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“Best Sellers from Past Decades” – Explore what Americans were reading from the 1930s through the 1980s!

By Jessica Gallo

For August, we’ll take a look at the 1960s.

The 1960s were a time of social and political unrest in the United States. The decade saw major national events such as the Cuban missile crisis, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and the Vietnam War. The public was able to stay up-to-date more easily with current events, with color television bringing breaking news footage directly into their living rooms; by the end of the decade, over ninety percent of homes had at least one television. People took to the streets to protest war, as well as inequalities based on race and gender. In pop culture, the Beatles were hugely popular, the British invasion was happening, the Motown and San Francisco sounds were popular, and the decade culminated in 1969 at Woodstock.

The literature of the 1960s was, of course, bound to reflect the politically charged climate of the era. Writers like Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller (Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22) utilized absurdity and black comedy to explore subjects like war and bureaucracy. To Kill a Mockingbird and Black Like Me are among the many works to deal with racism in America. Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, while black female writers (Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks) offered their own unique take on what it meant to belong to a racial minority and be a woman in an era when both groups faced inequality. The Beat poets, who had emerged after World War II, remained popular and influential due to their political and cultural criticism.

Aside from the political, two genres that changed or emerged in the 1960s were science fiction and the so-called “New Journalism.” Science fiction had to expand as a genre because many of the original themes, such as space exploration, had become a reality. Some notable titles include A Clockwork Orange, Dune, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Solaris. New Journalism was a style in which the author investigated a real-life subject using a journalistic approach, but then wrote in a style more suited to a novel. The writer immersed himself in learning about his subject, but wrote without the traditional objectivity of a reporter, opting instead to develop character and dialogue and writing in a distinct voice. The most famous example of this style is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, published in 1965. Other notable authors using this style were Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese. Many of these works were serialized and published in magazines, as the format and the cost of producing them made them unappealing to newspaper publishers.

A few other works from the decade that stand the test of time are The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Valley of the Dolls, 100 Years of Solitude, The Outsiders, Rosemary’s Baby, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Steve McQueen Collection, True Grit, Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, and several James Bond titles.

Some of the above titles can be found on the shelf at Peoria Public Library locations. Others, especially the more obscure titles, are often available in various central Illinois libraries.
See a staff member if you need help in placing a hold to get these works from other libraries.

Check back in October, when we’ll take a look at best sellers from the 1970s!


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