Essential Books of the Decade?

A few weeks ago I attended an evening in London hosted by Penguin publishers. The aim of the night was to introduce bloggers to some of their authors and to highlight the new Penguin Essentials series. Several bloggers have already posted about the event, so if you’d like to know what we got up to take a look at their informative posts.

The Penguin Essentials are some of the twentieth-century’s most important books. When they were first published they changed the way we thought about literature and about life. And they have remained vital reading ever since.

The Penguin Essentials collection covers books published in the twentieth-century, but Penguin challenged the bloggers present to come up with a list of the most important books published in the last decade.

Here are the books I chose:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

This book brought the difficulties of autism to the attention of the general public for the first time. Its simplicity and charm will ensure that it remains one of the most important fictional books about autism.

Beside the Sea

Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

Life as a parent is hard. Life as a single parent is even harder. This book is an powerful reminder that tragedy can occur if we do not do more to look after vulnerable members of our society. Those who have read it will not forget it.

The Kindly Ones

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

This book will be remembered for its graphic depictions of the Holocaust, but it is also a stark reminder of how easily normal people can be persuaded to commit atrocities.  It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive book on Holocaust perpetrators ever being written.

This Blinding Absence of Light

This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun

This book is proof that human beings can survive in almost unimaginable conditions. It will always be one of the definitive books about imprisonment.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

I really hope that this book dates quickly and becomes an intriguing insight into cultural differences at the beginning of the 21st century, but whether this happens or not, this book will always be a clever reminder that the way you see a story depends upon your preconceived ideas.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Serpent's Tail Classics)

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

The overbearing feeling of responsibility and fear that a parent feels is seldom mentioned, but the difficult relationship between a mother and child is exceptionally well described in this book. I think that mothers will connect with this story for many years to come.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

The Holocaust is so disturbing that many people avoid reading about it. This book tackles the subject in a simple, but effective way and allows the topic to be introduced to a younger generation.


Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Graphic novels have become increasingly popular recently and this is the finest example from the last decade. It gives a personal and political insight into life in Iran and I can only see it becoming more widely read as graphic novels become more mainstream.

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Organ failure will become an increasing problem for the elderly as science finds a cure to many of the other diseases of old age. Never Let Me Go raises many of the issues that our society might face as it progresses and so I think it will become an increasingly important text.

The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The relationship between a father and son is rarely investigated in literature, but this book gives a moving insight into the strong bond that exists between the two. It is also shows how the human survival instinct remains strong even whilst battling the harshest of conditions.

I won the competition and was the lucky recipient of the entire Penguin Essentials series.

I hope to be able to let you know what some of them are like in the near future. Which book from the Essentials series would you like me to read first?

Which books published in the last decade do you think are the most important of the last decade?

47 replies on “Essential Books of the Decade?”

Congratulations!!!! What a great prize. I think, if you haven’t read it yet, read Cold Comfort Farm first. It’s such a laugh!

Essential book of the decade? I’m not sure. Never Let Me Go and The Road would feature high for me too.

Judith, I haven’t read Cold Comfort Farm, but I’m not sure about the laughs you mention – I tend to prefer darker books, but it is one of those books I feel I should have read. I’ll promote it up the pile.

I have such hard time picking “essential” books, but I love your choices! In particular, I think you’re dead right about Kevin and The Road… Maybe I would also add in Generation A, because I did love it and it does speak to issues of the 21st century!

Steph, I loved Generation A, but it doesn’t’ really seem to have taken off amongst the general population and so I can’t see it being widely read in the future. I’d love to be proven wrong though 🙂

Oh wow, you lucky thing! It must have felt like Christmas!

I would probably pick Kevin and The Road too (funny how a few of us would pick these).

I like the sound of The Kindly Ones – I haven’t considered picking this up yet but you have intrigued me now.

The Book Whisperer, The Kindly Ones is the most disturbing book I’ve ever read so you really need to be prepared for some terrible scenes. It is also really long so you have to spend a long time emerged in the horror. Good luck with it – I look forward to seeing what you think.

Nice to see your choices Jackie – we shared two, and the rest of your choices are interesting – I see a couple of themes emerging, and I may have to read This Blinding Absence of Light.

From your prize – I would recommend A Confederacy of Dunces – I’d love to see how you get on with its cast of wholely unlikeable characters.

Annabel, Yes. I’ve just realised how depressing and disturbing they all are. I guess you couldn’t expect anything else from me!

A Confederacy of Dunces is one I already owned and had been planning to read soon. I hope to squeeze it in next month.

The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time captured the voice of an autistic person almost perfectly. I was quite moved by that novel as I teach children with this difficulty almost every year.

I haven’t read anything by Cormac McCarthy, but his name is popping up all over (and has been for some time, I was just ignoring it). Now I feel I really need to read some of his work, especially in light of the way I adored The Virginian. I don’t normally turn to the Western genre, but I’d like to compare McCarthy to Wister. But, I digress from your lovely post…

Bellezza, I read Serious Incident when it first came out (when I knew nothing about autism) and loved it. I really need to re-read it now that I’m a bit of an expert on the subject as it would be interesting to see what it is like now I’m living with the situation.

I haven’t read any of McCarthy’s Westerns, but I loved his writing style in The Road and so plan to get to one soon. I love the way blogging has introduced me to westerns – I would never had tried them in my pre-blogging days 🙂

Ashamedly, I havent as yet read any of the books on your list. The one that stands out to me most from your chosen ones and which I would be tempted to read first is Never Let Me Go as it sounds interesting and as yet I havent read any of Ishiguros novels.
If I were to choose a book from the rest of your prize. it would have to be Brideshead Revisited.
I hope you enjoy your prize immensely

Chick’s Lit, Never Let Me Go is a fantastic book! I don’t normally enjoy quiet, brooding books like that, but the subtle tension had me gripped throughout – I hope that you enjoy it is much as I did if you deicde to give it a try.

