19 Books That Children Of The '80s Know, Love, And Totally Read
Did I rock the scrunchy? You bet I did. Neon leggings? Yes, indeedy. Treasure trolls, slap wraps, Garbage Pail Kids, bedazzling, crimping, binging on 90210, and before that Boy Meets World? A resounding yes. You have a child of the '80s on your hands — I'm voguing in my mind even now as I type.
As such, I feel uncomfortably familiar with the term "trickle down economics," I can moonwalk like a lean, mean, "Dancing Queen," and I still remind people that "nobody puts baby in the corner." But of course, it wasn't all economic policy and cultural iconography: children of the '80s were treated to, like, a totally bitchin' time for books.
So, whether or not you spent those formative years dancing like nobody was watching with your cutoff sweatshirt and those iconic leg warmers, or curled up in the library with a stack of must-reads on your lap and your side ponytail swinging long and low, if you're a true child of the '80s these are the books you've known, loved, read, and re-read. Because just like The Goonies, no child of the '80s ever says die.
Goosebumps by R.L. Stine
If you were born in the '80s there's simply no way you made it out of childhood without at least a brief encounter with the seminal YA horror series Goosebumps. I'm going to be honest with you (settle in, this is shaping up to be something a confessional): I was too chicken to ever actually read the books, but those covers with the raised writing hooked me so hard that I actually bought a few copies just to keep on my shelf.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Children of the aughts will have this year's National Book Award winner Redeployment (among many other extraordinary works of fiction) to help them make sense of modern warfare, but for us, we had The Things They Carried. I remember being sorely disappointed when this collection of short stories was assigned in high school, only to find that disappointment quickly melt away leaving unabashed astonishment in its place. As any child of the '80s could tell you, this is truly one of the most stunning works of fiction ever to take on the incalculable atrocities of war, and the loves and losses of the men and women who wage it.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides
Seductive, youth-obsessed, and almost violently off-kilter, The Virgin Suicides helped to define a generation of adolescent sexual anxiety, and offer a new model for fiction grasping at the underlying truths of young adulthood. My dog-eared copy remains in my childhood bedroom, stained with tears, chocolate, and notes from one of the many hands through which it passed — just one look at it brings me right back to age 16, and that is quite the trip.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Underneath all that day-glow paint and studded leather, we children of the '80s were wrestling with a growing darkness, and no one expressed the sublimated madness and incomprehensible deviance the tugged at the fringes of our consciousness better than Bret Easton Ellis. As disturbing as it was influential, for better or worse American Psycho was something we '80s babies simply had to face at some point.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The first rule of book lists for children of the '80s is that you don't talk about literature they loved without talking about Fight Club. While I was in high school you couldn't swing a backpack without shaking loose a Chuck Palahniuk novel, and there's virtually no Fight Club reference that won't resonate with a babe born during this delicious decade.
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
If we're getting personal here (and I like to think we are), I should admit that I watched the movie before reading Trainspotting , and I think I'm still carrying the mental scars somewhere deep in my psyche. Dark, gritty, and high as a kite, Trainspotting was my first introduction to the ravages of addiction and the tormented dystopia into which a whole swath of my generational peers had descended.
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
Although I feel certain that The Face on the Milk Carton was not intended as a morality tale, I will tell you with no small amount of embarrassment that after reading the whole story I resolutely made up my mind never to look at a milk carton again. If the memory of the milk carton alone doesn't bring you back to your youth, five minutes alone with this novel is a guaranteed trip down memory lane for any child of the '80s.
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Bringing the racial, social, economic, and political clashes of the '80s into literary play in one of the most stunning stories ever written about the Big Apple (and that's saying something), The Bonfire of the Vanities will remain a classic for the ages. I like to think, however, that no one will ever understand it quite like we children of the '80s do.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Oh Matilda , perhaps we have you to thank for all the other books we read in our lives; after all, it was you who taught us that knowledge is power (OK, you and Bill Nye the Science Guy). Either way, on behalf of my generation, I tip my hat to this exceptional book which elevated books in its wake.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
It is unthinkable to imagine any list of books that define the generation without mentioning The Color Purple. The broad critical acclaim for Alice Walker's brilliant and beautiful book helped usher new voices into the American literary canon, and I for one am forever grateful to this eye-opening, gut-wrenching, deeply felt work of fiction.
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
I can still remember where I was sitting when I picked up The Clan of the Cave Bear for a middle school reading assignment, and I have been mulling over the need for an informal support group of some sort ever since. The trauma of the sexual violence depicted in The Clan of the Cave Bear was entirely new to me at that point, and only the power of the story itself (OK, also the grade — I was a bit of a teacher's pet) carried me through to the end of the novel. While I find it hard to believe that most of my generational comrades had the same exact experience, I feel closer to everyone I came of age with just knowing that a huge number of us have, in some way, shared this literary experience.
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
If digital technology ever advances to the stage at which I can have a pet hologram to pal around with at all times, mine would surely be a tiger and his name would be Hobbes. What child of the '80s wouldn't want to pay homage to the dynamic young duo who sowed the seeds of anarchy among an entire generation? Calvin and Hobbes, I salute you.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Of all the ghost stories that haunted my generation, none was more poignant, powerful, and unmistakably important than Toni Morrison's Beloved. Whether you took in your Morrison through the film adaptation starring Oprah Winfrey or made your way boldly through the heartbreaking text, if you were born in the '80s, there is no way you could have missed Beloved.
American Splendor by Harvey Pekar
In a way I like to think that we children of the '80s took up Havey Pekar when Calvin and Hobbes could simply no longer tell our stories. Honest, immersive, and brazenly in opposition to more mainstream portrayals of American life, I'd be willing to guess that American Splendor graces the coffee tables of many children of the '80s, perhaps right alongside Calvin and Hobbes.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Searching my mother's bookshelf for a little something to tide me over between visits to the local library over the holidays, I stumbled upon a copy of The Joy Luck Club and it was like dropping down a rabbit hole to a bedroom of yesteryear. The pull of nostalgia is a strong one, and perhaps because of the popularity of the particular piece of fiction, there is just something about Amy Tan's cunningly structured novel of family, fortune, and finding belonging that always brings me a feeling of home — one I would wager is not uncommon among children of the '80s.
The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
This generation can keep their sparkly vampires and well-adjusted werewolves, and I hope that I speak for many of my '80s born peers when I say that I like my vampires with a little more bite to them. (And how about that font? I bet that brings back some memories...)
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
There are love stories, there are epic love stories, and then there is Love in the Time of Cholera. If you can even glance at the cover without sighing to yourself a little bit, I may just have to question whether you are truly a child of the '80s.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Yet another title to make the list thanks to a stunning portrayal of psychological unravelling, Susana Kaysen's Girl Interrupted informed not only the discourse surrounding mental health in our generation, but also a compelling consideration of the question of sanity itself. I like to believe we are all better off because of it.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
I took up with my first boyfriend right around the time I first read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist , and for me the book and my dreams for better life through love are inextricably linked. However, it seems perhaps just a bit more likely that this dreamy allegory of adventure and accomplishment speaks to the aspirations of all the children of the '80s, otherwise it would be very difficult to explain the preponderance of copies I flipped through in dorm rooms across campus throughout my collegiate life.
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