Courtesy of New Directions

December 4, 2019

YANDAVA | My Seven Favorite Books of the Decade

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I’m just going to preface this by saying that I think “Top Ten” or “Best of” lists are kind of silly and extremely subjective; however, I also think they are a great deal of fun. Here is a list of seven books published between 2010 and 2019 that I vaguely remember enjoying or that had some kind of formative influence on me, in no particular order. (Also please note I began this decade as an 11-year-old. Also RIP to any wonderful amazing books that happen to be published after the publication of this column.)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013)

Tartt’s behemoth coming-of-age tale tells the story of Theo Decker, a 13-year-old boy who must navigate the tragic aftermath of his mother’s death in a museum bombing, accompanied by the stolen titular painting. Although the book received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, it was polarizing among critics, with some making unfavorable comparisons to children’s literature. However, it was precisely this “children’s literature” quality that made me love it — this is the type of novel that takes you back to that feeling of discovering the joys of reading for the first time, the type of novel that makes you want to stay up all night, homework be damned.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (2011)

This fantasy novel situates the Russian folktale of Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless in the events during and after the Russian Revolution. Interweaving the fantastic with the political, fairy tale with history, Valente creates a beautiful tapestry of love, death and war. More than that, though, it’s her glittering, intertextual, metaphor-laden prose that first gripped me and made this one of the formative novels of my early adolescence.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

During the years in which I was beginning to turn away from the likes of Harry Potter, The Night Circus was one of the few YA fantasy books that I could still find appealing. I admit, much of the appeal came from the aesthetic of the novel’s red, black and white cover, but the magic of Morgenstern’s world carries all the way through. This phantasmagorical, Victorian fairy tale/love story centers around a mysterious circus and two protégé magicians embroiled in a deadly competition, creating a narrative that is beautifully and artfully woven.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011)

Ferrante’s modern classic is primarily a story about friendship, namely that of Elena and Lila, two girls growing up on the outskirts of Naples in the 1950s. As these two become young women and their paths start to diverge, postwar Italy also begins to undergo great changes. This highly intense, personal tale is a beautiful Bildungsroman told with great delicacy, meticulousness and brilliance.

Nox by Anne Carson (2010)

Like most Carson works, Nox resists being put into a box. Or rather, it is a box — a box containing a facsimile of a fold-out notebook containing family photos, letters, sketches, paintings, collages, fragments, etc. all revolving around the death of her older brother Michael. Nox shows Carson’s ability to communicate the personal through the act of translation and literary analysis at its best. Although it might initially seem inaccessible or obscure, Carson’s artifact is ultimately a deeply moving exploration of grief and loss.

Incarnadine by Mary Szybist (2013)

Another poetry collection, Szybist also takes experimentation to another level, presenting one poem in the form of a diagrammed sentence, another as lines organized as spokes in a circle like the rays of the sun. The book springs off the mere coincidence of Szybist having the first name Mary to explore the Annunciation in ways that are surprising, profound, playful, dark and sometimes terrifying. Throughout these 42 poems, Szybist shies away from nothing, asking, “What slouches / toward us?”

The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector (2015)

Okay, so Clarice Lispector has been dead for over four decades, but I just had to include this because Lispector is one of my favorite writers. Hailed as one of Brazil’s greatest authors after the publication of her début novel at the age of just 23, Lispector’s fiction is often difficult to categorize. It’s feminist, modernist, surreal, existential and haunting, and these stories — translated by Katrina Dodson — are no different. If you’re intimidated by her larger prose works, I highly recommend these stories as a wonderful introduction to her rich, dazzling literary universe.

Ramya Yandava is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ry86@cornell.edu. Ramya’s Rambles runs alternate Thursdays this semester.