Shake up your reading life this year and read a book published the decade you were born

Shake up your reading life this year and read a book published the decade you were born

Readers, it’s time for a check-in. How is your 2020 Reading Challenge coming along?

There’s no need to fret if you’re feeling behind. In fact, there is no such thing as being behind because here at Modern Mrs. Darcy, we care about quality way more than we care about quantity. We also believe that your reading life should serve you well—and for many of us, that means what we’re choosing to read these days is looking quite different from what we imagined we’d be reading right now. I, for one, have a beautiful stack of hard-hitting literary fiction by my bed, queued up and ready to go, but all I want to read these days is light-hearted, feel-good stories. I know it’s not just me.

Modern Mrs Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge

Checking the boxes on your reading challenge list isn’t about the accomplishment itself; it’s about helping you get more out of your reading life. (Though I realize that for some of you, it IS all about checking the boxes, and I respect your achievement-driven ways. But don’t let it get you down, okay?) 

Our reading challenge categories are meant to inspire, motivate, and enhance your book selection process, and we’ve deliberately chosen categories that we know steer readers towards new favorite titles. One such category is “a book published the decade you were born.” I shared what I plan to read for my own challenge—including books for this category—here. I love the freedom this category allows, but I also know an open-ended prompt such as this may be tricky for some readers.  

Shake up your reading life this year and read a book published the decade you were born | Modern Mrs Darcy

Narrowing down your reading options from a whole decade doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Peruse book lists sorted by decade on Goodreads. Ask a parent, grandparent, or neighbor about their favorite book from this time. Check out past book prize lists, sorted by year. If you’re looking for literary classics, LitHub has an excellent series of books that define each decade.

In 2017, one of our Reading Challenge categories was “read a book published before you were born,” and this book list is full of good suggestions going back to 1905.

Finally, one of my very favorite episodes of What Should I Read Next features a reader who embarked on an ambitious challenge of her own: she set out to read one book published each year between 1920 and 2019, in a single year. This episode is a joy; you’ll find it inspiring and helpful. Click here to listen to episode 168: A century of good books (in a single year).

Perhaps you’ll find a title here today. Today, I’m sharing a few of my own favorite classics and award-winners from the last few decades.

Popular books from every decade

The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth

Author:
(1961) I probably wasn't old enough to appreciate this instant classic when I first read it as a child, but that didn't stop me. (Thank goodness.) 10-year-old Milo comes home from school one day to find a tollbooth sitting in his bedroom. Since he doesn't have anything better to do, he pays the toll and drives through–and embarks on a strange journey into a fanciful world where he encounters all sorts of strange characters. A satisfying and delightfully nerdy book that will engage both kids and adults, albeit on different levels. For fans of Greenglass House and The Mysterious Benedict Society. More info →
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Rebecca

Rebecca

(1938) This 1930s Gothic classic is an un-put-down-able, curl-up-by-the-fire mystery. Suspenseful, and it holds its tension on a re-reading: a sure sign of a well-crafted thriller. Because the young unnamed wife doesn't understand what's going on for a long time, neither does the reader. Don't be put off by its age: this thrilling novel feels surprisingly current (and Mrs Danvers is as creepy as ever). More info →
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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Author:
(1943) I loved this story from page 1, and totally get why it makes so many readers' "lifetime favorites" lists. If you're new to this novel, brace yourself: Francie Nolan is about to win you over. Her Irish Catholic family is struggling to stay afloat in the Brooklyn slums, in the midst of great change at the turn of the century, while her charismatic but doomed father is literally drinking himself to death. But Francie is young, sensitive, imaginative, and determined to make a life for herself. A moving story of unlikely beauty and resilience, wistful, satisfying, and heart-wrenching. More info →
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Bel Canto

