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18 books that defined the 2010s

Booka

From Sally Rooney to Juliet Jacques to Tommy Orange, here’s what we were reading

Deep fakes, influencers, viral fashion – we live in a world unrecognisable from the one we stood in ten years ago. As a chaotic decade comes to a close, we're speaking to the people who helped shape the last ten years and analysing the cultural shifts that have defined them. Explore the decade on our interactive timeline here, or head here to check out all our features.

Books: they survived the 2010s! When really, given the increasing amount of time that we spent on our phones, coupled with our horribly diminishing attention spans, they might not have. Actually, book sales did fall slightly, but it's OK because we became obsessed with audiobooks and podcasts instead. In a lot of ways, publishing also got way better; trans writers told their own stories, Bernardine Evaristo became the first black woman to win the Booker Prize, and a generation of new cultural critics emerged through social media. 

In nonfiction, there was an ongoing feminist publishing renaissance, a surge of interest in books about mental health, and a trend for melding art criticism with memoir. In fiction, we unexpectedly became obsessed with reading about the interior life of a Neapolitan woman, four male American college friends dealing with all the shit that life throws at you, and a young Irish girl having an affair with a married man. There were some literary trends that we’re not so sad to see the back of, like Instagram poetry and influencer books (luckily, some of those didn’t actually get written), and we met the cliche of the Bougie London Literary Woman, but she’s probably not going anywhere.

Overall, the 2010s was the decade that – both on and off the page – marginalised voices took back the narrative, giving rise to a lot of incredibly textured, original, and intersectional books. This also gave us our new literary heroes: Roxane Gay, Claudia Rankine, Tommy Orange, Reni Eddo-Lodge and Ottessa Moshfegh, to name just a few. 

Below, a list of 18 books that defined the decade, picked by Dazed staff.

A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD – JENNIFER EGAN – 2010

Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer winning novel A Visit From The Goon Squad is a series of interconnected stories that stretch from 70s San Francisco to 2020s New York, flitting between a loosely-linked cluster of characters. The titular “goon” is the merciless march of time, taking us further from our golden years and closer to the end. Its blow lands all the harder when you see central character Bennie Salazar as a washed-up record producer, then jump back decades to his years as an effervescent punk, and then forward once more to the depressing present. It’s not the loss of youth or good looks that tugs the heartstrings, it’s the way that Egan empathetically details her characters’ passions that fell by the wayside, their friendships that were lost, and their dreams that never came to fruition. Goon Squad also feels quintessentially 2010s in some ways; some chapters are full of text message exchanges, a young female star is assaulted by a journalist, and it describes a music industry catering to young people who instantly listen on their phones. It’s the kind of book that demands re-reading to really appreciate Egan’s beautiful connective tissue between these times, people and places. Rob Hakimian, Intern on Dazed Digital

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND – ELENA FERRANTE – 2011

A frontrunner for the most devastatingly uncool cover design of the decade, the English translation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels somehow made their way into the hands of teenage girls, millennials, and their mothers, somehow feeling equally important for each generation. Across four novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child), the anonymous author (Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym) chronicles the coming-of-age of two best friends growing up in 1950s Naples, from their early childhood in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood to old age. It is told from the perspective of Lenu, whose lifelong friendship with the difficult, headstrong Lila (who she perceives as the ‘brilliant’ one) is the defining relationship of her life.

For my part, my love of the books even led me to a holiday on the island of Ischia, to the exact beachside resort where Lenu loses her virginity to a total creep (Sant Angelo – would recommend). You won’t read anything better on the wrenching experience and heartbreak of best female friendship: plus, the eventual, spectacular letdown of Lenu’s lifelong super crush, Nino, is a brilliantly conceived warning lesson against all contemporary nerdy, brooding softbois. Stay away! Claire Healy, Editor, Dazed print

