This list is sort of paradoxical, in that I don’t feel at all qualified to write it, considering how many great books I haven’t read this decade. At the same time, I feel extremely passionate about my choices near the top here, even more so than in my other lists. Here it is, completely subjective, and knowingly ignorant, the list of my thirty favorite books of the decade (as a side note, I’m still unsure about the legality of taking photos from other places on the internet for these entries, so I’ve elaborately staged my copies of these books for photos; this was fun for me, because I got to think about how to stage them, and fun for Johanna, because she got to laugh at me every time she walked into a room and caught me staging a photo of a book):
30) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)
I expected to like this book more. It seemed to have everything I usually love in novels, and received overwhelmingly great reviews. I ended up feeling a little bit disappointed; it didn’t totally click with me. It reminds me a bit of Everything is Illuminated: a relatively unknown author, interwoven storylines with different settings and time-periods, a main character with an unorthodox way of speaking, an underwhelming movie adaptation (the Oscar Wao movie isn’t out yet, so I’m just guessing). There are actually almost certainly other books that I enjoyed more than this one from this decade, but like the next entry, the list would have felt odd if I had excluded it. It sits on my bookshelf next to Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem in the “Disappointing books about comic book nerds that I should probably give a second chance” section.
29) The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)
Obviously this doesn’t make the list on merit alone. The writing is pretty excruciating at times; I remember being particularly taken aback by the part where Langdon is teaching some inmates about the Mona Lisa:
“I heard he was a fag,” said a small man with a goatee.
Langdon winced. “Historians don’t generally put it quite that way, but yes, Da Vinci, was a homosexual.”
“Is that why he was into that whole feminine thing?”
Actually, Da Vinci was in tune with the balance between male and female. He believed that a human soul could not be enlightened unless it had both male and female elements.”
“You mean like chicks with dicks?” someone called.
This elicited a hearty round of laughs. Langdon considered offering an etymological sidebar about the word hermaphrodite and its ties to Hermes and Aphrodite, but something told him it would be lost on this crowd.
“Hey, Mr. Langford,” a muscle-bound man said. “Is it true that the Mona Lisa is a picture of Da Vinci in drag? I heard that was true.”
[skipping down a bit…]
“You sure that’s not some Harvard bullshit way of saying Mona Lisa is one ugly chick.”
[a bit more…]
“Has anyone heard of an Egyptian god named Amon?”
“Hell yes!” the big guy said. “God of masculine fertility!”
Langdon was stunned.
“It says so on every box of Amon condoms.”
Yikes, Mr. Brown. As a reader, I’m insulted, and sort of offended. I love the fact that he goes out of his way to make the prisoners seems like the world’s biggest lummoxes, yet they’re still engaged enough in Langdon’s lecture to participate, and even seem to spend their time in the yard discussing whether the Mona Lisa is actually a drag self-portrait of Leonardo. I enjoy picturing someone checking this book out from the prison library and then shaking their head in disbelief as they read this chapter.
Anyway, the book is still here at number 29 because when I stop to think of the books from this decade that almost everyone I know is at least aware of, it’s basically this and Harry Potter. And that should count for something. Plus, it’s fast-paced, fun, and considerably better than most of its ilk.
The real Dan Brown mystery is why it took him so long to capitalize on this book’s success. He took six and a half years to release The Lost Symbol, which has, predictably, sold like hotcakes, but no one cares as far as I can tell.
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