My Favorite Novels Which I First Read in the 2010s

I spent a bit of time thinking about what were my favorite novels which I read for the first time in 2010-2019.

To make this list more interesting, I’m only putting in one novel per writer. I’m also including fanfiction novels and novel-length narrative poetry. I’m not including any novels I which I had read before 2010 and re-read in the 2010s. And I’m not claiming that these are the best novels I read in the decade, just that they are my personal favorites.

Rather than trying to make up my mind with which novel belongs in 5th place, or 7th place, or 9th place, I’m just going to order them by original publication date in the original language. With serial novels, I’m ordering them based on the year that the first installment was first published, though I also know the year the last instalment was published.

1. Orlando Furioso by Ariosto Ludovico
Written in: Italian
Read in: English, translated/adapted/abridged by David R. Slavitt
Publication Date: 1516
Genre: Chivalric Romance

Yeah, this is ‘novel-length narrative poetry’ rather than a novel. But even though it’s in poetic verse, it still felt a lot like a novel to me.

I don’t know much about Italian literature, but whatever I expected, it wasn’t quite this, and in a good way. It caused me to question some of my assumptions about Renaissance Italian culture. More importantly, this was a lot of fun to read, both because of all of the adventurous derring-do and the humor. Granted, it was obvious that Slavitt took a lot of liberties with the translation, but the insertion of obvious modernities was very funny, and possibly more in the spirit of the original than a literal-yet-dry translation. I really would like to read one of the unabridged translations some day, probably the one which Slavitt himself likes the best, the translation done by Sir John Herrington (Sir John Herrington was a nephew and godson of Queen Elizabeth I, and when she found out that he had shared some of the particularly sexual bits of the story with some chambermaids, she punished him by ordering him to translate the whole poem into English).

2. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Written in: English
Read in: English
Publication Date: 1847 (Ended 1848)
Genre: Satire

This is a novel with an obvious theme – ‘People are controlled by their vanities’. It’s right there in the title. It is wonderfully illustrated by the anti-heroine Becky Sharp, who is adept at manipulating other people through their vanities, yet herself is driven by her own vanities. The book has very memorable characters who are all fooled by their vanities in various different ways. When I read it, it felt very relevant to our times, but I suspect it feels relevant at all times because human nature changes very, very slowly.

3. War and Peace (Vojna i mir) by Leo Tolstoy
Written in: Russian
Read in: English, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Publication Date: 1865 (Ended 1867)
Genre: Historical fiction

Okay, this is the archetypical high-brow ‘I-am-so-edified’ novel, but that’s not why it’s one of my favorites. Most of the references I see to this novel are about the Pierre Bezukhov – Natasha Rostov – Prince Andrei love triangle, but I wasn’t particularly interested in Natasha, and I was most interested in Pierre and Prince Andrei when they weren’t thinking about Natasha. What really stays with me is the depiction of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, including the Battle of Borodino, and the philosophizing, which is why I feel this is more like non-fiction than fiction (even Tolstoy himself didn’t think this was a ‘novel’ because there was too much non-fiction in it). And I must say, this book changed how I look at the world, particularly politics and social organization. I don’t agree with Tolstoy, but he did shift my Overton Window.

4. Precious Sword, Golden Hairpin (Bǎo​jiàn Jīn​chāi​​) by Wang Dulu
Written in: Chinese
Read in: Chinese
Publication Date: 1938 (Ended 1939)
Genre: Wuxia

Reading this was one of those memorable experiences which I am not quite sure how to describe right now. My decision to include this in my favorites list was definitely based on intuitive feeling, not careful analysis.

5. Shén​diāo​ Xiá​lǚ​ by Jin Yong
Written in: Chinese
Read in: Chinese
Publication Date: 1959 (Ended 1961)
Genre: Wuxia

I’ve written so many blog posts about this novel that I don’t feel a need to add anything now.

