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Four Book Lovers Compiled this List of 20 Books that Shaped the Past Decade

I’d been seduced by the early pages of the book. It was the casualness of tragedy and the flippancy with which the protagonists and his friends regarded tragedy that elevated the book from mere entertainment to conversation or me. Isn’t that the mark of a great book – this illusion of telepathy?

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A lot of books have been published this decade. Some have left an impression, some have left us with questions and some have just left us wondering… that’s it, just wondering. Nothing more than that.

A couple of literary enthusiasts came together to compile a list of books that we felt shaped our decade and to be honest, compiling this list was quite the hassle because there were so many books. But alas, we had to narrow it down. If you think we omitted your favorite book, please drop the name in the comments and let’s start a conversation.

Innocent Ilo’s List

  1. Americannah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

There is no doubt that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the most influential writer of African fiction, having garnered widespread readership and an ‘arsenal’ of awards in the last two decades. Americannah, which Adichie often describes as her ‘fuck you book, is a story that chronicles love, race, gender, hair, and the experience of migrants. The central characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, are as refreshing as they are remarkable. Adichie drives this novel with a certain kind of tenderness and frankness (if the need arises) that makes the ending worth every coin.

  1. What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Nigerian writer, Lesley Nneka Arimah, needs no introduction. She made her stamp as a writer to reckon with in 2015 after winning the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (African Region) with her story, Light. What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky is easily one of the best short story collections published this decade. What Lesley proves with her debut book is that she cannot be boxed into one thing. This shines through as the reader sees her delve into, across, and transcend genres while navigating through the twelve stories that make up this collection. Every story in What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky is as memorable as the next. The characters are organic; they leap off the pages of the book, and the narrative style is organic.

  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

In his Pulitzer Prize-Winning alternate history novel, The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead builds on the metaphor of ‘the underground railroad’ to create an exquisite tale of resistance that is as stunning as it is mind-ripping. Throughout the novel, we follow Cora’s (the main character) journey to escape a plantation in Georgia to the North with the joined forces of another slave; Ceaser. Cora is a compelling protagonist who is armed with so much strength and vulnerability in such a way that the two intersect with a fierce symmetry. Colson Whitehead is a gifted storyteller who echoes the voices of Toni Morrison and Garcia Marquez in The Underground Railroad and re-establishes himself as one of the leading writers of his generation.

  1. Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

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The most remarkable feature of this novel is not in its title that seems to go on forever, but in the masterful prose that documents ‘growing old’ and the loneliness that comes with it. Dr. Morayo Da Silva is a seventy-five-year-old retired English professor who experiences a fall in her apartment in San Francisco. The fall spurs a chain of events that enables us to see Morayo’s life in retrospect, the nostalgia places she has lived before moving finally to America (Lagos and India), and reminiscing on her past marriage and relationship.

  1. The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

Spanning across time and generations, Namwali fashions out the great Zambian novel. Namwali does not sacrifice craft as she interrogates weighty themes such as history, family, love, and colonization in this cross-generational epic. This is a novel that encapsulates the reader and holds them captive months after reading. A buzzing mosquito chorus guides the reader through this 568-paged lyrical and experimental prose. Namwali’s earlier short fiction, Muzungu, The Sack, and Account, shows she is no stranger to experimentation and so we’re not a tad surprised by the style and execution in The Old Drift.

Nnamdi Omesiete’s List

  1. The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

Every time I do a list or I have to suggest a book for someone who wants to start reading Nigerian books, I always push this book forward. It has everything you need to keep you fully entertained. Do you want adultery? It has it. Or a polygamous home where the older wives hate the new wife? You’ll get it here! And if you want to see someone’s over-inflated ego stripped word for word as you go from page to page, then, my dears, this is the book for you. I really want a movie for this book because I’m messy and I live for drama ,so Lola Shoneyin, help us please in 2020 by releasing another book and making The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives into a movie.

  1. Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is a gift to the world and the book is an honest explanation of how people make assumptions about people’s bodies and never understand the disconnect some people who are bigger feel. One of the things that stuck to me from this book was this paragraph where Roxane said “People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not. This is not a story of triumph, but this is a story that demands to be told and deserves to be heard”.

