10 novels written in the 1970s we love even more today

70snovels

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…

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Richard Adam’s Watership Down

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.

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Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire

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…)

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Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities

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.

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John Gardner’s Grendel

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.

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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!

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Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing

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.

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Alan Garner’s Red Shift

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.

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Michael Herr’s Dispatches

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).

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Ian McEwan’s First Love, Last Rites

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.

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16 replies
  1. richard nadeau
    richard nadeau says:

    Do you have a list for the 60′s .80,s or 50,s,90,s books we love even today. I took drama @ U.C. San Diego in 70′s and I enjoyed best classes where we were assigned to read the best plays of 50′s and even the 40′s. Until I took motion picture criticism class several years ago @spjc those had been my favorite classes

    Reply
    • JP
      JP says:

      Happily, we plan to do even better than that Richard, and eventually have a list for every decade in the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s something of a challenge, but a massive labour of love as we’re huge book lovers here at Whizzpast. Just wish there were more hours in the day to bury our noses in books.

      Out of curiosity, what are your favourite novels of the 40s and 50s?

      Reply
  2. numfortytwo
    numfortytwo says:

    I am only slightly dissapointed to not see Hitchiker’s Guide on here because it was very late 70′s and gained the majority of it’s popularity in the 80′s and beyond

    Reply
  3. Tatu28
    Tatu28 says:

    For anyone who thinks war is ever a good idea, Dispatches is a must read book. I’ve read it three times and gets more powerful each occasion.

    Reply
  4. CHAD69
    CHAD69 says:

    Sweet…added this to my bookmarks and starting this tomorrow!!!! Thanks sooooo much…and I really really really was in need of some new, but old, books

    Especially happy to see Invisible Cities included.

    Reply
  5. zac
    zac says:

    Sure, works in art or literature are subjective realities, but intellect and personal methods are not. And personally mine do not agree with your analysis et al. What of Pynchon’s first works? Sterling? Vonnegut? This is literature, not low drama. I agree on Dispatches entirely, however.

    Reply
  6. Dean
    Dean says:

    I read “Carrie” last year. It’s very good – and pretty different from a lot of King’s other work. It’s written from a documentarian perspective, more like Max Brook’s “World War Z”. I definitely recommend it, even if you’ve seen the movie.

    Reply
  7. Filipe
    Filipe says:

    I haven’t read any of these novels. I wasn’t around in the ’70s. But there is one novel from this period that I really loved to read. ‘The name of the Rose’, which is a great history lesson too.

    Reply

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