AMERICANAH – CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE – 2013

Being half Nigerian but ultimately British, all of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s stories hold special significance for me. Mainly because they transport me to my mother’s land, littered with cultural quirks (the food, the sayings, the mentality) and historical moments that were previously relatively unknown to me. Americanah in particular also gives an inkling of what my mum must have felt coming to the West aged 11, down to the phonetic title and trouble people have pronouncing protagonist Ifemulu’s name. The differences between the black experience and race relations in America and England, like the various reactions to Obama’s ascent to the White House, are laid bare in the nuances of Adiche’s beautiful and imaginative storytelling. I reread Americanah often and I love it because I can personally relate to many of the situations Ifemulu finds herself in, particularly the hair salon visit, and the ever-evolving notions of blackness and identity that are explored. Felicia Pennant, Dazed Beauty Commissioning Editor

WORKING ON MY NOVEL – CORY ARCANGEL – 2014

Remember Alt Lit? In 2019, the genre – and what we used to mean by it – feels like the land before time. But if you cast your mind back, there was a time around the early teens where the writings of Tao Lin, Blake Butler, Megan Boyle, and Mira Gonzalez were being heralded as the saviours of literature. Essentially a personal, confessional mode, this was writing that emerged from blogging sites like Livejournal, was chronicled by sites like Alt Lit Gossip and HTMLGiant, and was fuelled by an atmosphere of self-publishing that felt, at the time, like it could genuinely rock the Establishment Critical boat. While some names got significant book deals, the bubble of hype was punctured in dramatic style in 2014, when the movement’s greatest success story Tao Lin was accused of statutory rape, emotional abuse and plagiarism by his ex-partner ER Kennedy, which he denied. Still, the moment felt symbolic of writers and the internet itself outgrowing the moniker; that same year, artist Cory Arcangel published Working on my Novel via Penguin, a book based on a Twitter feed that re-tweeted posts featuring the phrase “working on my novel”. A stroke of genius, the book was the natural conclusion to a writing movement marked by the alterity, self-aggrandisement and twenty-teens ennui of its central protagonists. Claire Healy, Editor, Dazed print

BAD FEMINIST – ROXANE GAY – 2014

As an academic, novelist, essayist and cultural commentator, Roxane Gay’s voice cut through a lot of the 2010s noise. When she released her debut essay collection Bad Feminist in 2014, it came along with a surge of other great books marking the feminist fourth wave, like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me, or slightly later, Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism and Jessica Valenti's Sex Object. But Bad Feminist was somehow a notch smarter, more honest, than most. On its release, Gay told TIME: “In each of these essays, I’m very much trying to show how feminism influences my life for better or worse. It just shows what it’s like to move through the world as a woman. It’s not even about feminism per se, it’s about humanity and empathy.” In 2017, she released Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, about sexual violence and body image, and in 2018, edited Not That Bad, a collection of essays about rape culture, continuing her dedication to destigmatising the hard-to-talk-about issues facing women everywhere. Amelia Abraham, Features Editor, Dazed

A LITTLE LIFE – HANYA YANAGIHARA – 2015 

Few books of the last decade gripped me – and many others – quite like A Little Life. On its release in 2015, Hanya Yanagihara’s unusual, epic story about male relationships was hailed as the Great Gay Novel of our times. The story is about four improbably wealthy and successful, mostly queer-leaning male friends living and working in New York City, but centres on the suffering of sexual abuse survivor Jude. On paper, it doesn’t sound like the kind of material that would spell literary blockbuster. And yet, even as we’re relentlessly forced to live out Jude’s trauma, again and again, A Little Life proves instantly un-put-downable. In truth, I found myself exasperated when I finally finished its 700 plus pages. The book is borderline sadistic. And yet, the tragedy A Little Life tells is also somehow cathartic, and conjures a unique and all-consuming portrait of friendship. In spite of my frustrations with the novel, I told all my friends to read it. Mostly because I needed people to talk about it with as I recovered from the devastation it brought upon me. Mark this one down as essential queer reading. I promise, once you’ve dived in, you’ll never feel the same. Bunny Kinney, Editorial Director, Nowness, and Editor In Chief, Dazed Beauty

