayden over any Romantic poet or New Yorker contributor. I like poems that I can GET. I get Billy Collins. 

28. NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. My favorite type of nonfiction is memoir, and this book about raising kids in the modern era is in my next favorite category, sociology and psychology in punchy essays. 

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

29. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. I just finished reading this aloud for maybe the tenth time, and it always just cracks my heart wide open. It's a short books set in an insular community; the whole thing is in miniature, but the themes are love and death, grief and courage. Like my students, I absolutely hate the ending, but I still suspect this book might be as close to perfect as any book can be.

30. The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye. To quote my own review:
This book just WORKS on so many levels. With the absolutely delicious flapper slang, the shifting time periods, and the way it handles race, sexuality, gender identity, mental illness, violence, poverty without making any of it feel tacked on or tacky, I don't know if I've ever read a book like it.

31. Persepolis by Marjane Satroplis Another graphic memoir--I guess I like these?!?--this time, about growing up in Iran at the end of the Shah's reign, through the revolution, and into the Ayatollah's regime. 

32. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I hadn't read any Irving in decades, then I read this as part of an online teacher bookclub and remembered why I read so much of his work when I was younger. Okay yes, he's a total Wealthy White East Coast Male Author, but he still has stories to tell about lives that are complex and fractured. 

33. Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley. I do not understand why this series of comics is not more widely known and loved. It's hilarious and sweet with a diverse cast and adventurous stories that just happen to fight against all sorts of gender stereotypes and ridiculous tropes. 

34. Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. With sharper edges than Dumplin' and Puddin', Ramona Blue lives in a specific time and place and shines with honesty and lived experience. 

Ramona Blue

35. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. I love all of her books so far, and yes, Between Shades of Grey has a special place in my heart for telling a Baltic story that isn't well known outside of the region. But Salt to the Sea was the story that surprised and wowed me. 

36. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This book was romantic and exciting and everyone should read it. 

37. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner  I'm still not over this book. Dill, Travis, and Lydia are all such clearly defined characters, and I wish they could have had everything good. *sobs* I maintain that this book needed more actual snake handling, but if that's your biggest complaint about any situation, things are pretty good. 

38. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. This was one of the most delightful fantasy novels I've ever read. The sequel is great too, as long as I can ignore one horrible piece of it and live in mental palace where all six crows eat waffles and bicker and try not to kiss. 

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)

39. The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. Alaska. The 1970s. Multiple points of view in criss-crossing storylines. Bittersweet. 

40. Strange the Dreamer/Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. I was sucked into this book immediately. Taylor writes with lush prose and dreamy images, which I found worked extremely well in this duology. I cared deeply about every single character, and I loved the way the story peeled back layers and layers of story, history, and mythology. 

41. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. This is the true story of a man who lived alone in the woods for 27 years, during which time he once exchanged "hellos" with a hiker. That was the extent of his human interaction. An astonishing story, well told, and never over simplified or forced into any pre-determined shape. 

42. This Side of Home by Renée Watson. I talk a big talk about understanding my white privilege and making space for other points of view, so I was shocked at how hard it was for me to read this book about gentrification in my late grandparents' neighborhood without getting defensive. Being from Portland is an embarrassingly large part of my identity, and it's hard to look at the racism in my immediately surroundings and in my city's past. 

This Side of Home

43.  Unwind series by Neal Shusterman I tried to keep authors to one appearance on this list, but Challenger Deep was so different from the other Shusterman books that I had to sneak one of his sci fi series on here too. And while Scythe is also masterful, Unwind is the series that solidified Shusterman as a favorite for me, and I gobbled up each and every installment in this wild ride. 

44. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli Albertalli is a delight, as are all her characters, but this book especially resonated with me. I saw so much of teen me in Molly, and I learned so much from her as well.
45. The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. From the title on, you know this is not going to be a WWII story you've read before. Ada is wonderful, prickly and angry, self reliant, compassionate, and smart. I love her story--and the sequel was surprisingly satisfying as well. 

The War That Saved My Life (The War That Saved My Life, #1)

46. We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems. I adopted my kids early in the decade, and one of the sweeter aspects of parenting was reading aloud to them. Then my daughter came home from kindergarten and demanded we go to the library and look for books by Mo Willems, whom I'd never heard of and figured she was mispronouncing. His books are comedy gold for beginning readers and their families. 

47. The Wicker King by K. Ancrum. Gorgeous, frightening, romantic, and beautifully designed. 

The Wicker King

48.  The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah Sophie Hannah, Tana French, and "Robert Galbraith" were my big mystery author discoveries of the decade. The Wrong Mother resonated for me in some hilarious and upsetting ways. 

49. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan This series took me in as a fledgling graphic novel enthusiast and led me to the world of ongoing comic series. That also led me to Saga, which is actually a better series, but I'm giving respect to the gateway here. When something kills off all Y chromosome holders in the world except for Yorick and his monkey, shenanigans ensue. 

50. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs. Mostly hilarious, but with occasional deep insights into how humans interact with our ideas of the divine. Two bits that stick with me are him tossing pebbles at random strangers in an attempt to "stone adulterers" without drawing attention to himself, and his wife intentionally sitting on every possible seat in the house while on his period so he couldn't sit down. 

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

As I look over this list, it is obviously very personal and says as much about me and my life as it does about the quality of these books. YMMV, in other words. All of these books went beyond "good story" for me, and nudged me further along life's path. 


  1. TSK forever. The book broke my heart, but was also really wonderful. (I am obviously crying right now) I loved Ramona Blue too. It was trashed pre-publication, which annoyed me, since it was a wonderful book. You and a few other bloggers have me almost ready to read Orbiting Jupiter. Gotta be prepared for the emotional punch. I love Rae Carson and that series was so, so good. My daughter talked me into that one, and SoC, and no regrets. Loved them both

  2. Schab and Bardugo have quickly become favorites of mine!

    Check out my TTT

  3. A bunch of my favorites are on this list! I recently added Life After Life to my TBR because people always recommend it to me when they learn about my historical fiction obsession.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. I totally love this list, and I love so many books from this list. There were a couple I just added to my TBR too!


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