25 Important Books of the 00s

Posted by @ 2:00 pm on December 10th, 2009


I decided, in the slew of retrospective ‘best of’ lists chronicling the decade we will be putting to rest in the next weeks, that even though I’m not the biggest fan of lists that try to span even a year, much less 10 of them, I might as well put something together. Of all the lists I’ve seen so far there hasn’t been a single one that came near anything remotely representing the kind of words I like to read, many of them repeating the same names by the same people in the same spots. And that’s fine and good, okay, I guess. Lists like this are really hard to put together in a way that everybody and their mother won’t be throwing darts at where you missed out and what’s wrong with what you put in, and that’s fine and good, okay, too. And this list is surely going to be no exception. What I’ve compiled here is by no means to be considered a definitive Best of the 2000s, or even a definitive My Favorite Books of the 2000s, because depending on mood, and focus, and a whole lot of other things, that’s not how it works. Anyway, to keep a long and rather assumable speech short, here are some books that really got me as they came out during the past 10 years, books which I also think in some way are capital I Important. Some of them are books I read in grad school, or in undergrad. Some I read in the last few months, some I’m still reading, what have you.

There are some obvious gaps. Some are intended. For instance, I swung pretty wide of books of poetry, not because I couldn’t think of any I wanted to list, but because I am less well read in that area and thus would show my brownness in doing so. Regardless, there were a few I couldn’t help, and so there they are [A full on list of important works of poetry from the 00s is on its way]. There are also a large to very large handful of ones that should just as easily be on here (for instance, I avoided books released by my own publishers, each of whom I believe exert a gorgeous load). I’ve talked far and wide about those people anyhow, so they would be obvious for me to list. I tried to be less obvious in my own tastes, despite the fact that a lot of it slipped in. And should be in. Because these are books I think are important. This list for me, not that I’m competing, tries to fill in some of the gaps other similar styled lists have thus far left out. And so, in the barrage of suggestions or additions that will follow (which I by all means welcome, the more the merrier, for real), I hope you’ll take pity on me for being such a goon as to have messed with a list in the first place, and take this for what it is, a partial shoutout to what I think are, if not the top 25 books of the 2000s, at least a version. They are in semi-random order, with some inherent tendencies within.

Oblivion, David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown, 2004)

[“Mr. Squishy” by itself from this stands as one of the most important innovations for short fiction since, I don’t know, Robert Coover. Regardless, the mind at work in here, in all these stories, is bigger than the book, than many books. This is not a collection, it is a monolith.]

Rising Up and Rising Down, William Vollmann (McSweeney’s, 2003)

[When I ordered a 3300 page book, I didn’t realize I was actually going to read almost every word of it, in a basement, in pure awe. Even just either of the last two volumes of case studies could make it here by themselves.]

American Genius, A Comedy, Lynne Tillman (Soft Skull, 2006)

[If I needed to name a book that is maybe the most overlooked important piece of fiction in not only the 00s, but in the last 50 years, this might be the one. I could read this back to back to back for years.]

Europeana, Patrik Ourednik (Dalkey Archive, 2005)

[I’ve recommended this book to more people than I can count, in the same way it was recommended to me: Pick it up and turn to any page. Read that page. You’ll buy the book. A very incredible rendering of the dark heart of our history.]

Pastoralia, George Saunders (Riverhead, 2000)

[One of the early formative collections for me, and a lot of other people, in the same time I was reading Wallace, Moody, Antrim, Dixon, Erickson, etc., all of whom who could/should have books on this list, and one of the few that is on most of those other lists already around too, and for good reason.]

Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster, 2008)

[I mostly always hate historical nonfiction. I read this 600 page book in 2 days, most of it while walking back and forth around the terminal of an airport, because I could not sit still. Like someone took 300 books and ripped out the good parts and put them back together in one.]

This Is Not A Novel, David Markson (Counterpoint, 2001)

[This, and its counterparts in the Novelist series, are probably one of the books as objects and of memorable style I will remember most.]