TRANS: A MEMOIR – JULIET JACQUES – 2015 

That there have been so many books by trans writers published over the 2010s reflected the wider explosion of visibility of trans people in media, TV, and in film. It was really gender theorist Julia Serano’s 2007 book Whipping Girl that ushered in this decade (and counting) of a nonstop drip-feed of brilliant trans autobiographies – particularly ones that take on much bigger questions about feminism, biological essentialism, and the way that society polices gender. Honorary mentions go to Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness (2014), Thomas Page McBee's Man Alive (2014), and CN Lester's Trans Like Me (2017). However, Trans: A Memoir stood out as the book that really affected and educated me. “I felt trapped not by my body, but by a society that didn't want me to modify it,” writes Jaques in the memoir, which features honest accounts of her surgery diary, the bureaucracy around medical transition, plus the mental health fall out of it all. Jacques’ passionate writing about subculture – mostly Manchester post the Factory Records’ heyday – adds another whole other fascinating layer. Amelia Abraham, Features Editor, Dazed

GIRL IN A BAND – KIM GORDON – 2015

This decade has been littered with great memoirs from totemic female rockers, including Patti Smith, Viv Albertine and Carrie Brownstein, but it’s Kim Gordon’s unfiltered recounting of her remarkable career as the sole female in Sonic Youth that stands out. Her memoir, Girl In A Band, tells the whole tale, from the intoxicating early days getting involved in the 80s New York art scene to the tandem dissolutions of her band and marriage, to playing alongside St Vincent, Lorde and Joan Jett at Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Gordon doesn’t withhold the cutting analysis of her cheating ex that readers crave, but more fascinating are the tales of how she left her impression on a male-dominated industry, found herself in the world of celebrity, and managed to juggle motherhood with a demanding touring cycle. Forebears like Gordon, Smith, Albertine, and Brownstein paved the way for the current crop of women in alt-rock, which is stronger and more diverse than ever – we can only hope they’ll write their own gripping biographies in years to come. Rob Hakimian, Intern on Dazed Digital

THE ARGONAUTS – MAGGIE NELSON – 2015

Over the course of the 2010s, poet and cultural critic Maggie Nelson became a real sleeper hit. The Argonauts, a cross-genre exploration of motherhood, queerness and feminism, became an unexpected New York Times Bestseller after it was released in 2015, and switched a lot of readers onto the writer’s other work. Such as 2007’s The Red Parts, a nothing-short-of-genius book about Nelson’s aunt Jane’s murder, melding memoir, true crime and an analysis of our culture’s unabating obsession with violence against women. The Argonauts similarly smashed up all of our notions of what criticism and life writing could or should look like (not unlike that other brilliant 2010s book, Hilton Als’ White Girls). The Guardian maybe put it best when they described it as a “triumphant love story” about Nelson’s trans partner, the artist Harry Dodge, and their kids, although really anyone who tries to describe the book will struggle to find the words, a skill best left to Nelson. She counts several other defining feminist voices of the 2010s as her fans, including Miranda July, Roxane Gay, and Olivia Laing. Amelia Abraham, Features Editor, Dazed

JACE CLAYTON – UPROOT – 2016

Jace Clayton is a Harvard-educated writer that underground music fans might know as the DJ and producer DJ Rupture. Uproot, his first book, is part-musical memoir, part-globetrotting travelogue – a vivid and fast-paced exploration of how music is made, spread, and consumed around the world in the 21st century. From Zagreb to the Maghreb, Clayton chronicles some of the musical subcultures that he has encountered in the most far-flung corners of the globe. Clayton doesn’t try to spotlight previously undiscovered music, but instead meditates on the factors that allowed these different sounds, rhythms, and styles to develop in the first place (the human make-up of a community, the geopolitical struggles of a region, the development of new technology, etc). He also delves into the colonial implications of western musicians having easy access to these sounds online, able to plunder the creativity of these cultures for themselves. At the end of the 2010s, with western popular music struggling for new ideas and major labels looking from Nigeria to Medellín for something to capitalise on, Uproot is an essential read. Selim Bulut, Music Editor, Dazed Digital

