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.
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.”
It’s time for our annual look back at the 1980s, to see whether the bestselling novels of the era have stood the test of time, or if they were starting to show their age (and their shoulder pads). In between watching Back to the Future and trying out New Coke, here’s what American readers were enjoying in 1985.
Readers of the 1980s loved a multi-decade saga and The Class well and truly fitted the genre. Written by Erich Segal, the author of Love Story, The Class follows the intertwined fates of five fictional members of the Harvard Class of 1958, culminating with their class reunion in 1983. Described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an absorbing page-turner” The Class is filled with all the tragedies, turmoil and dramatic turning points one might expect from a popular fictional novel of this era.
Danielle Steel’s recipe of romance, suspense and high drama has made her one of the world’s bestselling authors, with current estimates indicating her novels have sold well over 650 million copies around the world. In Family Album, her 18th novel in 12 years, Steel tells the story of Faye Price, from World War II to the present day. Writing in Christian Science Monitor, reviewer Jaye Wilson said “like the heroines in earlier Danielle Steel books, Faye Thayer embodies the ‘fantasy, recovery, escape, and consolation” which Tolkien describes as necessary constituents of a good fairy tale. Victorious in her new challenge, Faye seems as well to represent an updated, flip side of the old Horatio Alger characters who inspired the pre-Yuppie generation of men in gray flannel suits (whose sisters were still being silver-spoon fed on the old version of Cinderella’s tale).”
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