Today on my YouTube channel, I’m sharing a booktube video. Lately I’ve run across a lot of people having done the “Twentieth Century Tag”…about a year ago. But because I’m always late to the party, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. Even if the rodeo’s closed, and the ring is just a circle in the dirt now.
Essentially for this tag, you choose one book for each decade of the twentieth century. You’re supposed to pull it off your shelf, but I didn’t do that. First of all I don’t actually own that many books, and second of all because I don’t have all my books in my house. So I broke that rule and felt a little more free to choose.
But because I’m super indecisive when it comes to books (really, I often read two or three at once) I had a lot of runners-up. So I’ve decided to write a blog post about them, that way I get to talk about books for twice as much time.
First though, the books I chose and links to buy them:
1900s: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle http://bit.ly/1kIT85y
1910s: Revelations of the Secret Service by William Le Queux http://amzn.to/1tVTCpH
1920s: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald http://amzn.to/1kP4Zjy
1930s: Fer De Lance by Rex Stout http://amzn.to/1pSMmx2
1940s: The Stranger by Albert Camus http://amzn.to/1kP54DY
1950s: Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote http://amzn.to/UmtHNv
1960s: We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson http://amzn.to/1nsPDQz
1970s: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt http://amzn.to/1p9Anv6
1980s: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez http://amzn.to/1uEEVtl
1990s: The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky http://amzn.to/1tVU3jL
Okay, now for my runners-up. Some decades have none, some decades have three, it all just depends on the decade.
For the 1900s I struggled so much to think of even one book. Then I surprised myself by having two! My first thought for this was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which spawned an incredible series and has helped to shape American fantasy writing for over a century.
For the 1920s my runner-up book is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I read this in my senior year of high school and it really sparked my interest in Buddhism and the relationship between religion and history. It’s a very unusual book, and it represents Hesse’s fascination with Eastern religion and mysticism.
For the 1930s my runner-up was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Initially I planned to choose this as my 1930s book, but then I got to thinking about what has shaped me the most as a reader. Nero Wolfe is definitely more influential on me. But Of Mice and Men is one of those rare books that is short but incredibly moving. I vividly remember finishing it on the bus on the way to school, and just bawling my eyes out over the ending. I won’t spoil it, but if you haven’t read it yet, keep a pack of tissues in your pocket, it sneaks up on you.
The 1940s was another decade where I reconsidered my first choice, and made it my runner up. That would be 1984 by George Orwell. This is one of my favorite books, and definitely the one that sparked the most distrust in authority figures and government agencies. My friends and I were OBSESSED with 1984 in high school, and when the English classes read it, there was always a wave of small-scale civil disobedience in our school. It’s an incredibly influential book, and if you know the book then you see references in all sorts of media.
The 1950s was a hotbed of great literature, and choosing just one book was almost impossible. But I narrowed it down, and came up with three, then chose just Breakfast at Tiffany’s mostly for its cultural impact. But my runners-up are almost as influential. Firstly, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, which is the second book (but probably the most famous) in the Chronicles of Narnia series. It’s influenced most fantasy, especially epic fantasy, ever since, and it married modern (at the time) with epic fantasy. I think every kid I knew read the Chronicles of Narnia books when we were in middle school.
My other runner up is The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger. Most people I know read this in high school, but I didn’t. I missed an entire year of English classes at my level freshman year because the system messed up and put me (700 on my Writing SAT, 670 on Reading) in remedial English. It was pretty bad, although I had some good teachers. But it meant that I missed out on reading a lot of the things my peers read that year. I don’t know if they read Catcher in the Rye, but I certainly didn’t until junior year of college when I checked it out of the library. I’m not going to say it was so good it completely changed my worldview or anything similar. But I get why it’s considered a classic. It’s a great book, and I really think everyone should read it.
The 1960s was another hotbed of great literature, and I ended up with, again, two runners-up. The first is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I chose this as a runner-up in large part to be able to draw the contrast between the writing style of this book and Capote’s earlier work Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Though I wouldn’t generally consider Breakfast At Tiffany’s totally lighthearted, compared to In Cold Blood it certainly is. In Cold Blood is true crime, and in order to gather all of the information for the book Capote flew out to the Kansas town that had been rocked by this quadruple murder. It’s the kind of sleepy little town where nothing ever happened – until four people were murdered in their beds. Capote wasn’t alone on this trip though, he brought a friend – Harper Lee. It’s always strange to think about how many authors know each other, and these two were childhood friends.
Relatedly, my other runner-up for the 1960s is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is another classic I didn’t read until junior year of college. This one was actually amazing. I now understand the incredible amount of references to it in modern media. It’s definitely a classic that everyone should read. And then reconsider your view of the local recluse.
For the 1980s I had a hard time choosing, but ultimately I chose Marquez over Francesca Lia Block. For all of middle and high school Francesca Lia Block was my favorite author. I first discovered her books in sixth or seventh grade, and I’ve read nearly everything she wrote before 2009. I wore Francesca Lia Block books like armor during the most emotionally trying periods of my adolescence. The book I picked as my runner-up was Weetzie Bat because it started the Weetzie Bat series. I have a collection of the first five called Dangerous Angels, which is a bit beaten up because I carried it nearly everywhere with me when I was thirteen and fourteen, before I started carrying around the collected poems of W.B. Yeats. Weetzie Bat is a really oddball character, and has a lot of strange adventures. Each of the books is pretty short, so you should all go read at least one.
For the 1990s I had so much trouble. A lot of books I loved as a child were published in the 1990s, and a lot of books I loved as a teenager were as well. Ultimately, I narrowed it down to the most obvious choice, but I have two runners-up. First, another Francesca Lia Block book, The Hanged Man. If you’ve ever read a Francesca Lia Block book you know that they’re all a little bit weird. The Hanged Man is no exception. I remember reading it while walking home in seventh grade and having to stop and sit down on a stranger’s stoop because a moment in it was so intense I just had to stop moving. Her books are incredible and I’m torn between wanting movie versions, and not being able to handle it if the movies were terrible. It would be almost impossible to capture the ethereal, mystic feeling of the books in a movie form. (Stay tuned, I might just make a series of videos about these books because they’re SO INCREDIBLE).
My other runner-up for the 1990s was The Giver by Lois Lowry. I remember reading this in fourth grade and then reading Gathering Blue in sixth grade. These books are so strange. The Giver was definitely my first experience with a post-apocalyptic dystopian world. But more than that, I think it introduced everyone my age to the idea of going against your own society, and that the authorities and adults could be wrong, and that your actions could create change, even for one person. I won’t spoil anything in case anyone hasn’t read it, but there’s a reason that The Giver is so popular amongst people my age. There’s also a movie coming out soon, and I really hope it’s good.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed this trek through the twentieth century’s literature with me. I hope you’ll go and have a look at the original video I made, and if you’re interested in making a video or a blog post about the same, please comment a link for me!