  1. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Have you ever read something and you thought what in God’s name is going on here? Well, this was it for me. It’s quite a fast read and the book does it what does – delivers its plot as easy as it can and paces itself in quite an interesting manner. I mean, with a sister who has a penchant for killing her boyfriends who annoy her, what could be more interesting than that?

  1. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me is such a brilliantly written novel. One of the reasons this book is important to me is that it covers a whole lot of issues well and weaves them so intricately that it’s hard to tell when the writer moves from one issue to another. The love story between Yejide and Akin is the sort everyone craves and seeing it unfold page by page is worth a read.

  1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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Homecoming is a clear and concise book that covers generations of two sisters that have very different paths; one is sold into slavery and one is married off to a British man. This book takes you on an unexpected journey of these sisters and the trials each follow that are different.

David Emeka’s List

  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

When I first read Americanah, I’d just come from reading Half Of A Yellow Sun for perhaps the third time and had come to it with the ferocity of delayed hunger. When I read Americanah for the second time, it felt like I was reading it for the first time. I finished the book within two days and I felt a renewed joy. What did it mean for someone to startle you with their declaration of love? How did you lose contact with someone promising, meet after ten years, and then leave? And yet Americanah, moving from Nigeria to London to America, is filled with these strange turns undertaking a winking delight – these relinquishments of order and expectation – so that whether it’s your first time or your fifteenth, it will gift you with unadulterated joy.

  1. What belongs to you by Garth Greenwell

In What Belongs to You, a writer meets a hustler while teaching in Sofia, Bulgaria, and becomes infatuated with him. Easily, anyone reading this book would be drawn by the needs of the protagonist and invested in what would happen. By the second part of the book’s three-part structure, the narrative takes a pause, the focus shifts and there’s a momentary exhalation before it picks up again with the burdening weight of interpersonal complications. But by then, something is clear: the sex scenes are intense and the meditations profound (‘how helpless desire is outside its little theater of heat’). But the true highlight of the novel is how Greenwell’s lovely sentences – whether he’s talking about a young boy in a train or the humiliation from a first crush – holds your heart as if to say it will hold all the many pieces it will break into.

  1. Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Some people I know read Normal People twice – almost immediately after finishing it the first time – and I did too! Something about Sally Rooney’s sentences encourages you to move breezily. Normal People starts with a kitchen conversation immediately we are dropped into Marianne and Cornell. Then quickly, we are dropped into Bobbi and Frances when Nick and Melissa appear. This may not be the case for those who read Conversations first but I learned my lesson with Normal People. I also read it slowly, not just because I was pleased to move with the narrative – profound as it was – but to be almost grateful for it. It was one of the few instances where I felt a book was an act of great benevolence.

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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I quite like my dark protagonists: David Haller and Jean Grey. Something about chaos as an escape from chaos. When Amy Dunne goes missing, we don’t know what could have happened. But like in Americanah, there was a sense of trusting the book to do its thing – a thrill on the periphery. When Amy talks about Cool Girls, it feels like Ifemelu writing about NABs and Hot White Ex and Professor Hunk. Amy Dunne knows who to be and what to do – even though she doesn’t want to be that person or do those things. But yet, becoming who she doesn’t want to be doesn’t feel to be working and she feels trapped, angered, desirous to control her narrative (her parents also wrote books on her as a child). When she finally screams, bar floating cutlery and infrastructure were brought to rubble. When she finally lets out the air, we exhale with her. It’s finally a fairytale. We have made it.

  1. The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

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It took way longer to write about this book because I could only remember what it left me with (having forgotten the why, or the how): the floatation of scenes of powerful poignancy. So on a journey to Anambra from Port Harcourt, I opened it again and it was lovely to reread.

I enjoyed the frankness of the prose but also realized that the protagonist – despite his constant juxtaposition of Life and Literature – was capable of unabstracted thinking and was critical of things only in retrospect.

