Reading the Decades #2: The 1970s

Those who visit this blog regularly will know of my devotion to contemporary fiction, the shiny and the new. But I’m not really a one-trick pony in my reading. The metrics in my annual reading stats include the number of books I’ve read published before I was born in 1960 and those between 1960 and 1999 and they prove I’m not totally addicted to the latest titles.

So, I started a new series of posts picking out some of the old books that I’ve read, sorted by publishing date decade(s) by decade(s), beginning with the 1940s HERE.

This time, we’re looking at the 1970s – as suggested by Cathy. The trusty spreadsheet showed 55 titles from the decade in total which meant I’ve had to leave out some cracking good books, but I’ve tried to achieve a spread across what I’ve read and when I read it (although primarily since 2008 when I launched my blog). NB: ‘Buy’ links all go to Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.

1970 – Running Blind by Desmond Bagley

From the mid-1970s I was a huge thriller reader (alongside my parents) – Alastair McLean, Hammond Innes, Colin Forbes, Wilbur Smith, Helen MacInnes, the James Bond novels and many more, plus Desmond Bagley. This well-written example is a cracker that held up really well when I re-read it in 2017. Set in Iceland, it involves an ex-spook who is persuaded coerced into doing one last job there where he reunites with his Icelandic girl Friday Elin who is a wonderful character. Bagley is particularly good at describing the bleak and rocky landscape of the almost treeless Icelandic wilderness, bringing some nice touches from the Icelandic sagas and legends into the text too. Full review here. BUY

1971 – Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

This novel about a widow befriended by a young man whom she asks to pretend to be her grandson is so sharply observed and touching. At first we wonder whether Ludo is just prospecting, but he proves a better man than Mrs Palfrey’s own grandson who didn’t come to visit when she moved into the retirement hotel. Despite the central theme of the sadness of growing old on one’s own, Taylor adds so many humorous touches, she seems to combine the two extremes perfectly to made it a joy to read, and a novel I’d like to re-read. Full review here. BUY

1972 – Maigret and Monsieur Charles by Georges Simenon

Simenon is one of my most-read authors since I started blogging, I’ve included him here again as this book marked the end of an era – the very last Maigret novel in which he retires at the end. I like the way that Simenon has let Maigret age with his books – this one mentions a television! Maigret may be older but his investigative skills remain acute, and he has a tricky case to decipher here. Full review here. BUY

1973 – Don’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli

When Penguin reprinted these novels in 2014, I was overjoyed to discover them. This is the first (and best) of an hilarious short series of books involving Charlie Mortdecai – a minor aristocrat who has whisky for breakfast, dinner and lunch and deals in art when he can be bothered, being a man of few morals who knows all those useful people who live in the shadows and can be helpful to move or tinker with a dodgy painting or what have you. He lives in luxury assisted by his manservant cum thug Jock, and they have a perfect symbiotic relationship. Jock is a sort of anti-Jeeves: silent, resourceful, respectful even, when the mood takes him, but sort of drunk all the time, really, and fond of smashing people’s faces in. Full review here. BUY

1974 – Holiday by Stanley Middleton

I’ve included this one to represent the times I’ve read books just because they’re prizewinners. Sharing the ’74 Booker with Nadine Gordimer, Holiday is strangely dated. This is a typically middle class novel in which not a lot happens, and most of the story is internalised in the protagonist’s mind. Edwin is on holiday by himself having left his wife, their marriage now so tortuous after a family tragedy that he couldn’t stand it anymore. Imagine his surprise when he goes into a backstreet pub to find his father-in-law there also on holiday, who will try to persuade him to go back to his wife. Full review here. BUY

1975 – Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge

I could have picked a Beryl novel for most years of the 1970s, but limited myself to just this one – my personal favourite, one of her most autobiographical novels. Ann is a secretary, engaged to Gerald – but he’s just got a job in America and she can’t join him until later. No sooner is Gerald off to the USA, than Ann finds herself being picked up by William McCluskey, a larger than life, golden-haired playwright, with whom she falls deliriously in love. But no sooner has he moved in than he keeps disappearing… he can’t keep his pants on. McCluskey is based on was modelled on the chap she had a relationship with when she moved to London after her marriage broke up in Liverpool. “I didn’t exaggerate his character” recalled Beryl Bainbridge of her muse. “If anything I toned him down.” Full review here. BUY

1976 – Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan

I’ve had a mixed relationship with the Beats, but I rather enjoyed my first experience reading Brautigan. This is a short novel with dual linked narratives. The first, the title one, concerns a short story that an author is having problems with about a sombrero that falls out of the sky – who will be the first to pick said headgear up? The author isn’t satisfied with his story so far, so he rips it up and throws it in the bin where it takes on an absurd life of its own. The second strand concerns the author and his ex-girlfriend, Yukiko. The narrative flits between the author, who is obsessing about everything, but mainly her, and Yukiko who is asleep beside her cat, dreaming. The second strand is better, but I’ve gone on to read more Brautigan. Full review here. BUY

