The books that defined my decade

I started the 2010s as a 9-year-old, and finished them at 19. There’s a lot of books that filled the gap between those ages – a countless amount, actually. When I got my annual notification from Goodreads asking me to start my next reading challenge, I got to thinking not just about what had come the year before, but what I’d just spent a decade reading.

I’m a big reader – I always have been. As quickly as the world continues to move, I find reading to be a bit of a still point – something I can always return to. I find there’s nothing quite like a book to centre myself: to relax, to escape any discomfort in my life, or simply to fill empty time.

As an English student, I spend a lot of my time reading for work, so sometimes it’s difficult to disentangle reading from labour. It’s tricky to switch my mind off and just absorb a book rather than analyse everything, but it’s something I make an effort to do (which sounds quite contradictory).

This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything I read in the last decade. According to Goodreads, I read 400 books in the last decade, and I didn’t start counting until 2013, so who really has a clue. I think my biggest motivation for writing this post – and giving a flavour of what I read in the 2010s – is that this is the decade in which I grew up, and read the books that will probably define me for life. There’s some absolute trash in here, but it’s all been pretty significant in my life and the making of myself.

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The Trashy, Binge-Worthy Series Phase

The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

You know the one. I was a hardcore Edward girl from age 11, which is perhaps a little young to have been reading about Bella’s cravings for vampire sex, but I was in love with the series regardless, and backed it till the end when that creepy vampire child was born and the narrative was switched to Jacob’s perspective. Sorry, Stephenie, I still can’t forgive you.

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

We can also throw The Infernal Devices in there. And also every single shadowhunter book Clare wrote until around 2016 when I gave up on the mammoth series and invested in literally anything else. In all honesty, this series isn’t all that bad. It also gave me some ammo when anyone asked ‘Do you read anything but Twilight?’ Well, kid, let me tell you something…

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A modern literary masterpiece if I do say so myself. Collins carried on Meyer’s legacy of the love triangle, and I must admit, I was a Peter girl. Generic, I know. This series is actually pretty excellent. Well, if we take out the shambles that is Mockingjay and ignore the fact that the entire thing is a blatant rehash of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.

Yes, I excluded traitors like The Maze Runner series and, God forbid, the Divergent trilogy – books that promised to satiate my need for another gripping series but were actually just painfully disappointing. No, I’m not bitter.

I was about 11 when this phase started, and it…never really ended (see below). I guess that’s what happens when Cassandra Clare keeps peddling out the same book in a different cover for years and you’re too young to realise what’s happening.

These books define a time in my life. I maintain that they’re all pretty binge-worthy.

The Tortured-Teen Phase

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

This is actually a pretty weird book, but it suited my emo phase quite nicely. There’s also a film adaptation featuring Grace Moretz and a sequel called Where She Went. This duo were the first books I read that dealt with pretty heavy themes (literally life and death). They were pretty incredible. Forman is a pretty great writer, and Just One Day is another great (and much happier) book of hers.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

If I could choose one John Green book to live with for the rest of my life, it would be this one. LFA has a special place in my heart. I think I read it about 5 times – that’s enough to warrant a place on this list, at least. I also think we should give John Green a bit of credit: he basically created a whole sub-genre of YA novels. Granted, we use ‘it’s a bit John Green’ as a reason not to read something nowadays, but still.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

I don’t have a bad word to say about this novel, and I think it helped me to mature a little bit. It did, at the least, teach me about mental health and adolescence, and how it really can affect anyone. Vizzini was a brilliant writer. The film adaptation is also pretty great.

Other honorable mentions include: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (we’ve all been there) and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

I honestly think that the 2010s was the best time to be an adolescent where literature is concerned. So much angst was released, but for the first time it was being directed at young people like myself. Watching the new Looking for Alaska TV series, however, was a bit of a slap in the face – I really used to spend hours poring over John Green and his insipid, ‘quote-worthy’ spiel, didn’t I? Yikes.

