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What Were We Reading 30 Years Ago? 1986′s 10 Bestselling Books

Each year for the past three years we’ve taken a trip in a bookish time machine to take a look back what readers were devouring 30 years ago (see the bestseller lists from 1983, 1984 and 1985). In 1986, while Mikhail Gorbachev was introducing Perestroika and Glasnost. and the world was being shown a special version of “Australian culture” courtesy of Crocodile Dundee, these were the novels that American readers were enjoying.


10. A Perfect Spy by John le Carré

A Perfect Spy by John le Carre 1986

David John Moore Cornwell published his first novel, Call for the Dead in 1961 under the pen name John le Carré. Cromwell served in the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service (AKA MI5 and MI6) in the 1950s and 1960s and the author admits that this is his most autobiographical novel, with a large part of the story being a thinly disguised account of his own early life. In A Perfect Spy British Intelligence Officer Magnus Pym mysteriously disappears after attending his father’s funeral. His colleagues soon discover that Pym was a double agent, working as a spy for the Czechoslovak secret service (though this wasn’t a personal experience that the author and Pym shared). le Carré reflected that “writing A Perfect Spy is probably what a very wise shrink would have advised”. Philip Roth described A Perfect Spy as “the best English novel since the war.”

9. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy 1986

Pat Conroy’s books have sold over 20 million copies worldwide. The Prince of Tides, a rich family saga set in New York City and South Carolina, had an initial print run of over 250,000 copies and was widely praised at the time for its  engrossing story and unforgettable characters. The plot focuses on the traumatic events that affected former football player Tom Wingo’s relationship with his immediate family. The 1991 film adaptation of the novel, directed by Barbra Streisand, was nominated for seven Academy Awards. In February of this year Conroy stated on his Facebook page that was being treated for pancreatic cancer. His died on March 4th, aged 70.


8. Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour

Last of the Breed by Louis L'Amour 1986

Born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in North Dakota in 1908, L’Amour was a prolific writer with 89 novels, 14 short story collections and two full-length works of non-fiction in print at the time of his death in 1988. Most of L’Amour’s work consists of Western novels, which he preferred to call “frontier stories”. Last of the Breed’s hero is Joe Mack, a Native American United States Air Force Major who gets shot down and captured by the Soviets. Mack’s escape across Siberia to the Bering Strait relies upon on the traditional hunting and tracking skills handed down from one generation to the next for thousands of years.


7. I’ll Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz

Ill Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz

I’ll Take Manhattan is 1980s shoulder-pad fiction at its best. Set in the high-stakes world of magazine publishing, Krantz’s protagonist is Maxi Amberville, a glamorous 29-year-old who lives a lavish lifestyle in the ultimate eighties locale – Trump Tower in New York City. When Maxi’s widowed mother marries a man who plots to sell her father’s magazine empire, Maxi “turns her incredible lust for living into a passionate quest for power.”  I’ll Take Manhattan follows Krantz’s winning formula, interweaving plots and sub-plots centered on money, sex and fame – a combination that has led her to being one of the bestselling female novelists of all time.


6. Wanderlust by Danielle Steel

Wanderlust by Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel is the bestselling American author of all time, living or dead. Between 1983 and 2000 she had at least one book on the year’s top 10 list and on multiple occasions more than one. Wanderlust, 1986’s contribution to this record-breaking run, focuses on Audrey Driscoll, a wealthy woman who was orphaned at a young age and grew up caring for her elderly grandfather and spoilt younger sister. On a backdrop of real-world historical events from the 1930s, Driscoll decides to follow her dreams and begins a drama-filled journey around the world visiting China, England and North Africa.


5. Hollywood Husbands by Jackie Collins

Hollywood Husbands by Jackie Collins

Hollywood Husbands is an unrelated sequel to Hollywood WivesCollins’ 1983 bestseller which sold over 15 millions copies worldwide. Exploring power and celebrity in Hollywood, the central characters of this saga are competitive friends Jack Python – a TV talk-show host, studio executive Howard Soloman and movie star Mannon Cable. When top New York model Jade Johnson enters their lives, the least-expected one of the self-styled “Three Comers” may have finally met his match. On writing about fictionalising Hollywood Collins said “If anything, my characters are toned down — the truth is much more bizarre.”


4. The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum

The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum

The second sequel to make 1986’s top 10 list, The Bourne Supremacy is part of Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. The story is set during the British negotiated handover of Hong Kong to China on the expiration of its ninety-nine-year lease and varies greatly from the 2004 movie of the same name. Despite the book’s commercial success, the work received mixed reviews. In a piece published in March 1986 by Kirkus Review, one critic wrote “readers who keep returning for more of the same – tediously implausible, convolutions, fatuous non-stop dialogue, comic-book narration – will get exactly what they deserve in this headache-inducing sequel.”


3. Whirlwind by James Clavell

Whirlwind by James Clavell

As a novelist Australian-born James Clavell is best known for the epic Asian Saga series, of which Whirlwind is the fifth installment. But Clavell also had great success as a screenwriter, co-writing 1963’s World War II inspired The Great Escape, as well as writing, producing and directing 1966’s To Sir, with Love.  Set in Iran in early 1979, Whirlwind follows of a group of helicopter pilots, Iranian officials and oil men and their families in the turmoil surrounding the fall of the Iranian monarchy and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The original hardback edition of the book was well over 1000 pages. In 1994 a much shorter version of the story, focusing on just two characters was published as Escape: The Love Story from Whirlwind.


2. Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy

Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy

The plot of Tom Clancy’s second novel focuses on a third World War in Europe between NATO and the USSR. Unlike much of Clancy’s other work, this book does not form part of the Jack Ryan series, though the lead character shares many traits with Ryan. The novel eventually lent its name to game development company Red Storm Entertainment which Clancy co-founded in 1997. Though not always credited, Clancy co-wrote Red Storm Rising with former U.S. Navy officer Larry Bond. Bond has modestly said “I wrote like 1 percent of [that] book”, but he undoubtedly played an important behind-the-scenes role as a naval warfare adviser to Clancy.


1. IT by Stephen King

It by Stephen King

IT was Stephen King’s 19th published novel, the 14th written under his own name. Set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, IT’s themes of childhood trauma and the evil lurking below the surface in small town America were a winning combination. IT’s publishers, Viking, printed 800,000 copies of the first edition and the novel spent a total of 14 weeks at the top of The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list. In December 2011 a special 25th anniversary edition of IT was published, featuring illustrations by Alan M. Clark and Erin Wells, and a new afterword by King in which he discusses the reasons for writing the novel.


 * Data Source: Publishers Weekly