I realized that I had not liked the book at first simply because it was relatable. I’d read it in one sitting in my room in Owerri, unable to leave and having nostalgia from my secondary school days. I’d been seduced by the early pages of the book. It was the casualness of tragedy and the flippancy with which the protagonists and his friends regarded tragedy that elevated the book from mere entertainment to conversation or me. Isn’t that the mark of a great book – this illusion of telepathy?

Ifeanyi Ekwegbalu’s List

  1. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi 

Freshwater is a book that changes your life and stifles everything you thought you knew. It’s a novel that reaches and smacks you right across your jaws. Akwaeke’s debut novel is a beautiful story about liminal spaces and uncharted territories. Published in 2018, this novel explores the realities of the Igbo ontology – which has been almost erased by religion and colonialism – and tells the compelling story of a young girl named Ada who was finding her feet in the world as an Ogbanje. The story is a page-turner, taking the reader through the ‘marble room’ of Ada’s mind, her brother’s sisters and Asughara – a character that deserves a whole book on her own. Akwaeke’s lyrical writing takes you through growing up in Nigeria and America and coming to terms with a part of yourself that might consume you if you do not acknowledge it. Definitely my best read of the decade.

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed Image result for Tiny Beautiful Things - Cheryl Strayed

If you remember therumpus.net from way earlier in the decade, you’d remember the ‘Dear Sugar’ column by Cheryl Strayed; an advice column that gained its notoriety from Cheryl’s approach to her letters with empathy and honesty. In 2012, Cheryl put together a few of her letters and created a Best Seller in the self-help category of the New York Times Best Seller list. Tiny Beautiful Things is like a ‘Bible’. Cheryl’s responses to very moving letters, varying from every major life issue you could think of, are things you could go back to over and over again if you need help regarding your life’s situations. She also uses a lot of her life experiences being married, divorced, losing her mother and growing up poor to give out empathetical and honest advice. I urge everyone I meet to read her book: The Letters Brought Me To Tears More Than Once. If you’re struggling with something, there’s a chapter with Cheryl’s soothing and powerful words for you.

  1. Less by AndrewSean Greer 

This Pulitzer prize for fiction winning novel by Andrew Sean Greer is a witty story about the protagonist, Arthur Less. Arthur is a white gay man who reflects about his life choices and his writing career as his 50th birthday approaches. Less is a witty and charming read that shows the struggles and the survival victories of being a middle-aged white gay man. The story takes us round continents, cultures and a backstory into the life of a writer who thought his work was mediocre and also, his love interests. Less’ story also convinces me that whatever is meant for you will find its way back. His young lover who got married to another man and was the major cause of Less’ emotional turmoil in the story still found his way back. Greer did a great job with creating a character most men in their middle ages could relate to – gay or straight.

  1. I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Terry Hayes took my breath away with the suspense in this novel. This 2013 published action-packed novel is a story about an intelligence US agent whose book on forensic pathology was used by a mysterious woman to commit gruesome and untraceable murders after the 9/11 happened. The Saracen is a Saudi doctor who became a radical after his father was beheaded and then went ahead to create a vaccine-resistant strain of smallpox. Hayes book takes us around the Middle East and Europe from the beautiful resort town of Bodrum to the barren wilderness of Hindu Kush. The writing of this novel is cinematic and would definitely keep you glued to it until you drop it down. The characterization of this novel was also well-done that you could easily draw a straight line from the things that happen to how humans influence how others navigate life. The suspense might make you rip your hair out, I swear.

  1. Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Published in 2017, Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami tells the stories of men who have lost women in their lives to death or other men, in a collection of short stories. Murakami’s way of writing makes the reader feel like they’re in the story themselves and are watching the stories unfold right in their presence. The stories explore love, relationships with women who are married with kids, experiencing love in both young and old ages, suicide and being a widower. His stories bring to light the lenses through which love, sex, relationships, and infidelity are viewed in the Japanese culture. The book is a mix of melancholy and humour and reaches out to the reader in a visceral way to view love in its rawest and unaltered form.

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Thanks to these four book lovers for sharing their lists with us. Over to you, BNers! What books shaped the last decade for you?

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