10 books written in the 1980s we love even more today


The Eighties weren’t all New Wave, Euro Disco, George Lucas and shoulder-pads, you know: it was also a hotbed of kickass literature. So put down your curling tongs and leotard, and check out this selection: ten eighties’ classics that still rock our world today.

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1. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1985)

A feminist classic, Atwood’s nightmarish vision of a dystopian future where women are brutally subjugated (their assets are frozen, they’re not allowed to read, they’re kept as concubines for breeding purposes) is a terrifying and compelling read. Plus it’s a fantastic counter-example for anyone who claims SF is a boys-only zone.


2. Watchmen, Alan Moore (1987)

Moore’s multi-faceted, incredibly violent and ethically provoking graphic novel about vigilante justice, superheros, spent youth and looming nuclear terror is a must-read; if the 2009 movie adaptation left you all fired up, well, the original comic leaves it for dust. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, though.


3. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson (1980)

Robinson is more famous nowadays for her other two novels, Gilead and Home, but Housekeeping ought to be added to the must-read list: a pretty poetic novel, it’s about three generations of women and their homestead in Idaho, why they leave and why they return. Robinson’s prose is gorgeous but she’s also quietly hilarious, and the oddities of Ruth, Sylie and Lucille will linger with you for years.


4. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)

Hands down the funniest book we’ve ever read (sorry, David Sedaris), Confederacy tells of the tribulations of the fat, grumpy and slothful hero, Ignatius J. Reilly, bane of his mother’s life and sufferer of digestive problems of ‘the valve’, as everybody around him tries to force him into gainful employment. And it’s set in New Orleans – always a bonus!


5. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Okay, we flagged up Watchmen  as violent, but it has nothing on this: Mccarthy’s known for his gory treatises on the Tex-Mex border, and Blood Meridian takes it to an extreme. Set in the mid-1800s it follow an unnamed teen, ‘the kid’ as he joins up the Glanton Gang, a real-life crew of scalp hunters that massacred native Americans for cash and/or kicks. Horrific, stunning, compelling and enormously scary – a masterpiece.


6. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1982)

From hilarity to tragedy: The Color Purple is heartbreaking and affirmative account of an African American woman’s journey from being an abused child and a victim of brutal domestic abuse to a literate adult surrounded by a community of strong, supportive women. It’s set in Georgia in the 1930s, and though it may sound corny, it’s fantastically well-written as well as being a really interesting take on the subversion of traditional gender roles.


7. White Noise, Don DeLillo (1985)

A university professor running a course called ‘Hitler Studies’, whose town is under threat by a spreading poison cloud referred to by officials as an ‘Airborne Toxic Event’ and who’s absolutely terrified of death? Perfect. DeLillo’s amazing, sure, but this one really is a high point – academic satire, apocalyptic terror, domestic chaos – it’s got everything. And the prose? Unbeatable.


8. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)

Tan’s tightly structured story-cycle is usually marketed as a novel about Asian-American immigrants, and that does summarize the theme; more importantly, though, it’s about family memory and heritage and its four parts tell the stories of two generations of four Chinese families as they leave their homeland and settle in San Francisco. You can read the different strands independently, but all together, they combine to form a really powerful portrait of the unity and disunity between parents and children over two countries.


9. The Remains of the Day, Kazua Ishiguro (1989)

A butler’s diary, this novel is one of the odder love stories you’ll ever read. It’s ostensibly all about the upstairs/downstairs life of working for Lord Darlington, and it – or more correctly, its narrator, Stevens – is obsessed with dignity and propriety. It’s more properly about memory, though, and how we construct and repress pleasant or painful memories, and how we construct versions of ourselves and our lives that aren’t always sustainable. It’s funny, fascinating, and very, very poignant.


10. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson (1980)

Adopted as a baby by a Christian fundamentalist and later persecuted for her sexuality, the teen protagonist of Winterson’s debut novel eventually runs away. The north of England setting, the black humour of her household’s traditions, the grim reality of homophobia: this is powerful stuff. There was a really good BBC TV serialization of the novel in 1990, and Winterson’s more recent memoir of her childhood also gives a sideways glimpse behind the scenes, but there’s still no beating the original book.


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18 replies
    • JPW
      JPW says:

      Yeah, we know, but we wanted it on the list because we love it and the 60s rejected it, while the 80s embraced it. We could have changed the title to “10 books published” but we like the act of writing more than the act of publishing and didn’t want to sully the rest of the books.

      So, we made an editorial decision. We hope Mr. Toole would have understood.

    • JPW
      JPW says:

      The “we” is us. Not everyone.

      Tom Robbins published two novel in the 80s.

      Still Life with Woodpecker (1980)
      Jitterbug Perfume (1984)

      Neither even made our shortlist. In fact, half our team have never even heard of him. Maybe it’s because we’re not American. And frankly outside of the US, even though personally I’m a fan, his 80s work really isn’t very well known.

    • Tamrin Jennree
      Tamrin Jennree says:

      The reason is that the list reads like most of these book lists — it’s a selection of titles that glorify the far-left. There are a couple of exceptions, but it’s mostly stuff socialists enjoy. Most book reviewers and critics are admitted socialists and communists, so they naturally give the highest marks to those kinds of books. Check it out for yourself. You’ll see I’m correct in this. There just isn’t room for good sci-fi or much else when your aim is to promote a specific ideology / lifestyle, rather than limit yourself to a list of excellent novels.

      • JPW
        JPW says:

        Brilliant! If it weren’t so astonishingly paranoid that would be one of the funniest comments we’ve ever had on Whizzpast.

        You can rest assured that our political affiliations had absolute ZERO to do with this selection of books. Although, presumably unlike you, we see nothing wrong with a social system which values people over money. In fact, if human beings were valued more than capital and greed weren’t the governing principle of most of the western world, we’re pretty sure the world would be a better place.

        Oh and sorry to shatter your sadly delusional conspiracy theory, but we’re huge fans of Necromancer and William Gibson in general. We just didn’t think it warranted a place on this list.

    • Boozeprompt
      Boozeprompt says:

      Ender’s Game is my number 2. And love the same today. HHGTTG is my number one though. The movie incarnation also boosted Zooey Deschanel into star territory. Both relevant, and both amazing, long-lasting books.

    • JPW
      JPW says:

      Briggs, thanks for being so politie, but there’s no need to apologise.

      We haven’t included Ender’s Game because, alas, we’re all older than fifteen.

      We haven’t included Neuromancer because as much as we love it we don’t think it’s aged well. Actually, if we’re honest, we think it’s rather dated. Don’t you?

  1. Rathan
    Rathan says:

    Pretty good selection. Another great book from the 80’s is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, as well as all of the sequels. Recommend it to anybody looking for a great story and a good laugh.

    • JPW
      JPW says:

      Great minds think alike. I wanted Hitchhikers here. I got outvoted. But don’t worry I’ll get it on here somehow, sometime, somewhere.


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