Bel Canto

Author:
(2001) This is my favorite Patchett novel and a book I find myself recommending all the time. Japanese businessman and opera buff Katsumi Hosokawa is celebrating his birthday in an unnamed South American country, in the company of diplomats, government officials, and businessman. Mr. Hosokawa knows he's being shaken down for a large donation, but he can't resist attending, because the South Americans have secured a performance by legendary soprano Roxanne Coss. The country's president is unable to attend (he's much too interested in what happens on his favorite soap opera on Tuesday nights), and his fixation spares him from being taken hostage when the militant group La Familia storms the gathering. Intriguing, highly readable, and loosely based on a true story. More info →
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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Author:
(1974) When I first read Pilgrim as a college freshman, I'd never encountered anything like Dillard’s genre-defying reflections on the changing seasons in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. (I talked about this as a life-changing book in the Ask Anne Anything episode of What Should I Read Next.) It is still one of my all-time favorites. More info →
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Author:
(1969) In her debut, the first of six autobiographies, Angelou tells the haunting story of her childhood in the American South in the 1930s. The prose is incredible, and the story is by turns heartwarming ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") and utterly heartbreaking. If this is one you've been meaning to read, give the audio version a try: Angelou's lilting voice brings her powerful, touching story to life. More info →
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Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

Author:
(1958) This modern classic, set in a small Nigerian village, made the list of the top 100 in PBS's The Great American Read. I spent years meaning to read this book; don't make the mistake of putting it off like I did. In intertwined stories, the reader witnesses first an individual life fall to pieces, and then the society he belongs to. The title comes from the Yeats poem "A Second Coming." More info →
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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

(1937) This atmospheric story about expectations, marriage, and unexpected love is richly atmospheric, set in the deep South's Florida Everglades in the 1920s. Hurston's classic is written in dialect, which is tricky for some readers (unless they choose the audio version). A classic for a reason, with well-developed characters and a thought-provoking story line. More info →
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East of Eden

East of Eden

(1952) This story has it all: love, poverty, wealth, war, betrayal, abandonment, murder. An epic tale of the Trasks and Hamiltons, two families doomed to reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel’s rivalry across generations. Steinbeck examines class, identity, and what happens when we are denied love. Grounded thoroughly in its California setting, Steinbeck's magnum opus feels tragic, yet hopeful. This is Steinbeck's most ambitious novel, and in his opinion, his finest work. ("I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.") More info →
Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove

(1985) I read this for my 2016 Reading Challenge and LOVED it, even though I initially thought it didn't sound like the right book for me. It's not the kind of book I expected to love: the story revolves around a 3000 mile cattle drive from a dusty Texas border town to the unsettled lands of Montana in the 1880s, and features a motley cast of characters including illustrious captains, notorious outlaws, ex-slaves, Texas Rangers, sheriffs, and more. Yet I enjoyed it sooo much—all 36 hours and 11 minutes of the audiobook. More info →
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Native Son

Native Son

(1940) This gritty novel wrecked me when I first read it in high school: Wright's story is raw, violent, emotionally wrenching, and utterly unforgettable. Through the eyes of Bigger Thomas, a twenty-year-old black man living in Chicago in the 1930s, we see the extreme racial inequalities his family experiences— and how they first harden, and then desensitize Bigger. This was Wright's first novel, and on its publication in 1940, it became one of the fastest-selling novels in America's history, and remains incredibly timely today. More info →
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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

(2005) I talked about my love for this one in Volume III of One Great Book . Haunting and atmospheric, with a sad truth that dawns on you gradually. Ishiguro slowly introduces the reader to three teens in a 1990s British boarding school. His prose says so much while revealing so little, as it slowly dawns on the reader what is not-quite-right about these children's lives. More info →
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Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies

Author:
(1999) I love Lahiri; this slim volume of short stories was breathtaking. The first story, A Temporary Matter, is my favorite. Lahiri's characters tenuously navigate the divide between their old world and their new, and taken together, the collection highlights myriad aspects of the immigrant experience. Evocative, bittersweet, and lyrical. I listened to the audio version and loved it. More info →
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Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet

