I’m starting a new series today, part of a wider project I’m doing going year by year and looking at all different entertainment – movies, TV series, games etc. But here it’s books, starting today with 1970. As usual, all book title links are to a book’s entry on Goodreads.
1970, the starting point for my journey, was a surprisingly good year for books. According to the website Goodreads.com, the most popular book from that year is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. The book is about Margaret, a not quite teenager in America struggling with the typical issues of early adolescent girls – going through puberty, having her first period, boys she fancies. She’s also struggling with religion, having two parents with different beliefs. The religion issues may be less universal (especially today), but the rest of the book is about the sort of stuff most girls experience at one time or another, and has been essential reading for pre-teens and teenage girls ever since.
That book was the author’s third, but second on Goodreads’ list is an important debut novel. The Bluest Eye is the first book by American legend Toni Morrison who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, and also won the Nobel Prize for Literature. This book, like Blume’s book, is about an eleven year old girl, but the similarities don’t go much further than that. It tells the story of a black girl, Pecola Breedlove and is set in the author’s childhood home of Lorain, Ohio. All Pecola dreams of is that her eyes will turn blue, so she will be as beloved as all the blond haired, blue eyed girls. Unfortunately, her life is about to change in devastating ways.
We’re mainly looking here at fiction books, but it would be remiss of me not to briefly pause from that to mention two very important non-fiction books that came out in 1970. The first is The Female Eunach by Germaine Greer. It is an important text in the feminist movement, and became a huge bestseller. The second book is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. It documents the westward American expansion in the second half of the 19th century from the perspective of the Native Americans, highlighting the near total destruction of their way of life. They say history is written by the victors, but this book is a key early success in correcting that, and came at a time of increasing Native American activism in the USA.
Back to fiction now, and one of the really interesting things about 1970 in books is that it is very much a case of looking back and looking forward, with many of the old guard of popular 20th century novelists still writing, with a new generation coming through. In terms of the old guard, Ernest Hemingway wasn’t actually still writing, having died in 1961, but this didn’t stop a new novel by him coming out in 1970. Islands in the Stream is the story of an artist and adventurer, Thomas Hudson, written in three acts to illustrate the different stages of his life. An author who was still very much alive and writing in 1970, Agatha Christie released Passenger to Frankfurt, the last of her spy novels (that’s right, she didn’t just write Poirot & Miss Marple!)
As authors like Agatha Christie were coming to the end of the career, others were just beginning such as crime novelist Reginald Hill, who published his first novel, A Clubbale Woman, in 1970. It was the first in a series of more than 20 novels about the police detective duo of Dalziel & Pascoe. The series was televised in a UK BBC series starring Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan, which ran for eleven seasons.
If, like me, you are a fan of speculative fiction then 1970 is a good year. Larry Liven had written several science fiction books in the 1960s, but it was only with Ringworld in 1970 that he hit the big time. The main character, human Louis Wu, is sent to investigate the eponymous Ringworld is a huge ring a million miles wide, surrounding a star. It won the Hugo Award and spawned many sequels.
Another series opener released in 1970 was Nine Princes in Amber, the first book in Fritz Leiber’s Chronicles of Amber series, a sprawling fantasy series set in two contrasting worlds, ‘Amber’ and ‘Chaos’. The first few books are excellent, though they do tail off later.
Ursula K Le Guin started her Earthsea fantasy series in 1968 with A Wizard of Earthsea. The sequel, The Tombs of Atuan, came out in 1970 and follows Tenar, a young girl taken while still a girl to be high priestess to the “Nameless Ones”.
For an SF book with a difference, try Time and Again by Jack Finney. It’s a time travel tale with a difference, written in lyrical prose, and follows one man as he goes back in time from 1970 to 1882 New York. A magical, beautiful book.
It is not just good adult books that came out in 1970, two of my favourite childhood reads came out in this year too. Judith Kerr’s most well known children’s book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, had come out a couple of years earlier, but in 1970 she released the wonderful, Mog the Forgetful Cat about a rather dozy cat (aren’t they all?), his owners, Mr & Mrs Thomas, and their children Nicky and Debbie. It’s a wonderful picture book that’s enjoyed by millions of children to this day, along with the fifteen or so other books in the Mog series. The other favourite children’s book that came out in 1970 was Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl. It’s about a rather clever fox who outwits the dim-witted trio of farmers with the brilliant alliterative names of Boggis, Bunce and Bean.
If you want to find Goodreads’ full list of most popular books from 1970, click here.