The 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were very much a time of transition for me. I went to college, got my first full-time job, met and married my husband, moved to North Carolina, had four children, returned to college, and passed from my youth into middle age. Along the way, my father died and my mother suffered a series of debilitating strokes. My life changed a lot.
So, it’s maybe not surprising that some of my favorite authors during this time were writers who produced a whole series of books. There was a luxury in obtaining a new book from a familiar author. I knew I could expect a good time. I could relax into these books. They were comfort reading. And most of these were books I could reread, because I was sure to enjoy them a second time around.
Rosamunde Pilcher is a British writer whose career spanned 52 years, during which she wrote at least 26 novels and numerous short stories, at first under the pseudonym Jane Fraser, and then later under her own name. I’ve never read her Jane Fraser novels, which are romances and mostly out of print, but I’ve read all her other works and especially love The Shellseekers, September, and Winter Solstice.
One of the things I particularly love about her books are the descriptive passages where she makes the settings come alive. The places she describes are so lovely, the reader immediately wants to be there. Her characters are fully rounded, with their good qualities and not-so-good, and the plots are about real people in interesting situations. Functional people. Lovable people.
I’ve read each of these books several times, just because I enjoy ‘being there’ again. Especially Winter Solstice, which brings together a group of people who are not family, but who discover family within each other. I often reread it when I’m trying to rev up my own Christmas spirit. Each of these books have a multi-generational cast, and they also move easily back and forth in time, creating a beautiful tapestry.
Some of Ms Pilcher’s books have been made into movies or TV dramas, but none of them very successfully.
Maeve Binchy wrote from the early 1980’s all the way to 2012. An Irish writer, she wrote 16 novels, numerous short story collections, novellas, plays, non-fiction books and TV dramas. Her books have a similarity to Rosamunde Pilcher’s, in that they tend to be multi-generational, with a wide and sometimes recurring cast of characters, but they are a bit more plot-centric than Pilcher’s, and the characters do, after a while, tend to become less rounded. Certain ‘types’ show up, again and again. I prefer her earlier books to the later ones, and my favorites are Circle of Friends, Copper Beech, and Evening Class, especially the latter. At her best, the stories are rich and heart-warming. If you don’t read any of the others, read Evening Class.
A.S. Byatt wrote eleven novels between 1964 and 2011, and numerous short stories, essays and biographies. The only novel I really liked was Possession, but I like that one a whole lot. It has both a mystery and a pair of romances in the plot, but what I really like about it is the way it’s written – reading it, you feel like you’re going down a corridor – well-lit and full of interesting things – and then the corridor takes a sudden turn and you’re going in a completely different direction and things which hadn’t made sense before suddenly become clear. There’s a lot in the story about academia, as well, which was interesting to me, and lots of great scene-setting and description. Just a very rich book.
There is a movie based on Possession, with Gwyneth Paltrow, but it strays so badly from the book (particularly in the casting of Aaron Eckhart as Roland Michell), that I just want to kick the TV when it’s on.
Although I don’t generally seek out mystery series, there were two that I followed during this period. The first was Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books, written 1975-2017, about a female Egyptologist and her husband (and later, her son) solving mysteries both of the archeological type and the ‘somebody’s trying to kill me!’ type during the 1920’s. The stories have a lot of humor, plenty of factual information, and a delightful recurring cast over a range of 20 novels. The humor and the main character were the parts I enjoyed the most. Later, when I learned about Highclere Castle (the building used in Downton Abbey) and the fact that its owner, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was himself an Egyptologist who took part in excavations and created one of the most extraordinary Egyptian collections in the world, I thought “Aha! Amelia Peabody at work!”
The other mystery series I followed was the Alphabet Series by Sue Grafton (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar), written between 1982 and 2017. I loved her central character, Kinsey Millhone, and the descriptions of her orderly work habits and spartan lifestyle, all amid a messy, none-too-organized personal life and lots of quirks (oh, the greasy cheeseburgers, and the lone wrinkle-proof black dress). Ms Grafton only made it through Y is for Yesterday before she passed away, but even so, she managed to gain a gazillion fans, including me.
Some other authors I read during this time include John Irving, Irwin Shaw, Arthur Hailey, and Stephen King (I don’t usually read horror, but I did enjoy a few of King’s books, including The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and Hearts in Atlantis. I also love his book On Writing.
I also read several of the Jack Ryan series books by Tom Clancy (again, not my usual type of reading), and many of John Grisham’s books. My faves there are The Firm and The Pelican Brief – both of which made very good movies. For both Tom Clancy and John Grisham, I actually preferred the movie versions of their books.
Some day I might write a blog post on favorite movies, because writing this has put a lot of them into my brain…
Do you have any favorite books from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? What made them your favorites? This is my blog post for today, and in the famous catch-phrase from the 80’s – I’ll be back.