(1929) I highly recommend listening to this one on audiobook. You've probably encountered snippets of this compilation somewhere along the way; in less than two hours you can hear the complete work. If you have a creative bone in your body, it's well worth the time to give this a listen at least once, especially because it's read by Dan Stevens. More info →
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The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye

Author:
(1970) Morrison takes her title from her dark-skinned protagonist's deep desire to have blue eyes, because that is the standard of beauty in the 1941 Midwest. Through the eyes of this girl, Morrison explores the ideas of beauty, love, and what it does to a person to internalize hate. Remarkably, this was Morrison's first novel (her work spans five decades, and any of her books would be a great choice for this challenge). More info →
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The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street

(1984) This modern classic is a coming-of-age almost-memoir of a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, who is inventing the woman she will grow up to be. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes—some joyful, some heartbreaking—that draw the reader deep into her Hispanic Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza's observations feel at once highly specific and incredibly universal, as she reflects on growing up on Mango Street, and how she eventually wants to leave. More info →
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The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

(1998) I love Kingsolver; this is one of her best (I've read it several times). Southern Baptist Missionary Nathan Price heads off to the African Congo with his wife and 4 daughters in 1959, and nothing goes as planned. Though they bring with them everything they think they will need from their home in Bethlehem, Georgia—right down to the Betty Crocker cake mixes—the Prices are woefully unprepared for their new life among the Congolese, and they all pay the price. More info →
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What do you plan on reading in this category? Do you have a favorite book from the last few decades? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.

P.S. Check out these 25 classics that are not remotely boring and 10 books published before you were born.

Shake up your reading life this year and read a book published the decade you were born | Modern Mrs Darcy

64 comments | Comment

64 comments

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  1. Pam says:

    1950s for me. I’m leaning towards a reread of one of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels. Maybe “Madam, Will You Talk?”, published in 1955, I believe. Danger lurks in Provence!

    I’m staying away from reading or viewing anything too close to what we are experiencing now, but suspense in a setting or context far removed isn’t bothering me – yet!

  2. Laura says:

    I read The Thorn Birds for the 1970’s and I’m so glad I did. It had been on my radar as a book I wanted to read for a long time. I had a business trip (back in January, when we could take those!) with some very long flights, so I wanted a long book, like The Thorn Birds, to keep me entertained. The only downside was sobbing on the plane when two key characters died.

    As an added bonus, I had picked up the mass market paperback with a bright orange cover, which was noticeable to people passing by. Multiple people stopped me along the trip to tell me how much they loved the book. It was a really nice distraction from the usual loneliness of business travel.

    • I couldn’t help but notice how already it sounds foreign to read of air travel and stopping to chat with strangers. Longing for the day that that seems normal again!
      I’m also in the 70s decade and Thornbirds is on my shortlist for this category. Though I’m pretty sure it’s gonna end up being Love Story by Erich Segal.

  3. Katie says:

    1980s for me! I haven’t chosen a book yet–maybe I will finally read Lonesome Dove, or reread A House on Mango Street! I mostly want fiction that will carry me away these days. So, who knows what I’ll read next?

    • Rachel says:

      I was born in the 1980s too! I just finished reading “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson. I honestly wasn’t sure that I would like it but when I was researching books written in the 80s, I came across it and thought I’d give it a try. I don’t know that I would say I loved it but I definitely didn’t hate it:) I haven’t read “A House on Mango Street” so I may need to check it out. It won’t hurt to have two books under that category!

  4. I’m currently listening to The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (1971). I’ve heard this book mentioned a lot over the years but didn’t actually know much about it. I’ve always been fascinated by WWII resistance movements, and at a time when we all have to find our courage (and many people are going above and beyond), it feels right to read about people in history who were exceptionally brave and selfless.

  5. Such a great list! Three things to say (though I know I could say more): I’ve read The Phantom Tollbooth maybe 30 times, first as a sixth grader, then as a teacher to various groups of sixth graders, then with my own boys. It is perfection, plain and simple. Second, Francie Nolan feels like she would have been my friend if she were a real girl. Third, the first time I read East of Eden, I was visiting my parents and had just gotten to the mark of Cain on the forehead scene. Not one minute later, my dad walked in with a bleeding forehead. He’d been cutting down tree branches and one had fallen on him! Still makes me laugh to this day.

