The 10 Best Books We’ve Read in the Last Decade
On an average, pre-Covid day, between seven and 15 books would be delivered to PureWow’s office. Multiply that by five days a week and 52 weeks a year and that’s…a lot of books. Then consider that this year marks PureWow’s tenth anniversary. Pretty wild, especially when you consider just how many biographies, thrillers, historical fictions and more have hit our desks in that time. In honor of our big double-digit birthday, here are—in chronological order—the ten best books we’ve been lucky enough to read in the last decade.
1. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (2010)
A masterful historical study, The Warmth of Other Suns is about the Great Migration and the Second Great Migration, two movements of African Americans out of the Southern United States to the Midwest, Northeast and West between 1915 to 1970. The history and statistical analysis of the period are fascinating, but it’s Wilkerson’s biographies of the real people whose lives were changed that make it so memorable--including Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife who left Mississippi in the 1930s for Chicago and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, a doctor who left Louisiana in the early 1950s, moving to Los Angeles.
2. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2011)
Egan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning work is a collection of 13 linked stories that are all connected to aging punk rocker and record company executive Bennie Salazar (his band was The Flaming Dildos, for what it’s worth), and his kleptomaniac assistant, Sasha. Jumping between the 1970s, the present and the near future in New York City, San Francisco and more, it’s a whirlwind tour of the 20th-century music scene that’s rife with meditations on youth and recklessness (not to mention spectacular prose).
3. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2012)
The first installation in Ferrante’s enthralling Neapolitan Quartet, My Brilliant Friend begins to document the decades-long friendship between two girls, Lila and Lenu, in post-war Naples. It takes an oft-discussed topic—growing up—and injects it with such immense minutiae that you get totally sucked into their world. Though not entirely relatable (the girls have to struggle to be considered “worthy” of an education in the 1950s and one of them is pressured to marry at 16), Ferrante’s vivid descriptions of teenage friendship will have you reaching for your phone to call your oldest pal. Plus, we’re hard-pressed to think about a series that captivated nearly every woman in our life quite like this one did in the early 2010s.
4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
As teenagers in Lagos, Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze, fall in love. Rather than live under a military dictatorship, Ifemelu moves to America to continue her education. There, she encounters racism and what it means to be Black for the first time. Obinze, hoping to join Ifemelu in the States, is denied a visa post-9/11, so he moves to London. Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in the newly democratic Nigeria while Ifemelu writes a successful blog about race in America. Despite living apart and experiencing the world in two very different ways, the two never forget the connection they had. It’s a poignant love story about a couple finding their way back after living different lives half a world away from each other.
5. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2015)
An ideal blend of comedy and tragedy, Groff's bestselling novel is, at its core, a marriage story. Particularly, the marriage story of Lotto and Mathilde, who married at 22 after only a few weeks of dating. Following the couple’s 25 years of marriage through each partner's perspective, Fates and Furies—a favorite of President Obama—touches on family, art and theater, as well as the devastating consequences of little white lies. Groff's knack for description is on full display ("His wife carried their picnic basket to the edge of the lake under a willow so old it no longer wept, just sort of bore its fate with thickened equanimity.") while her vivid descriptions of each of her characters gets readers thoroughly invested in their lives.
6. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)
This winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction is written as a letter to Coates’s teen son and explores the sometimes-bleak reality of what it means to be Black in the United States. It’s a must-read for young people as well as anyone who could use a reminder of the subtle—and not so subtle—ways people of color are discriminated against every day (read: most people). Coates recounts his childhood in Baltimore, where he felt he had to be “always on guard,” his experiences with code switching to appeal to white people and the nagging fear of police brutality. Sadly, this one only seems to get more relevant with each passing year.
7. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
Yanagihara’s mesmerizing second novel is the story of four graduates of a small college in Massachusetts who move to New York to follow their dreams and escape their demons. Once there, their relationships deepen, and painful secrets (like seriously messed-up stuff) from their past emerge. Through Jude, Malcolm, JB and Willem, Yanagihara dives deep into male relationships, trauma, self-harm, chronic pain and more, and makes your average tearjerker look positively sunny. Still, despite trigger warnings for myriad reasons, it’s a gorgeously-written and thoroughly captivating book that readers probably won’t ever forget.
8. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)
A look at pre-Civil War era South, The Underground Railroad follows two slaves in Georgia who escape and flee through what Whitehead reimagines as a literal network of underground railroad tracks. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Award for Fiction and more, it’s as much a commentary on the past as it is present-day America. Though it's by no means a pleasant read, Whitehead's genius portrayal of something we think we've learned about is a stunning example of the power fiction has to add depth to real life events.
9. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017)
Set in an unnamed country during a civil war, Hamid’s fourth novel follows two migrants, Nadia and Saeed, who fall in love, and are then forced to escape their country as it’s torn apart by violence. Their mode of transportation? A series of doors in the city that serve as portals to other locations, including Mykonos, London and Marin County. Lush, powerful and evocative, it’s both a timeless love story and a timely commentary on immigration.
10. Normal People by Sally Rooney (2019)
Rooney's second novel (after 2017’s Conversations with Friends) follows two classmates in a small Irish town—one popular, one friendless. Despite their differences, they form an unlikely couple. They date, break up and make up—a few times over—in a will-they-won’t-they relationship that will keep you hooked to the last page. Rooney’s genius is in her ability to take a classic love story and make it fresh, largely thanks to her knack for creating characters so real, you'd swear they're based on people you know. Like My Brilliant Friend, this is one of those books that seeped into our collective consciousness—and highlighted the deep importance of seemingly small moments.