By Ann Cox MLS
The Collection Development department at Ingram sees thousands of titles a year from publishers and tracks dozens of trends in fiction and nonfiction, but few have been as wholeheartedly celebrated in our department as the resurgence of books that turn a nostalgic view to the culture of the 1970s and ‘80s. Whether we were alive to experience them firsthand or if we’ve only heard stories from our (gasp!) parents, the love for those decades is strong, and if current publishing is anything to go by, it’s also enduring. The titles range from huge bestsellers, small press favorites, books with vintage cover design, and nonfiction that shines light on the culture. Jump in your DeLorean for a short guide to this far-out trend.
A note on what you won’t find on this list: there is plenty of fiction set in the ‘70s and ‘80s and nonfiction that explains the events of the era in great detail. That isn’t the focus of the trend. (We’ll save the fact that those fiction titles are now considered historical fiction for another discussion. Take a minute to come to terms with that). These books are a warm celebration of the styles, fads, and cultural touchstones, with an eye toward what it was like to actually be alive during that time. Take, for example, Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Parkby Andy Mulvihill. This history of the now-closed New Jersey amusement park with no rules was written by the founder’s son and will resonate with anyone who thinks the world used to be just a little more fun (and dangerous) place to grow up. And who can forget the frothy books for pre-teen girls that taught us about friendship clubs, sleepovers with a pile of VHS tapes, and more drama than you could shake your Swatch at? Gabrielle Moss’s Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ‘80s and ‘90s Teen Fiction has all the deets.
After the massive success of cultural icons like Ready Player One and Stranger Things (check out the accompanying novels like Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond), it’s no wonder authors are eager to revisit the past through fiction. If you were a fan of Daisy Jones & the Six (and who wasn’t?), the wild world of 1970s rock is at full volume in The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. Like Daisy Jones, the novel is an oral history of a band’s rapid rise and spectacular fall, but goes beyond the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll to explore racial and gender equality. (Taylor Jenkins Reid herself has a new book set in the heady lifestyle of 1980s celebrity called Malibu Rising.) We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Berry is a fond look at 1980s suburbia when a girls’ field hockey team near Salem, MA tries a little witchcraft to spur themselves to victory, sealing the deal with a pact signed in a notebook bearing the likeness of Emilio Estevez. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s star continues to soar with Velvet Was the Night, a smooth noir about a romance-obsessed secretary who investigates the disappearance of her neighbor in 1970s Mexico City.
My colleagues would have my punk vinyl if I didn’t give special attention to our department’s favorite genre within the ‘70s and ‘80s trend: modern takes on vintage horror. These books have arguably the biggest commitment to nostalgia for the era, with covers that would confuse anyone for the originals and a real slasher sensibility. Andrew Shaffer’s Secret Santa, Josh Malerman’s Goblin, and Clay McLeod Chapman’s Whisper Down the Lane all tip their hats to the blood-soaked novels and films of the past. If you’d like to learn what inspired them, Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix honors the golden era of these pulpy mass markets. Your patrons are sure to gobble up this subgenre faster than you can say “Satanic panic.”
Our ‘70s and ‘80s Nostalgia list has many more titles that celebrate this unique cultural moment and are sure to bring back fond memories of when you or someone you love wore crimped hair, wide lapels, or jelly sandals. And if the resurgence of these books is making you feel as obsolete as a Walkman, take comfort: ‘90s nostalgia is sure to be next.