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August 13, 2014

Remembering the Eighties – A Decade in Books

by Alison DeLuca

Still Life with Woodpecker
We listened to The Cars and Madonna. When it was time to go out, we put on Members’ Only jackets, mini skirts, cut off sweatshirts, and lace gloves. It was the decade of movies, so we watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, Aliens, and anything with Harrison Ford in it.

There are some books from the 80’s that were a product of that neon-colored, high-waisted, new-waved time. When Still Life with Woodpecker came out my friends and I saved our money until we could finally afford the book, Camel cigarettes and all. I stayed way past my bedtime to finish Gorky Park, a novel that seems dated in the post-Cold War era but still enchants me with its gorgeous writing, luminous love story, and incredible ending.

Many of my friends loved The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher’s saga of money, legacy, death, and how art transcends all of those. I preferred The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler – it was more prosaic and comforting, even as it dealt with the unimaginable subject of losing one’s child. I loved Macon and his determined pursuer, Muriel Pritchett, and even the minor characters (Macon’s boss, Julian, and his sister, Rose) sprang off the page as living people.

It was the era of The Clan of the Cave Bear – original, frustrating, addictive – and its sequels. Stephen King was at his high point, penning Christine, It, Misery, and incredible collections of short stories. I loved his book The Eyes of the Dragon for what it was: a fantasy for those readers who don’t mind letting go of adulthood and suspending disbelief.

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale arrived in all its metaphorical, apocalyptic glory. Shocking at the time, Margaret Atwood’s “cautionary feminism” took its place in college reading lists across the country, never to leave again. I enjoyed the story as a well-written book with hidden layers, and I loved the way Atwood confronted horrific themes head-on with great audacity.

Because it does take audacity to write such a book. It is easy to write romance and adventure, but confronting incest, sexuality, and abuse in one volume is an incredibly difficult task. Certainly Alice Walker had a wonderful success with The Color Purple. This amazing book is one that still resonates with its readers. The movie was good, but the book is so tender, and at the time so original. The Color Purple is an act of courage, above any other novels I ever read. 

The Joy Luck Club was the same – parts of it are still difficult to read, although I love the snippy, bitchy cousins who offered mah jong along with history, moon cakes with nagging. Amy Tan changed the landscape of fiction forever when she published the book, one so wild and bright it could never be captured properly in a movie.

If you really want some eighties throwbacks, take a look at the Sweet Valley High series. Readers sighed over the stories of the twins and their brother. You can dismiss them as schmaltz, but there were some interesting themes in the books that were pretty shocking at the time (the storyline involving their brother, Steven Wakefield.) Reading those books is like watching a soap opera for teens.

Stranger with My Face
There was the Babysitter’s Club, more cookie cutter books that middle schoolers snapped up by the dozen. Lois Duncan provided more complex fare with books like Stranger With My Face.

Frederick Forsyth and Ken Follett ruled the bestseller lists. James Michenor was in his prime, and Lake Wobegone hit the bookstands and public radio with a vengeance. In the non-fiction aisles, readers snapped up Gay Talese's Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Fatherhood by Bill Cosby, and anything by Andy Rooney.

Overall, the decade was an incredibly inventive one for all types of media. Appetites were primed for entertainment after so much seventies’ soul-searching – the eighties were the era of Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, and The Goonies. It seemed as though creativity in music, movies, and books was exploding, reinventing ways to while away a few hours before it was time to head out to the club and dance to Wham! and Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

What were your favorites?

Alison DeLuca is a features writer at Girl Who Reads. Alison is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey. Connect with Alison on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest, and her blog.

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