SUPREMACIST – DAVID SHAPIRO – 2016

If fashion in the 2010s was defined by one thing, it would be streetwear. Transforming the industry across the course of the last decade, the all-encompassing aesthetic transcended ‘trend’ and became a full-on cultural phenomenon which continues to dominate style. Inspired by what many would consider the current daddy of streetwear – fuckboy fave Supreme, duh – semi-autobiographical novel Supremacist sees protagonist David head out on a mission to visit every Supreme store around the world in an attempt at better understanding what the cult brand is about. Also touching on substance abuse and obsession, this so-called love letter to the label ultimately sees David left out in the cold – in much the same way as Supreme fans are on drop day. Emma Davidson, Fashion Features Editor, Dazed Digital

WHY IM NO LONGER TALKING TO WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT RACE – RENI EDDO-LODGE – 2017 

We all know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race prompts you to do just that. When reading on public transport, knowing smiles from fellow people of colour and uncomfortable looks from non-black people illustrated just why the book needed to be published in 2017. Ridiculously comprehensive, Eddo-Lodge schooled me on Britain’s racist roots and confirmed to me why they’re still so entrenched in our country today. In my own (mixed-race) family, the book prompted never-before-had conversations with my father about the racism he faced growing up in London in the 80s, and the struggles for my mother being in an interracial relationship. I even opened up to her about the microaggressions I faced over the years that felt too trivial to mention. White people, do not be put off by the book’s title – this is for you, just as much as it is for me. Dominic Cadogan, Assistant Editor, Dazed Beauty

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS – SALLY ROONEY – 2017

The butter-yellow cover of Irish writer Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends was a staple on bougie lit girl Instagram feeds, poking out of LRB tote bags on beaches from Brighton to Bologna, a generation of millennials claiming her as their totemic author. Love, loss, and late capitalism bolster the narrative, and alongside the equally adored second novel Normal People, Rooney’s work deftly assembles the stories of a generation’s anxiety-racked rituals, its murky social dynamics, and the sometimes inexplicable bonds we form with each other. The Dublin-set Conversations with Friends is a forensic unpacking of friendship/romance structures with its four leads, with Frances as our protagonist: “Things matter to me more than they do to normal people,” she says, at once desperate to be the intriguing, a “genius hidden” among the every day, while also like everyone else. 

If we’re looking at other standout fiction across the decade – from the riveting dystopia of Station Eleven by Emily Mandel to Emma Cline’s Manson-adjacent The Girls – a pattern emerges among the popular ‘It’ books of the moment. That, whether set against the backdrop of Ireland’s death-rattling Celtic Tiger, a world wiped out by a flu virus, or within the confines of a cult, we hold close the stories of what captivates characters, their seemingly capricious behaviours, their own world-defining loves. We look to these writers to feel normal and seen, yet special, and to understand ourselves. Anna Cafolla, Deputy Editor, Dazed Digital

THIS YOUNG MONSTER – CHARLIE FOX – 2017

Hey beasts, if you haven’t heard of Charlie Fox what wet dungeon have you been hiding in? This year, the London-based writer and Dazed contributor curated two shows (at Sadie Coles and Rodeo Gallery), but it was his 2017 book This Young Monster that first caught our attention. A wild and totally original exploration of the depictions of monsters, freakishness and the plain frightful across art, cinema and beyond, its nine connected stories blur fiction and biography as they muse on transformation and the grotesque – including the deranged glamour of countercultural icons like Leigh Bowery, Mike Kelley and Divine.

Ironically, the fact that This Young Monster was published as a Fitzcarraldo Edition makes the book itself a simplistic thing of classic beauty. It has been much praised by critics, but most importantly John Waters and Chris Kraus are among its fans. This Young Monster also stands for a trend for lyrical and autobiographical art criticism in the 2010s. We could place Olivia Laing's Lonely City, an excellent study of personal loneliness and its depiction by New York artists like Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz and Jean-Michel Basquiat, into the same elusive category of revisiting artists lives’ through personal experience. Isabella Burley, Editor-in-Chief, Dazed

THERE, THERE – TOMMY ORANGE – 2018 

The 2010s saw a decade of books, both fact and fiction, that in some cases, looked to redress the historically murky part fiction has had to play in the whitewashing and telling of histories, both personal and political. One of those novels was a debut: Tommy Orange’s fictional tale There There, about the Native American experience in urban California. The novel centres on an impending powwow (a traditional celebration) that not only ties all of the many characters together but also serves as a symbol of both a generational and cultural clash. I discovered the book, like many, through Obama’s shortlist suggestion of summer reads which he shared in the summer of 2019.