  6. Rachel S says:

    I read The House on Mango Street for this prompt! I liked it a lot. I’m Re-reading all of Gail Carriger’s series right now. They are lighthearted but action-packed enough to keep me distracted.

    It’s interesting that you specifically mentioned Anne of Green Gables as a comfort read. That has been my go-to book for every major change in my life. I re-read it right before I graduated college, got married, and had my first child. It might be time to revisit that lovely book once again!

  7. Sarah says:

    I just read The Bluest Eye last week as my decade book. It was my first experience with Toni Morrison and I’ll be adding more to my TBR.

  8. Lizabeth Snell says:

    1964 Pulitzer Prize winner by Shirley Ann Grau: The Keeper of the House. Story of racism, power and revenge. Really ahead of its time.

  9. I read Swords & Deviltry (1970) by Fritz Leiber at my husband’s suggestion. Meh. I gather it’s a prequel volume to set up the partnership of the lead characters in a series that began in the 1940s. As a D&D player, I thought it was interesting to see such archetypal character classes brought to life, but overall it was boring and sexist.

  10. Jennifer says:

    The decade challenge led me to read The Winter of our Discontent, by John Steinbeck, which I recommend without reservation. It’s set at Easter (how timely) and found it more manageable than East of Eden. I’d forgotten the American treasure of Steinbeck, which I didn’t fully appreciate in high school/college.
    I had never read Anne of Green Gables until this past week (big thumbs up!) and Wendell Berry and the Membership of Port William have been a true blessing (start with Jayber Crow.)

  11. Betsy says:

    What a fantastic list!! The ones I’ve read (many) are on my personal list of favorites, and of the ones I haven’t, several are already on my TBR list. Up next for me is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I adore Dillard’s writing (just reread An American Childhood and The Writing Life recently), but I’ve never read Tinker Creek. I even went to school at Hollins (which is where Dillard was when she wrote the book). Can’t wait to dive in!

  12. Wendy Wainwright says:

    I chose The Princess Bride by William Goldman for this prompt published in 1973, always wanted to read it so took my chance.

    • Sobia says:

      I was born in the 1980’s and I chose The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989). I loved it! It was great on audio, even though I don’t normally read fiction in that format.

  13. Maria Ontiveros says:

    I chose a book from my birth year (1961) – the Pale Horse by Agatha Christie, and it was a great listen! Then saw BBC just released a TV version, which I did not like at all! Before honing in on my birth year, I thought that The Autobiography of Malcolm X would be a great 1960’s choice. I also looked at Larry McMurty’s 1961 debut novel called something like “horseman pass by” which got great reviews and formed the basis for the movie Hud.

  14. Cat says:

    I just finished my book in this category this week and it was SUCH a bad choice but I couldn’t find many good options for the 80’s! I read The Stranger Beside Me and all the creepy gruesome details about Ted Bundy the serial killer definitely convinced me that true crime is NOT my genre! I shouldn’t have forced myself to finish but I’m a compulsive box-checker and had already invested several hours in the audiobook before it got creepy. 🙈🙈🙈 Then i definitely turned to Anne of Green Gables! 😍😍

    • Suzanne says:

      I can understand how that book creeped you out, Cat. I’m a huge true crime fan, but having grown up in the Tallahassee area just after the whole Ted Bundy thing happened, that name freaks me out to this day.

  15. Christine says:

    The Poisonwood Bible is one of those books that I constantly recommend to people. There are scenes in that book that still pop into my brain, even though I read it when it first came out in 1998!

  16. Becky says:

    Off topic: Books are Magic has a t-shirt that says “Be Safe! Read Books”. Proceeds are going to Indie Booksellers. Over the weekend I was browsing their website and came across this. I live in northern Wisconsin and am in no way affiliated with this store.

