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What Were We Reading 30 Years Ago? 1983’s 10 Bestselling Books

The 1980s are often referred to as the decade taste forgot. We started wondering whether this adage applied to our reading habits? Here are the ten bestselling books in the United States for the year 1983*. Some of the titles have definitely stood the test of time, while others are starting to show their age (and their shoulder pads).

10. The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour

Lonesome Gods Born in 1908 in Jamestown North Dakota, Louis L’Amour was a prolific writer, primarily of Westerns. The Lonesome Gods is a sweeping adventure set in the California frontier in the mid-19th century.

9. Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins

Hollywood Wives

Before there was ‘Real Housewives’ there was Hollywood Wives, a story of a group of women associated with the film industry ‘ranging all the way from long-time talent agents and screenwriters to vivacious screen vixens and young, innocent newcomers.’ Hollywood Wives was Jackie Collins’ ninth novel and sold over 15 million copies worldwide.

8. White Gold Wielder by Stephen R. Donaldson

White Gold Wielder

White Gold Wielder is the last book of the second trilogy of fantasy series The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (there are ten books in the series in all).  Alex Klapwald, Director of Production at Stephen R. Donaldson’s publisher, said of the series ‘These books have never received the recognition they deserve. It’s one of the most powerful and complex fantasy trilogies since Lord of the Rings, but Donaldson is not just another Tolkien wannabe.’

7. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the Rose

This historical murder mystery set in an monastery in 1327 was originally published in Italian in 1980. It was Umberto Eco’s first novel and it is the only book not originally written in English to make the list. The book was adapted into a film in 1986 starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater.

6. Changes by Danielle Steel


Danielle Steel is the fourth bestselling author of all time, with worldwide sales of her novels estimated to be as high as 800 million copies. In Changes, top TV anchorwoman Melanie Adams has given up on love after a failed marriage. That is, until she meets famous heart surgeon Peter Hallam. This is classic Danielle Steel fare and it’s clearly a formula that works for her.

5. Christine by Stephen King 


Stephen King himself described Christine has ‘Happy Days gone mad’. It’s a story only King could write: nerdy teen Arnie Cunningham buys an old 1958 Plymoth Fury which turns out to be possessed by supernatural forces. Despite receiving many critical reviews upon publication, Christine sold over 300,000 copies in 1983 alone.

4. The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré

The Little Drummer Girl

Writing in the New York Times praising this genre-busting novel, William F. Buckley wrote ‘The Little Drummer Girl is about spies as Madame Bovary is about adultery or Crime and Punishment about crime.’ The story follows the manipulations of Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spymaster who recruits a young British actress in order to track down a Palestinian terrorist.

3. Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Pet Sematary

Stephen King originally did not submit the Pet Sematary manuscript to his publisher, feeling he had gone too far with his subject matter.  In the introduction to the 1988 British edition, King wrote ‘Put simply, I was horrified by what I had written, and the conclusions I’d drawn.’ The story was inspired by a real pet cemetery (complete with a handmade sign bearing the name ‘Pet Sematary’) that King discovered while he was a writer-in-residence at the University of Maine.

2. Poland by James A. Michener


James A. Michener (1907–1997) began his writing career during World War II when he was serving as a Lieutenant in the US Navy. He went on to write 40 novels, many of the sweeping family sagas, Poland included. This, his fifteenth novel, follows ‘the trials and tribulations’ of three Polish families over 800 years, ending in the then-present day (1981).

1. Return of the Jedi by James Kahn

Return of the Jedi - 1983's bestselling book

James Kahn’s novelisation of the Return of the Jedi was a phenomenal success from the moment in hit bookshop shelves in mid-May 1983. It simultaneously held the number one places on the New York Times’ hardcover and paperback bestseller lists (a first) and by mid-June it had already been reprinted 11 times. The first Star Wars novelisation was actually released before the first film. The book, ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster but credited to George Lucas, was released in November 1976, with the film opening in cinemas in May 1977.

 * Data Source: Publishers Weekly

Related post: What Were We Reading 40 Years Ago? 1973′s 10 Bestselling Books




  1. 3 October 2013 / 2:05 am

    Excellent choices. Especially anything by James A. Michener. I’ll add The Covenant by Michener too. 🙂

  2. 4 October 2013 / 12:25 am

    Fabulous 8 page color insert! Well then, it looks like you can judge a book by it’s cover?

  3. Ben
    4 October 2013 / 2:31 pm

    Missed Atlas Shrugged.. only the Bible has sold more copies..

    • Pela
      4 October 2013 / 6:25 pm

      “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957. People were certainly reading it in 1983, but not in huge numbers as compared to the best sellers published that year.

  4. 10 October 2013 / 7:25 am

    Cool to see “Christine” on there. One of my favorite books and movies.

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