The author, Orange, is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, and I read There There as an outsider. As a British white woman, it’s a segment of living history I’d previously not come into contact with. I imagine for many European readers a similar feeling was shared. The book tackles poverty, sexuality, identity and the decline and desire for community. It’s Orange’s ability to carve out such small and quiet moments in the stifled domestic strands of his complicated story and then such magnitude in the breadth of the overarching topic – that of displaced persons in an increasingly unwelcoming America – which makes this novel so frightening, so hopeful and so powerful. Nellie Eden, Editor, Dazed Beauty

PISCES - MELISSA BRODER - 2018

This decade, we’ve seen books born on Twitter, as well as their prolific, celebrity-adjacent, Extremely Online writers. They’ve infiltrated quaffed Instagram grids, the #NowReading Twitter threads, and even appeared as the poolside companion of Kendall Jenner. Darcie Wilder‘s literally show me a healthy person is like relentlessly pressing refresh on the TL, a playful and acerbic, stylised reflection of the weird and fucked up ways we communicate today, among other ruminations on mental health, morality, and the most chaos energy elements of pop culture.

Melissa Broder’s collection of essays, So Sad Today, builds upon the anxiety-ridden, self-sabotaging psyche of her now-iconic @SoSadToday Twitter account, which first appeared in 2012. With the anonymous account, Broder spoke to a demographic of emotion-curating, expressive and very online young women. In both the Twitter and her book, she similarly plays with form and language, using the mediums we know best to examine everything from femininity to eating disorders, self-loathing and identity IRL and URL. It’s with her debut novel Pisces that Melissa Broder builds on the satirical writing she sharpened on the TL, as well as an astute ability to capture very human contradictions and behaviours. Lucy arrives at Venice Beach post-breakup and amidst a disastrous PhD on Greek poet Sappho, searching for something to fill her “void” – for a time, it’s a merman lover called Theo. Though it has the fantastical elements of merpeople and interspecies sex, Pisces is a startling depiction of the very real ways people are messy as fuck. Anna Cafolla, Deputy Editor, Dazed Digital 

NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE – GRETA THUNBERG – 2019  

It seems fitting – considering how many people comment on how “small” Greta is (hence the pun in the title) – that her book is also small; I love a book you can fit in any bag or large pocket, especially one like this, that you'll want to read more than once. As much as the sentiments of the activist’s words are essentially “we're all going to die and no-one in power is listening”, this collection of 11 speeches, by a 15-year-old girl, all collected together in one place, inspires you to believe that even if our generation royally fuck everything up, there still might be hope for the next. Along with Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, and The Extinction Rebellion handbook, This Is Not A Drill, No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference defines an era when we collectively woke up and decided to do something about climate change. Bec Evans, Head of Video, Dazed Digital 

KNOW MY NAME – CHANEL MILLER – 2019

One year before the monumental #MeToo movement took off, a woman known only as Brock Turner’s victim, Emily Doe, confronted her rapist in court. “You don’t know me,” she said, “but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.” This statement would be read by over 18 million people, but it would take three years for its author to be revealed. In her beautiful 2019 memoir, Know My NameChanel Miller details the trauma of being a sexual assault survivor in the US legal system, exposing how perpetrators – especially white, middle-class sports stars – supposedly have their lives ruined, while their victims’ sexual history is scrutinised, questioned, and made fodder for the prying eyes of the press. 

Miller’s book is just one of many #MeToo-influenced works released since 2017 – following the Harvey Weinstein exposé in The New York Times – that uncovers sprawling abuse suffered by women at the hands of men. This year, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the journalists who uncovered the Weinstein story, revealed their nail-biting process in She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, while a month later New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow released his version of events in Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. With the weight of the secrets exposed in the #MeToo movement lifted from our shoulders, the last two years of literature have offered a complex, thoughtful portrayal of male-female relationships, and offered the previously voiceless a platform from which to find solidarity. Brit Dawson, News Writer, Dazed Digital