1977 – Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson

The first volume in Donaldson’s epic series, ‘The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever’, I devoured these books as a student when I was reading nothing but SF & Fantasy. The books concern Covenant, an author with leprosy. After treatment his wife and son have left, and he is alone. While out he has an encounter with a beggar and disconcerted by it stumbles into the path of a police car waking up in ‘the Land’ where he meets the evil Lord Foul who gives him a message to take to the rulers of the Land. I’m not sure I’d want to re-read them, but I remember they were well written, and even my Mum who never read fantasy books borrowed and read them! BUY

1978 – The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Written and set in what’s now a bygone age, in the days when most books were bought in small bookshops, this novella is a little gem. Florence decides to open a bookshop in a small coastal town and buys a property – it could be a success – but she hasn’t banked on a local landowner who’d wanted the same property. This short novel was a superb character study, full of wry humour, but there is a despondency that emerges as Florence’s clashes with Violet play out, presaging things to come in the book trade. Full review here. BUY

1979 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

And finally, a book I’ve read three times now, finding different bits funny each time. What surprised me on this re-reading was how philosophical the underlying story of trying to understand how the universe works is. It is full of fantastic concepts which, as you get caught up in the lives of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and co, appear utterly believable, but also totally hilarious. A masterpiece of comic writing. Full review here. BUY

I hope you enjoyed the tour of my reading from the 1970s.

Do you have any highlights from particular years of this decade?

13 thoughts on “Reading the Decades #2: The 1970s

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    What fun! I’ve got 115 books from the 1970s in my files, but I certainly didn’t read them all back then. I was too busy with motherhood and study.
    I note that you have chosen fiction here, but still, I’m going to add The Female Eunuch (1970) by Germaine Greer because she changed our lives:)
    Also from 1970 was The Crystal Cave (The Arthurian Saga #1) by Mary Stewart, and from 1971 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, and Watership Down by Richard Adams from 1972. 1973 gave us The Siege of Krishnapur by J G Farrell, and for 1974 The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Boll. 1975 brought Xavier’s Herbert’s mega-sized Poor Fellow My Country (1150+ pages) and Australia’s Nobel Laureate Patrick White published A Fringe of Leaves. I was yet to discover Faye Weldon when she produced Big Girls Don’t Cry in 1977, but I read it later on. Remember the shock of Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden in 1978? A Dry White Season (1979) by South African author was shocking too.
    Although the books I’ve listed here don’t reflect it because I’ve chosen books that I think most people will know, this period in my reading history begins to reflect the women’s movement. In the 1970s, there was a flowering of women’s fiction in Australia as there was elsewhere, and there are a number of authors (like Faye Weldon, Margaret Atwood, Nina Bawden, Alison Lurie, Thea Astley, Amy Witting, Beryl Bainbridge and Ruth Park) who I began reading then and went on to read everything I could find.
    I think we’ll find that the 2010s will reflect a greater interest in authors of colour…it certainly has in my reading history.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Oh Wow Lisa! Thank you – some wonderful books there. It was hard to just pick one book per year, but the 1970s was mainly about thrillers and SF&F for me then – I nearly included The Crystal Cave, but needed to get a proper thriller in! 70s books I’ve read since, have been different, with plenty of modern classics by women authors (thank you Beryl & co). I dithered over the JG Farrell too (which I loved) but the comic crime won out to get the breadth of my overview. I read little ‘old’ non-fiction, so expect more of that when I get onto later decades.

  2. heavenali says:

    This is fun. My favourite decades of literature are broadly 1930s-50s but I also love the 70s. Beryl Bainbridge is a great pick, though I haven’t read Sweet William, I think I have a copy. I love Mrs Palfry and The Bookshop and really pleased to see Stanley Middleton’s Holiday there, such a good book! I would add Nina Bawden, Penelope Mortimer and Muriel Spark, though their writing also spanned other decades.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’m sure Spark et al will crop up in other decades! I didn’t enjoy the Stanley Middleton much though.

  3. A Life in Books says:

    I think it’s possible that you’re the only reader I know who’s also read Holiday! I’d completely forgotten what it’s about but for some reason I’ve kept my copy.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I got my copy for 50p at a book sale purely because I remembered it had won the Booker. But then it stayed on the shelves until Shiny’s Golden Booker week. I don’t feel the urge to read any more books by him, it was so odd and dated!

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Interesting selection, and I have obviously read more books from the 1970s than I might have thought (including all the Brautigans from that decade!) Sombrero Fallout is one of my favourites – just loved it! I read all the Donaldsons back in the day too, thought I’ve never revisited them. I might like to, but life is too short right now!!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I too like the idea of revisiting the Donaldsons, but know I never will in practice. We need someone to make a TV series of them – they’re bringing Asimov’s Foundation series to the small screen after all soon.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      In the 1970s I was a teen, and read and read and read, but mostly older books from the library plus whatever thrillers we had. The majority of my 1970s reading has come later.

Leave a Reply