Ah, the Seventies – the decade the YMCA peaked in the UK charts and the Goodyear blimp set sail… It was also a rollicking good time for literature, though, and many of the books that set hearts and minds aflame back then are still arming our cockles upwards of thirty years later. Here’s a few that have only gotten better with time.
Stephen King’s Carrie
A disturbed teenage girl with a creepy and repressive home-life finds herself endowed with psychic powers – and all hell is let loose in her high school when thing don’t go her way…. Just like high school, King’s breakthrough novel is as intense and brutal today as it ever was, and we reckon its brevity goes down even better now, in this attention-short era, than it did in its youth. Be afraid…
A community of rabbits is forced to flee its home when one of its members receives psychic warnings that doom is imminent. For a book about bunnies, this is heartbreaking stuff, and we think it’s getting even more relevant as time passes and the world gets more industrialised, with green spaces and wildlife habitiats disappearing.
A New Orleans vampire is determined to live a good life, and so he unburdens his history, his wrongdoings and his temptations to a fascinated reporter whose skepticism quickly turns to fascination. Unlike the original audience, we’ve lived through Buffy, Twilight and the Vampire Diaries; we know our fanged demons and we can approach Rice’s ground-breaking text with the reverence it deserves. (Plus we’ve all seen Brad Pitt as Louis, which is more than the Seventies can say…)
Marco Polo spins tall tales about imaginary cities to Kublai Khan, as we slowly realise that all along, he’s talking about one city, Venice. Here in the twenty-first century, we’ve come out the far side of postmodern experimentation, and so we think we’re better placed to appreciate Calvino’s textual experimentation and narrative innovation.
Subverting the Beowulf tale, Grendel takes the monster’s position, and tells the story from its perspective, as a succession of Anglo-Saxon toughs attack it. Gardner humanizes his subject and renders its brutality tragic from any possible angle. The rewritten tale is one we’re intimately familiar with, thanks to Angela Carter and her followers, so we can come at Grendel from, perhaps, a more critically nuanced position than Gardner’s original audience – though we defy any reader, from any time, not to get drowned into this one.
Judy Blume’s Forever
One of the first YA books, and one that depicted a first sexual experience with no blurry euphemisms, this caused no end of scandal when it hit the shelves. A few decades later, we love it even more, not only for its honesty and lack of condescension, but for its ground-breaking bravery and feminist ambitions. Go, Judy, go!
A young woman returns to her native Quebec to investigate her father’s disappearance, but ends up delving deep into her own past instead. Like Watership Down, it’s big into conservation politics – a theme that’s still strong in Atwood’s more recent work – and it’s also about gender identity and traumatic experience, all of which are still issues that get us hot under the collar today; we love Surfacing for its prose and its relevancy, and so we can’t keep from rereading it.
Three sets of teenagers in different times try to makes sense of their lives as they’re plagued by strange visions. The Civil War, Roman times and Garner’s contemporary world are all mixed up in this strange and demanding text. We love its complexity – both in the writing and in its portrayal of young adult life – and we adore the fact that it’s just an interesting a read now, or perhaps even better, than it was when we were kids.
Not a novel, but a collection of Herr’s journalism from his stint in Vietnam during the war – gripping and disturbing stuff to read at any time, but particularly fascinating for a post 9/11 audience, as Herr was one of the first ‘embedded’ journalists and his accounts of life under fire amidst the US grunts is enthralling (and depressing).
This was McEwan’s first book – before the psychological horror of The Cement Garden made the world sit up – and it’s a doozer. A short story collection that’s entertaining and horrible and emotionally punchy all at once, as well as being stylistically dazzling. They loved it in the Seventies, but we love it even more now because we’ve seen McEwan’s weaker, recent works, and they’ve made us long for the glory days – and these stories are nothing if not glorious.