  17. Julie Richardson says:

    I’m the 80s, so Lonesome Dove and Pillars of the Earth are tops on my list! They are both hefty books, right? Ha!

    • Terrie says:

      They are both BIG books and I’ve read them both. Just read Lonesome Dove last month. Although I liked them both, I LOVED Pillars of the Earth because I found it so immersive of the era. Plus I loved all the building details. Lonesome Dove is a deep seated, full on character study of some amazing characters, but not much happens.

  18. Angela in NC says:

    I am planning on reading either Kindred by Octavia Butler or The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux for the 1970s!

  19. Jo Yates says:

    I listened to the audio book Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clark which was published in 1953. It was set in the future 50 years after 1953 (2003) which was interesting to see how Clarke imagined the world would be technologically, socially, and spiritually. I enjoyed it.

  20. Allie says:

    1980s for me- I chose The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, which follows four mother-daughter pairs in which the mothers each immigrated to California from China. I loved it. Even though I’m set for this part of the challenge, perhaps I’ll pick up House on Mango Street too. Anne you make so many books sound so good! Thanks always for your suggestions.

  21. Jennifer says:

    For 1970 I have been meaning to read Love Story (parents said they named me after a character) and Bluest Eye. 84 Charring Cross I have already scratched off and loved it.

  22. Kitty Balay says:

    I’m planning on The Group by Mary McCarthy. It was published in 1963, the year I was born. It was a finalist for the 1964 National Book Award and was on The NY Times bestseller list for 2 years. It follows 8 friends after they graduate from Vassar in 1933. It was ground-breaking & controversial at the time. I’m looking forward to it!

  23. Lisa S. Toner says:

    So many of these are on my all-time favourites list! Bel Canto, East of Eden, The Poisonwood Bible…LOVE!! <3

  24. Alison says:

    I’ve started Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” (80’s) for my selection for this category.

  25. Michelle says:

    I’m reading Alex Haley’s “Roots” for this challenge! I looked up the most popular books the year I was born (1976) and this is one I’ve always wanted to read!

  26. Jennifer says:

    Read Lonesome Dove last year (it’s in my decade), so will have to pick something else. Right now I am floundering as I get all my books from the library and it is closed! Have been trying to borrow from neighbors and siblings, so it has been interesting the things that I have been reading. Ha!

  27. Mary Ann Frontz says:

    I was born in 1945 and I am going to read “Brideshead Revisited”, which was published in that same year. Looking forward to reading it!

  28. Kristie Major says:

    Currently I have been reading The Bible which has been giving me a lot of comfort with current pandemic. This is my first time and I enjoy every book. As far as the 2020 Reading Challenge, this book for me would be considered a book recommended by a trusted source. Another book I am currently reading, which I am having a lot of fun with is The Night Circus by Erin Montgomery. This book would be one of the three books by the same author.

  29. Chelsea says:

    I recently began listening to The Shell Seekers based on a rec from One Great Book, and it turns out it was published the same year I was born so that takes care of that. I’m loving it! I studied abroad in England at University of Gloucestershire for a semester so some of the settings are places I can truly picture. One of my goals this year is to read from most of the decades of the 20th century after I saw my dot chart on Goodreads that showed just how many books I’ve been reading lately are less than five years old. This list helps choose some of those books.

  30. Alicia B says:

    It’s the 1960’s for me…I have been thinking about which book to read since I started the challenge. I am lending towards something from Ursula K. LeGuin. I must say that The Phantom Tollbooth has been on my “To Read” list for a while, maybe I will read a couple from the 60’s. Thank you for continuing to inspire us Anne.

  31. Lindsey says:

    I just happened to grab the book “Rebecca” from a lending library at a park a few months back- that book was quite suspenseful!!

  32. virginia westlake says:

    As a friend says, I’m older than dirt! My choice was Rebecca, which was also a reread. Since I had a skin graft on my leg in January and spent 3 weeks with my leg elevated, I’ve been sort of quarantined twice this year. To brighten my outlook, I’ve chosen Philip Gulley as my author of 3 books. If he doesn’t make you laugh, you’re having a very bad day.