The I’m sat on a beach/I wish I was sat on a beach Phase

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Just thinking about this book makes me want to read it all over again – to go back to simpler times when I could just sit on a beach and read. No worries, no fears, just me, the beach, and the book. This was one of the first YA romance books I read that wasn’t short or simple. Matson is a brilliant writer with dynamic characters, and I still read her novels today.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

This is another novel that I read multiple times. I completely and utterly fell in love with Etienne, Perkins’ protagonist, as well as, actually, falling in love with Anna and Paris and just everything about this book. It has two companion novels (which have crossover characters but can’t really be considered sequels) that are equally great.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Jenny Han has a unique skill at tapping into the minds of teenage girls. If I saw this book for the first time today, I’d think the title was so 21st century, conceited and narcissistic. How could any girl enjoy that? But it’s a novel about confidence, about being a girl and coming to terms with what that means for your body as a teenager. It really is pretty great. The sequels? Not so great…

We love a fluffy romance novel every now and again! I used to pretty much inhale these novels during the summer. I even went a 2-week period one summer where I read a book every single day. It scared my nan a bit.

These books also definitely helped shape that classic ‘boys in books are better‘ feeling that is buried inside of me, which is a bit of a detriment to my real love life, but there we go.

As soon as the weather starts getting warmer, every year, I crave books like these.

The ‘creepy stuff is cool, too!’ Phase

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I actually was never too big of a fan of this novel, because I predicted the ending and therefore pushed it aside as predictable (ignorant to that fact that I had literally just taken a lucky guess – but I thought I was much smarter than that). However, it triggered somewhat of a domino effect – it made me eager to read books that would keep me guessing, not just about love lives but about (un)trustworthy narrators and killers.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is a whimsical, magical-realism stand-alone fantasy novel that really took me by surprise when I read it for the first time. It plays with time and narration and really challenged me as a young teen reader, but also made me crave more books like it. Magical realism is an incredible genre that I read more of after this, but still long to read more of today. (It’s also pretty creepy.)

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Teenage suicide is a weird one. Definitely a taboo one, and so a jarring topic to centralise in a novel. OK, Eugenides. He writes poetically in long, swooping (pretty beautiful) sentences that reminisce on the Lisbon sisters. This is a great book about men and women, boys and girls, and how we really do speak and think in different languages sometimes. Again, an incredible book.

Also known as my emo phase (which is also ongoing). I’m really glad for this phase, because I actually love creepy books. I read a lot of crime/suspense/thriller, much more than I read any of these other categories anymore.

New Series and New Obsessions

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

This book never really got as commercial as a lot of the other books I’ve mentioned, but I really think it should have. For me, it was a bit of a precursor to enjoying things like Game of Thrones – political fantasy novels that transport you to an entirely different world, but also have quite unnerving similarities to your own. This series is complex and fascinating, and, like We Were Liars triggered a thirst for more complexity in my reading.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater is an incredible writer. She’s another magical realist, and The Raven Cycle is testament to her attention to detail, her wit, and her creativity of thought. When I wrote my original review for this series back in 2016, I struggled to find anything to compare or liken it to; I have the same struggle now. It’s a series about clairvoyance, truth, friendship and love, and it really did define a period in my life. It made me want to be smarter, wittier, and to strive to more depth in my friendships.

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

This is a series as absorbing as Twilight, as original as The Hunger Games, and almost as long as The Mortal Instruments. In short, reading this series transported me back to the good ol’ days of encapsulating books and world building that I never wanted to put down. I usually hate fairytale re-tellings, but The Lunar Chronicles is actually incredible and (although this is perhaps contradictory) original. It’s a futuristic series that inspired a craving for more sci-fi, which was totally out of character, but now is totally in-character, for me.

Finally, this happened! I had new things to obsess over and invest my time (and money) in! This time, though, I maintain that all of these series are actually pretty awesome, and I would happily re-read them today.

