As another decade draws to its close we thought what better time to look back on some of the most memorable and best selling books of the last ten years?
And there have been some absolute gems during the tenties. From genre-defining debuts to fascinating memoirs and long-awaited sequels, our Books Editor re-visits some of the most talked-about and best selling books that have captivated readers in the UK over the last ten years. These 11 texts will be poured over by readers for many generations to come.
Best selling books from the Tenties that are now classic reads
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
If you haven’t heard of this best selling book, you may have seen the recent major Hollywood production starring Nicole Kidman. We recommend reading the book first – it’s a tour de force.
In it we meet Theo Decker, left alone in the world after his Mum is killed in an explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum where they were visiting. In the chaos that ensues, Theo finds himself grabbing Carel Fabritus’ painting The Goldfinich - and somehow never finds the courage to return it to its rightful owners.
And thus begins Theo Decker’s descent into crime as we journey with him through the antique stores and high society of Manhattan to mind-bending scenes in Las Vegas and the dark streets of Amsterdam, in what can only be described as a wildly compelling art-heist drama.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Love it or loathe it, this controversial self-published book, later published by Penguin, is the fastest-selling paperback in the UK, which has been translated into 52 languages and made into a successful film starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Basically, sex sells – or so it seems as we follow the deepening relationship between college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. As much as Christian warns Anastasia to stay away from him she finds she can’t. As they embark on a passionate love affair, his darkest sexual desires and secrets are revealed and things get a little (or a lot) steamy…
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
A publishing phenomenon, it was Gone Girl that seemingly kick-started the domestic noir, or ‘grip-lit’ genre - seeing an influx of thrillers featuring unreliable female narrators.
When Amy Dunne disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, there are a lot of questions, which attempt to be answered through the present-day voice of husband Nick Dunne, and past diary entries of Amy. Nick becomes the prime suspect, but in this high-anxiety thriller, not everything is as it seems. Is Amy genuinely missing from what we soon see is a toxic marriage?
It’s no surprise that Gone Girl was also made into a major film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, with the book still remaining the jewel in the crown of modern day thrillers.
One Day by David Nicholls
As admired for its vibrant orange book cover as what’s inside, this multi-million bestselling novel is essentially a beautiful love story.
Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on their graduation night before going their separate ways. They wonder where each other will be a year on from that day – and so they meet, every year on the same day - for twenty years. Through the ups and downs of life, we experience the light and shade of a relationship that invokes humour and cry-out-loud moments that will stay with you for days.
Made into a successful rom-com starring Anne Hathaway, this is one of those best selling books that’s sure to be a permanent fixture on your shelf.
Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman
This heart-warming book did for the uplit genre what Gone Girl did for thrillers. It bought a story of hope, humanity, kindness and friendship out into the open, prompting a flurry of books with kindness at its core.
While it may not be an entirely new genre, it is exactly what readers were looking for to escape everything that is wrong with the world – and this debut about a young woman who lives a very simple and timetabled life shows how one simple act of kindness can change everything. As she gradually lets people in, she wonders whether change can in fact be a good thing. Challenging the notion of loneliness with humour and empathy, Gail Honeyman’s book was the tonic we all needed. No wonder this has sold over 2 million copies to earn its spot on the best selling books list.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Selling over 12 million copies worldwide, this life-affirming tearjerker more than deserves its recognition as one of the most memorable books of the last decade. When Will Traynor’s motorcycle accident took away his desire to live, he never expected that someone could burst into his life bringing colour and joy. But that’s exactly what happens when Lou Clarke loses her job and sets out to show him that life is still worth living.
The subject matter of this book is dealt with so sensitively in this heart-breaking but beautiful novel, and though you may need a tissue or two to hand you’ll be so glad you’ve read it. Again, it’s no surprise that it was made into a film starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, with Jojo writing the screenplay herself.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This timeless story narrated by three very different but extraordinary women deals with racial segregation in an unforgettable way.
In Jackson Mississippi, 1962 we meet twenty-two-year old Skeeter who returns home to find her beloved maid Constantine has disappeared, Aibileen - a black maid raising her seventeenth white child while mourning the death of her own son - and Minny, the sassiest woman in the county. They are as different as can be, but as they go in search of the truth, each comes to rely on the other in this important story of what it was like to be a black maid working for a white family at that time.
Turned into a major film starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer meant further success for a thought-provoking novel that should be on every book-lovers shelf.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
This beautifully written debut novel marked Jessie Burton out as one to watch. In its first year of publication it sold over a million copies and was later made into a BBC drama.
Set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. Only when she knocks on the door of her new home, Nella is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. When Johannes does appear he presents her with a cabinet-sized replica of their house. In it she begins to discover the pieces reflect their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways. For its sense of atmosphere and exquisite writing alone, The Miniaturist is a standout novel.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
With a brilliant instinct for reaching out to the people, the former First Lady’s success has seen her appear on public platforms around the world – and reaching millions via James Corden’s Karaoke Car Pool, singing along with Missy Elliot.
But there’s always a reason behind her endeavours, from encouraging young girls to believe they can succeed, to ensuring that her own family continues to thrive. In her extraordinary autobiography, Michelle Obama recalls the challenges of her childhood, her determination to succeed as a student, and the meeting with the man who would later become the President of the United States. Her account of life as First Lady is inspirational – but she pulls no punches when it comes to the price she pays for living life in the merciless spotlight – and why she will never, ever stand for office in her own right. A superbly written insight into the life of a very clever, determined woman with a huge heart, and a hunger for justice and equality.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
No one was more surprised at the success of this incredible book than the author. Planning to self-publish just 100 copies, The tattooist of Auschwitz has gone on to sell over three million copies worldwide. You can not get on a bus or train without seeing multiple copies of this tightly grasped by gripped readers.
This is a historical fictionalisation of Slovakian Jew, Lale Sokolov, who fell in love with Gita, a young girl waiting in line at a concentration camp to be tattooed by Lale. It was love at first sight - and so begins one of the most life-affirming and unforgettable stories of the human holocaust. Heather spent three years listening to Lale before sharing his extraordinary story with the world.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood massive 1985 hit, The Handmaid’s Tale, is now a mainstream classic, on the syllabus for literature in schools and watched by millions in its TV adaptation. So despite the long wait, the sequel – The Testaments – was never going to be anything other than a publishing sensation and was a guaranteed best selling book.
The novel follows the personal accounts of three women who live in Gilead – two are young and have grown up knowing nothing else, while the third is deeply embedded within the power structures of the Republic, knowing enough secrets to protect her position. ‘Everything you’ve asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book,’ Atwood told her readers. ‘The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.’
Disturbing, chilling and inspirational, the novel was a triumph for Atwood, and won her the joint Booker Prize in 2019.
Did you favourite make the edit of best selling books?