  33. Katie says:

    Last year I read a Washington Post article that gave one book suggestion for every age up to 100. I read Americana and really liked it, even though it was not up my alley based upon the description. It kind of kicked off my bookishness! Just yesterday I was thinking that I should revisit the article because I just had a birthday!
    I am looking forward to picking a decade book as well, thank you.

  34. Diane says:

    From the 1960’s- I selected Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem, a collection of her essays that “remains the essential portrait of America – and California in particular- during the sixties.” I don’t recall ever having read a collection of essays, so this will something new for me. Expanding my horizons. 🙂

  35. Susan says:

    Anne, I suggested your new book for purchase at my local library. My hold became available and was the last book I picked up before our library shut down. I have your book at home to enjoy indefinitely with no due date!

  36. Kate says:

    I read Doctor Kate, Angel on Snowshoes: The Story of Kate Pelham Newcomb by Adele Comandini published in 1956. If you’re looking for an inspiring story about a no-nonsense female doctor in the Wisconsin northwoods, read this!

  37. Kelly says:

    I chose The Joy Luck Club and The Color Purple for my decade picks. Perfectly timed for me while I was reading even with the heaviness. After an older episode of WSIRN, I’m hoping to read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe soon.

  38. Sarah says:

    My BIL chose Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins for our last family book club. So, I guess that’s my 80’s book out of the way. Contenders I had written in were Collected Stories by Eudora Welty, and Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King. I read Lonesome Dove two years ago and enjoyed it. East of Eden was another favorite read of mine (I think I say that everytime you suggest it on here).

  39. Elizabeth Grant says:

    At first I thought it said the “year” you were born…so I chose Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I haven’t gotten to it yet, because I was reading other things and now the Libraries are closed. But I’m about halfway through the challenge!

  40. Ruth says:

    I just discovered that the book I read in my senior year, that one book that made me read everything from the author since , was first published in 1984. It’s the story about a man who is litteraly losing his mind to dementiae, from his perspective, and you see it in the writing. I was so touched and impressed by it. It has been translated in English as “out of mind” and I can absolutely recommend it.

  41. What a fun post! I had never thought of this before. 🙂

    I discovered that one of my favorite story-tellers, James Herriot, published his volume, The Lord God Made Them All, the year I was born (1981). Who knew?!

  42. Katharine Stevens says:

    Thanks for this info, i didn’t know what to read for this category.
    I have chosen ‘i know why the caged bird sings’. It so happens that it was published in my birth year too! Bonus. 🙂

  43. Alicia says:

    I have 84, Charing Cross Road down for the 70s but I have had that on my TBR for awhile. Was going to read it for a book of letters on another challenge. But I can never find the book. I ordered it once on Amazon but it was all stuck together with something spilled (and had been advertised as a almost new copy). Here’s to hopeful.

  44. Terrie says:

    I read Flowers for Algernon for the 1950s and it’s a fascinating study of society, fitting in, attitudes toward the mentally challenged or gifted, as well as how your self image is impacted.

  45. Kendra McIntyre says:

    Haha, when I originally read this I thought it said “a book published the year you were born.” So I began looking for 1982! I found a lot of good options, and even though it’s not really hitting the mark, I’m going to go with the year I was born. Sue Grafton started her alphabet series in 1982, so I think I’m going to read “A is for Alibi.” Should be interesting! Can’t wait!

  46. Sarah says:

    I read Kindred for this category, published in the 70’s. It has a fascinating premise, a contemporary African American woman in LA who travels in time to antebellum Maryland. It was a somewhat stressful read and I was worried about her the whole time, but I’m so glad I read it. I’m going to be thinking about it for a while.

  47. Erin Dominy says:

    I read Watership Down by Richard Adams for a book published in the 70’s. It took me a couple months to get through it, reading a chapter here and there between more exciting, shiny new releases. Part of my choosing it was because I can now watch the Netflix Series – love to see how adaptations turn out.

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