6. Misty Rain (Yān​yǔ Méng Méng​​​) by Qiong Yao
Written in: Chinese
Read in: Chinese
Publication Date: 1963 (Ended 1964)
Genre: Romance

This is the one which surprised me the most, because I dislike most of the characters and didn’t particularly enjoy it when I read it. As far as Qiong Yao novels go, I enjoyed reading My Fair Princess much more. But for some darn reason, Misty Rain is the one which has left the deepest impression on me. There are many novels which I enjoyed much more than this one during the decade, yet I’ve already forgotten them while I still remember this one. It goes to show that what puts a novel on my favorites list is not how much I enjoy reading it, but how much it stays with me long after I put down the book.

7. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky
Written in: English
Read in: English
Publication Date: 2010 (Ended 2015)
Genre: Harry Potter fanfiction

First of all, a lot of this is so much fun to read (and there are also arcs which were no fun to read, but whatever). It also prompted me to think a lot about various intellectual things. And it also completely transformed how I look at fanfiction. Also, I note that this is the first novel which was written/published during the 2010s decade.

8. The Story of a New Name (Storia del nuovo cognome) by Elena Ferrante
Written in: Italian
Read in: English, translated by Ann Goldstein
Publication Date: 2012
Genre: Slice of Life / Drama

I liked My Brilliant Friend enough that I was willing to continue with the series, but it was only when I read this one that the Neapolitan Novels really clicked for me, and getting my hands on Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child became a priority in my life. And then I went back and read this series again, a rare example of me reading and then re-reading novels in the 2010s decade.

9. Way of Choices (Zé Tiān​ Jì​) by Mao Ni
Written in: Chinese
Read in: Chinese
Publication Date: 2014 (Ended 2017)
Genre: Xuanhuan

I’ve also written enough blog posts about this one that I don’t want to add any comment right now.

10. The Valley of Life and Death (Shēng​sǐ​ Gǔ​) by Zheng Feng
Written in: Chinese
Read in: Chinese
Publication Date: 2015
Genre: Wuxia

It was hard for me to pick which Zheng Feng novel would make it to this list. Ultimately, the tie-breaker is that this one has a female protagonist I head-canon as aro ace, but this novel almost became my top pick for Zheng Feng.

Now, some general observations…

SO LITTLE ENGLISH, SO MUCH ITALIAN

Half of these novels are written in Chinese. Considering how many Chinese novels I’ve read in the 2010s, that’s not surprising, especially since there was a period of 2+ years where I only read novels written in Chinese. I also couldn’t read Chinese novels before this decade.

What is surprising is that only two of these novels were written in English, and two of them were written in Italian (Orlando Furiosos is an honorary novel). The vast majority of novels I read are originally written in either English or Chinese, so it’s surprising that English did so badly. Meanwhile, the only Italian novels I read during this decade were Orlando Furioso and the Neapolitan Novels, and they are both represented on this list. The only Russian novel I completed in this decade (there were a couple DNF Russian novels) also made it to this list.

SO MANY SERIALS

7 of these 10 novels were originally published as serials. I have an obvious preference for serialized novels. I also have a preference for long novels – the only novels on this list which are less than 500 pages long are Misty Rain and The Story of a New Name, and the latter is 471 pages long.

WHERE IS THE SCIENCE FICTION AND (WESTERN) FANTASY?

Before 2010, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. After 2010, not so much. But I still read enough science fiction and (western) fantasy novels that their absence in this list is noteworthy – their only representation is a Harry Potter fanfic. And if I had made this a ‘top 15’ rather than a ‘top 10’ list, at least one and probably more non-fanfic science fiction / fantasy novels would have probably made it.

Also, this was the decade when I got to read the back catalogue of classic wuxia novels. There are more classic wuxia novels which I haven’t read yet, but they are less likely to become personal favorites (I would love to be wrong about that).

WHERE IS THE ACE FICTION?

I read a big chunk of ace fiction in the 2010s and … none of them made it to my favorites list (unless you count headcanons). And to be honest, even if this were a top 20 list, there probably wouldn’t be a single explicitly ace novel. I think this reflects how little overlap there is between ‘novels with ace representation’ and ‘novels which suit my tastes’. Most ace novels aren’t serials which run over 500 pages.

SO WHAT ABOUT YOU, DEAR READER?

Have you read any of these novels, and what did you think? What were some of your favorite novels which you first read in 2010-2019?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.