Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The 100 best books of the decade

A panel at the Times (of London) came up with a list of the 100 best books of the decade.

Number One on the list:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

Cormac McCarthy’s gripping, shattering novel walks in a long line of tradition. Mary Shelley tried her hand at the literature of post-apocalypse with The Last Man, published in 1826; Russell Hoban’s 1980 novel, Riddley Walker, sets the aftermath of doom in Canterbury. The Road’s wilderness — coming to the cinema in January — is an American one: blasted, ruined, destroyed by an unnamed calamity that has scorched the Earth with biblical fury and lit McCarthy’s prose with holy fire. In this awful landscape walk a father and his young son, treading towards a future where it would seem there could be none.

McCarthy has always been a poet of extremity; his earlier novels stripped romance from the myth of the frontier. The Road is stripped back even farther, its father and son the near-sole survivors of what might be called humanity; the book’s narrative is simply that of their survival. There are respites from their suffering —- a cache or two of unspoilted tinned food —- but more often there is horror; this is existence pared to the bone. For this reason, it is McCarthy’s language that must carry the book, and so it does, triumphantly, its Hemingway-like concision shot through with cadences that sometimes recall the sprung rhythms of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The Road is our book of the decade; but it will outlast that judgment, too. It is a work of force and dark brilliance, a perfect expression of the early 21st-century’s terrors —- and of the hope we must all have that we shall not destroy ourselves, nor yet be destroyed.
Read about a few of my favorites on the Times' list and where they ranked.

The Road appears on Liz Jensen's top 10 list of environmental disaster stories, the Guardian's list of books to change the climate, and David Nicholls' top ten list of literary tear jerkers.

Fans of The Road include Paulette Jiles, Joshua Clark, David Dobbs, Andrew Pyper, Dan Rather, Jim Lehrer, Michael J. Fox, Mark McGurl, and this guy.

--Marshal Zeringue