Magic For Beginners, Kelly Link (Small Beer, 2005)

[Rip out all the stories in here except for “Stone Animals” and I am still putting the book on the list. The other stories are pretty much all that good too.]

The Essential Zizek (The Sublime Object of Ideology, The Ticklish Subject, The Fragile Absolute, The Plague of Fantasies: 4 books), Slavoj Zizek (Verso, 2009)

[I’m still reading this, bit by bit, but I’ve gotten more out of the bits I’ve read so far than I have from a lot of other books in a long time, and it’s fun. Sure, it’s actually four books, but seeing as how he’s practically defined the 00s in a lot of ways, it seems needed here.]

Halls of Fame, John D’Agata (Graywolf, 2005)

[This in a package deal with his edited anthology The Next American Essay should be taught in most every writing workshop at all concerned with unique angles and form.]

Venus Drive, Sam Lipsyte (Open City, 2000)

[You can’t fuck with Sam Lipsyte. This is still my favorite of his. Sentences in the worst way.]

Angle of Yaw, Ben Lerner (Copper Canyon, 2006)

[For a couple months I drove around with this in my car and had to take it out because I kept almost hitting other cars while reading each little sentence packet over and over again.]

Why Did I Ever, Mary Robison (Counterpoint, 2002)

[Another important MFA years book for me, one that did a lot in my understanding of style, humor, and poise, absent of narrative but in chunks. A veritable combination lock, like the one described inside it.]

I Looked Alive, Gary Lutz (Thunder’s Mouth, 2004)

[You can almost taste the hours it took him to write each of these sentences. This is an object. Just stare.]

The Sluts, Dennis Cooper (Da Capo, 2005)

[I hadn’t had a book grab me by the head like this one did in, well, I can’t remember when. In a lot of ways, this book is more emblematic of a certain underlying air of the 2000s than any other on this list.]

Remainland, Aase Berg (Action Books, 2005)

[A majorly important translation. For months after I got this one, I sat with it on my desk open while I was typing my own sentences. These aren’t poems. These are something else.]

The Open Curtain, Brian Evenson (Coffee House, 2008)

[I could have put at least 3 of Brian Evenson’s books on here. This and The Wavering Knife in particular are just too huge to me to say. I haven’t eaten acid but from what I understand this would be a little what it’s like. It will haunt you]

The Cave, Jose Saramago (Harvest, 2002)

[If there is a book that could be called an allegory for this decade, it’s probably this one. Fucking heartrending. And incredible, like most every single one of his. He is the paragraph master.]

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Lydia Davis (FSG, 2009)

[I actually haven’t read the collected as a whole in whole yet, but I spent a lot of time with Lydia Davis’s books also especially during my MFA time, and in years thereafter. All of it in one place seems just too big to ignore.]

Dear Everybody, Michael Kimball (Alma Books, 2008)

[Michael Kimball’s knack for getting straight into the heart of things at the same time as his syntactical and sound prowess is just about enough to make it hard to stand up with one of his books in your hand.]

The Collected Stories, Amy Hempel (Scribner, 2006)

[The greatest evidence of a life’s work in one volume. Amy is the realest.]

Super Flat Times, Matthew Derby (Back Bay, 2003)

[I think I’ve probably read this book four or five times, at least in parts: massive ideas, massive words. Still surprises me every time. Humor, sentences, new language and idea, power, fun, all at once.]

Notable American Women, Ben Marcus (Vintage, 2002)

[Ben Marcus might be a witch. He’s also holy fuck.]

La Medusa, Vanessa Place (FC2, 2008)

[Another monster-beast sized creation I read pretty much without moving from my chair. This book probably has my favorite scene of the 2000s in it. It’s a guy eating Mexican food.]

Kamby Bolongo Mean River, Robert Lopez (Dzanc, 2009)

[Robert Lopez helped close out my decade by closing out my brain with just about every single sentence and paragraph in this thing. It just did not stop. There is not another book I can think of that moves emotionally the way this one does.]