My favourite from The Essentials collection is definitely A Room With A View – I could read that book over and over and over…. I’m sure you get the picture! Congratulations on your win – they look like gorgeous editions.

Have read mark Haddons & Persepolis, own the Ishiguro (for JLC5), but not the rest, although I have a Cormac McCarthy – Sunset Express which I absolutely loved. So buck is being passed back for you to decide, sorry ¦~>

That is a fascinating list and I have read quite a few of those. I have no idea what I’d put on my list. Congratulations on winning such an awesome prize.

This is a great list and I like your choices. I was happy to the The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I know no one who has read it or wanted to, but really I think more people should given the present climate of things.

Alex, I wish more people would read The Reluctant Fundamentalist too. I also wish that there was a section explaining the ending in the back of the book. I know a lot of people (through reading forums etc) who have read the book and then not seen the importance of the ending. They don’t see the ambiguous nature of it. 🙁

Sounds like a great event! My favorites on your list are: Boy in the Striped Pajamas (not my favorite Holocaust book, but well done) and definitely The Incident of the Dog at midnight. I have recommended this book to about 30 students this year and all but one loved it!

Helen Murdoch, Boy in the Striped PJs isn’t my favourite Holocaust book either, but I love simplicity of the idea and the way it introduces the subject to a younger audience.

Glad to hear that you are recommending Incident of the Dog to so many people. Keep up the good work 🙂

Kim, Yes. Persepolis deserves a much wider audience, but it is one of the few books where I actually liked the film more and so I am a bit weird in suggesting people watch the DVD instead of reading the book – not something I normally do at all 🙂

GREAT list of essentials! Some I’ve read and totally agree with (none I disagree with), and others that are new to me. Congrats on your win! That’s a stunning stack.

Though choice! I especially support you on Never Let Me Go and Persepolis. Lost of favorites in the new editions: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Room With a View, Lolita – have you read any of these?

I haven’t yet clicked over to the list so I can’t recommend any but I like your choices. I’ve read half of them and most of the others are on my tbr. I had not heard of The Blinding Absence of Light.

Lucky!!!! I’m salivating over your prizes!!! I love your choices, and surely agree with The Road, Never Let Me Go, The Curious Incident, and Persepolis. I would probably add Atonement, The History of Love OR Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. And 2666! Heheh.

kiss a cloud, 2666 nearly made my list -I think it was in 12th place. I’m afraid I haven’t read the others that you mention – I’ll have to read them and see if they can knock any of my choices off the list 🙂

Nice one!

Curious Case…def. good choice

Persepolis…yep, have you watched the film?

The Road….bah! “The relationship between a father and son is rarely investigated in literature” really?

Never Let Me Go….I started this in Jan. but stopped, I should finish it…the film is really awarding, great performances

The Kindly Ones…that was a hard book to get through, emotionally and intellectually…a lot of stuff in there, def. a future classic

I suggest you read Confederacy of Dunces, one of the funniest books I’ve read

DamnedConjuror, Yes, I have seen Persepolis – it is one of the few films that is actually better than the book. I thought it was very well done.

I haven’t seen Never Let Me Go yet, but it is on my DVD rental list so hopefully I’ll get to it one day soon. I’m really hoping it doesn’t ruin my memories of reading the book.

Stu, I hadn’t heard of Wonder before. I’m not sure it is quite to my taste, but I’ve added it to my wishlist and will see if I can find a copy in the library.

What a wonderful selection. I think We Need to Talk About Kevin is the only one I would be hesitant about. I absolutely see why it’s a landmark book, owing to its immense reach in the popular consciousness. I wish it didn’t eclipse the Olmi so much though. Definitely agree with kiss a cloud about 2666. I’m keeping everything crossed for later this year that 1Q84 will be a worthy addition to the list.

Dan, I think Kevin was important for the way it opened up the nature/nurture debate. I haven’t seen a book that captures the darker emotions of motherhood so well and I stand by my decision to include it in the list. If we have to compromise then I’d knock Never Let You Go off the list and replace it with 2666 🙂

I’ve got my fingers crossed for 1Q84 too.

congratulations – what a fabulous prize pack! And what a wonderful event it must have been!

Your choices are excellent – I haven’t read all of them, but agree with your assessment of those I have (and am, of course, extra curious about the others now!)

OMG!!! You won the essential series!! CONGRATULATIONS!
I have read 6 from your essential list and really like to read Cat’s Cradle, Steppenwolf and Breakfast at Tifanny’s. I read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and love it sooo much.

Here’s wishing you Happy Reading days to come. 🙂

This definitely was a deserved win, Jackie! Congratulations. I need to take a look at what all is in the Essential Series.

I have read a few titles on your recommended list, including The Reluctant Fundamentalist. But I will say that I am especially happy that you picked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. There has been novels after Haddon’s on the topic of autism (or actually, more often Asperger Syndrome), that have not been able to measure up to this standard-bearer.

Congratulations! I’d love to win that collection. I have read a fair few from the Essentials series, and loved the ones read.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Great Gatsby and AClockwork Orange are the ones I’d recommend. Lolita – I loved the writing style, but the story was too “perverted” for me. I’m going to give it another go soon.

Looking forward to your thoughts on these incredible books.

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