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

Best Sellers of the 1970s

by Jessica Gallo

For October, we’ll take a look at the 1970s.

In many ways, the early 1970s were a continuation of the 1960s.  Several groups, including women and minorities, were still fighting for equal rights; the Vietnam War still dominated the news and inspired nationwide protests.  Gradually, though, members of the white middle class began to push back against the trend toward a more liberal government, instead wanting a return to traditional family values and political conservatism.  Eventually, however, the decade would be dubbed the “Me Decade,” due to waning interest in social issues and a stronger focus on the self and one’s own interests and enjoyment.

Literature in the 1970s was widely varied and constantly evolving.  Self-help and diet books became popular, which can be attributed to the “Me Decade” emphasis on self-improvement.  A great deal of non-fiction was written about Nixon and the Watergate scandal.  Criminal non-fiction, or true crime, also became a popular subject matter.  Helter Skelter, about the Manson murders, was published in 1974. A few years later, in 1979, Norman Mailer published The Executioner’s Song, for which he won a Pulitzer.  Satire was a commonly used element in the writing of authors like Kurt Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions, Slapstick), Richard Adams (Watership Down), and Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull). 

The 1970s also saw a so-called “black women’s literary renaissance.” Authors like Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon), Alice Walker (The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian), and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) published popular, culturally significant works that are still highly regarded and studied today.  Asian-American women found a voice as well in the 1970s.  Maxine Hong Kingston published No Name Woman and The Woman Warrior, starting her on a successful literary path and opening the door for many to follow.

The 1970s saw a rise in the popularity of the paperback novel. Genre fiction was increasing in popularity, and it was sold most often in mass-market paperback format, which was cheaper to produce.  The latter part of the decade saw a huge surge in the publication and readership of horror novels in particular.  Stephen King emerged as a literary force, releasing Carrie in 1974 and following it up with several more books that decade, including The Shining, Night Shift, and The StandThe Exorcist and The Amityville Horror were both published in the 1970s as well, each resulting in successful movies and many lost nights of sleep.

Finally, a new category of literature began to emerge in the late 1960s and grew into its own in the 1970s.  The publication of The Outsiders in 1967 gave readers what would become known as young adult literature.  Geared toward teenagers who wanted characters with whom they could identify and stories with some grit and realism, the genre has become popular with adult readers as well.  In the 1970s, The Chocolate War; That Was Then, This is Now; and Run Softly, Go Fast fulfilled the need for books for young adult readers.

Some of the above titles can be found on the shelf at Peoria Public Library locations.  See a staff member if you need help in placing a hold to get these works from other libraries.

Check back in December, when we’ll take a look at best sellers from the 1980s!



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