Decades in Literature (Part 3): The 1970s…

If it was possible to pity a decade, I would feel sorry for the 1970s. It doesn’t come across as very glamorous – all the brown-and-cream kitchenware and oddly coloured jumpers didn’t help, I suppose – and it never really gets a look in when compared to the ‘wild’ 60s. The same goes for the way its literature is often viewed – to many, the 70s marked the return to traditional storytelling, with the rise of the mass market paperback ushering in tidily categorised ‘genre’ fiction. It was also big on non-fiction; self-help books and accounts of Nixon and the Watergate scandal were big sellers.

All sounds a bit boring, really. But when I think about books in the 1970s I immediately come up with some much more interesting examples. What about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), for instance? Definitely not traditional. And John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (originally published in 1969, but it was a bestseller in the early 70s) might at first seem like a very conventional piece of historical fiction, but then it gets all postmodern and subverts that very genre. The Princess Bride (1973) too, is all about challenging the traditional fairy-tale story. And at the moment I’m reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) by Hunter S. Thompson. To be honest I’m not sure it’s my kind of book, but I don’t think it could be described as ‘traditional’ either. Is having the protagonist hallucinate pterodactyls standing in pools of blood a conventional theme in literature? Didn’t think so.

And speaking of The Princess Bride, I came across this blog entry, which puzzles over a very strange (and again, definitely not traditional) 1970s cover design for the book. I think the 1970s was a weirder decade than we think…

Next week: the 1980s – books get global!

Sara Magness, Editorial Administrator

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