This year, in 2016, we are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of 1966. In 1966: the Vietnam War is raging on and Lyndon Johnson is actually throwing even more troops into the fire, military coups are raging in Nigeria, Fidel Castro declares martial law in Cuba, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded in D.C., the first episode of Star Trek airs on NBC, and my mother (a shameless Trekkie and relentless bleeding heart) is born. So, basically, 50 years ago, the world was just as crazy, messed up, and weird as it is in 2016, only 1966 had the Beatles, and we have...well... the Biebs.
But we also have a looming presidential campaign, tiny computers we carry in our pockets, awesome progressive body-positive, women’s, and LGBT movements, and a whole new creative and insanely powerful use of the the hashtag symbol. A lot has changed over the last 50 years and a lot has stayed the same. A great way to compare different eras is to look at an era’s literature. What was published 50 years ago can tell us a lot about what has changed and how, and sometimes, before you look forward — to a new president, to a (hopefully) more diverse Oscars, to a world where France is trying to breed healthier body outlooks by regulating the use of photo editing in magazines — you’ve got to look back.
So, take a look back at some of the great books that are celebrating their Golden Jubilee this year.
1. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Valley of the Dolls was a bestseller in 1966, selling more than 30 million copies and inspiring a movie of the same name only a year later. It was one of the first books of its kind by a woman to sell so many copies. With explicit language and bluntly taking on faux pas issues at the time, like sex, LGBT issues, and the general treatment of women as, well, dolls, it was a controversial book 50 years ago. Reading it today is an interesting look at what has changed and what hasn’t.
2. A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe
We all know Achebe for his famous novel Things Fall Apart, but he was a prolific, and in the case of A Man of the People, a prophetic writer. A Man of the People is the story of the clashes between tradition and change and the political corruption that leads to military coup in an imagined African country. The eerie part is that just after this book came out in 1966, a series military coups rocked Nigeria, and they looked very much like that depicted by Achebe. If you thought Things Fall Apart was brilliant, read this and you’ll find that Achebe is actually a psychic. So it's about time this work of prophetic brilliance get its due.
3. Wide Saragasso Sea by Jean Rhys
We’ve got an all-woman Ghostbusters in the works, a Harry Potter play that recasts the film’s Hermione as a Black woman, and we’re increasingly seeing classic works of art reimagined to cast light on characters and perspectives that have been historically overlooked. Well, Jean Rhys was one of the first to do this famously. In 1966 she took the “madwoman in the attic” in Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre out of the attic and told her story. (Also, shout out to March 1, 2016 release The Madwoman Upstairs coming from Catherine Lowell in this vein.)
4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
There’s been a lot of progress in movements for justice and treatment for people with cognitive disabilities, but this progress comes out of a pretty bleak history, and a lot of stigma and mistreatment still remains. Keyes’ take on the experiences and challenges of those struggling with cognitive disabilities is still as revelatory today as it was when it won the Nebula Award in 1966.
5. Babel-17 by Samuel Delany
The other winner of the Nebula Award in 1966 was Samuel Delany’s Babel-17. All about the power, both good and corrupting, of language (sure, in this sci-fi-y case, it’s a magical language and there are telepaths and such), Babel-17 could be a great read in a year full of presidential debates...
6. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Bulgakov actually died in 1940, leaving the work unfinished, and it wasn’t until 1966 that the story began to be published in serial form. The Master and Margarita is brilliant, subversive, hilarious. So if you need a reason to read it in 2016, then why not because it's the book's Golden Jubilee. Or if you need a more high-minded reason, then how about the fact that the book is as relevant to modern Russia as it was in 1966?
7. The Diary of Anaïs Nin Volume I (1931-1934)
Anaïs Nin is a famous feminist icon and it is her journals that made her so. Covering decades of her colorful life spent hobnobbing with the rich and famous (mostly men) of many different fields, Nin’s diaries offer a view of the eventful and celebrity-studded Paris of the 1930s from a woman’s perspective — a rare treat for the era. Nin is raw and honest and flawed and her decades-long diary champions what literary men have long held reign over — talking about oneself. Reading Anaïs Nin’s diaries in 2016 is a nod to the origins of today’s raw, honest memoirs by daring, sensational, and controversial women.
8. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays by Susan Sontag
Sontag’s most famous essay in this collection "Against Interpretation" warned that the over stimulation of modern living was making us less able to appreciate art. This she wrote in 1966… Just imagine what she’d have to say about all our over stimulation now that we all carry the Internet around in our pockets on tiny little computers.
9. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
Banned in Salih’s native Sudan, but earning him acclaim throughout the rest of the world, Season of the Migration to the North came out to high praise in 1966. A sort of reversal of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Season of Migration to the North’s take on post-colonial Sudan (Sudan only declared independence 10 years earlier in 1956) and cross-cultural exchange from the often-overlooked perspective of the colonized was a revelation to much of the Western world. With thousands fleeing violence in South Sudan today, it remains a crucial novel.
10. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was also published 50 years ago, and you should read it now because... it’s brilliant. Period.
Image: Crystal Paul/Bustle