Growing up…

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A post-apocalyptic novel – a bit dystopia, a bit sci-fi, a lot ‘it’s the end of the world.’ Mandel is a master plot weaver. Highly recommend. This is my go-to title when anyone asks me for my favourite book.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Another master plot-weaver. I read this book for school, but we never really studied it, and it’s just so good. It’s historical fiction with glorious twists. The film adaptation is also incredible. I’ve never actually read anything else by McEwan, but this book makes me really want to.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Sci-fi! I bought this book in New York in 2016, and I’m still not quite sure why (probably because of the pretty cover). This book is well-written, hilarious, and generally just an all-round good time. It is another book that made me want to read more sci-fi.

…and getting sick of YA. It’s a sad departure, but I really did grow out of it. I actually went through a bit of a crisis when this started to happen, because my old blog stopped really having a place, or fitting into the same place I’d originally forged for it. I wasn’t keeping up with the new YA releases, and my book reviews of the books I was enjoying weren’t really gaining any traction, which shouldn’t matter, but it did.

I also found it hard to find books I would enjoy. As soon as you escape the safe little bubble that is YA literature, it quickly becomes apparent that there is, indeed, an entire world out there full of books. It’s pretty daunting. Where do you start?

Books I can’t really categorise, but can’t forget about

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Need I say more?
  • The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath Every emo, book-loving teen needs to have read (and loved) this novel. Plath describes feelings in ways I would have never thought, but completely understand.
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi Another go-to favourite, at least non-fiction wise. This is the autobiography of a brain surgeon dying of cancer. It changed me – and my perspectives on life – completely.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro And yet another go-to favourite. I think I’d say that Ishiguro is my favourite author. This book is weird and unpredictable and a lot of people don’t like it, but I love it all the more.
  • Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare The first Shakespeare play I read that made me feel like Shakespeare can actually be enjoyed. I’ve read 19 Shakespeare plays, and this is still my favourite.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov A controversial one, but also an incredible one. Nabokov is a beautifully poetic writer and master character-crafter. Why do I feel sorry for Humbert? This book taught me that ‘banned books’ can and should be read.
  • Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig Without going into too much detail, this book came to me at just the right time. Another non-fiction, another masterpiece and perspective-changer.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood This book has only increased in relevance since it was originally published, hasn’t it?
  • The White Book by Han Kang For some reason, this is the only bit of poetry I have on my list, I think because I chose The Bell Jar as pivotal as opposed to Ariel or The Colossus by Silvia Plath. This book is a study in white, and a study in grief. It’s beautiful but also really painful to read.
  • The Graduate by Charles Webb A 60s coming-of-age/bildungsroman that doesn’t quite follow the scheme of growth. Benjamin, the protagonist, it the perfect example of disillusioned young adult in literature.

These books are all absolutely incredible. They’re also all extraordinarily different.

The Japan Phase?

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The beginning of my love for Murakami, who is a pretty wacky writer. I don’t know how he keeps on coming up with his weird and complex plots.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

Post-war Japan and ensuing the generational gap between parents and their newly westernised children. Slow and gentle. Incredible.

The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada

A speculative novel that considers the future of Japan and its children in a post-apocalyptic world full of radiation. Terrifying but also beautiful.

Battle Royale by Houshun Takami

A masterpiece of epic proportions that is thought to have inspired The Hunger Games. It’s gritty and gory and just magnificent.

I think this came about because I enjoyed Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing (he is British-Japanese) and also the weirdness of Murakami. Now I’ve developed a bit of a weird obsession with Japanese literature. Unfortunately, I haven’t had as much time to pursue it as I would have liked, but I guess I have a whole decade ahead of me to do that, now.

Published by Liv

My name’s Liv, I’m 20 years old, and I’m currently studying English at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. I'm a journalist alongside this blog. Visit my home page or for more.

4 thoughts on “The books that defined my decade

  1. Loved this!! I used to read so many books in the past, I remember a young me buying books every other day while replying to my concerned parents something like “you should be happy I’m not buying video games”. Now that I’m an adult I always feel sad when I hardly find time to read one as I would like to.
    Thanks for the reviews! I’m definitely buying some and fun fact: my dog is called Alaska because of that John Green book haha

    Liked by 1 person

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