More Than Zero Interest in Zero-Year Novels

PossessionIt’s anniversary time again! With a month-plus of 2020 “in the books,” I’d like to mention some of my favorite (not necessarily the best) novels that were published in 1970, 1920, 1870, and various other years ending in that big ol’ round number of zero. And then you can tell me some of your favorites.

Let’s go chronologically backwards, shall we?

I already mentioned several novels published in 2010 and 2000 when I discussed my 2010-2019 faves last September in this post and my 2000-2009 faves a week later in this post, so I won’t repeat my brief summaries of those books here. Included were the 2010-released So Much for That by Lionel Shriver, 61 Hours by Lee Child, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith; and the 2000-released Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.

Anyway, on to (back to) 1990! My favorite novel of that year, and one of my top-ten novels of any time, is A.S. Byatt’s Possession. Her book is about two 20th-century academics researching the possible romance between two fictional 19th-century poets, and it’s much more compelling than that description sounds. There’s also Walter Mosley’s really good Devil in a Blue Dress, the first of his many novels starring detective Easy Rawlins; and Darryl Brock’s page-turner If I Never Get Back, one of my favorite time-travel works and one of my favorite baseball-themed works. Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour (its title is kind of self-explanatory) is also a pretty darn good 1990 read, albeit a bit overlong.

Published in 1980? Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a gripping 14th-century murder mystery set in an Italian monastery; John Kennedy Toole’s posthumously released A Confederacy of Dunces, which is about as funny and quirky as a novel can be; and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, a haunting work about three generations of women.

My favorite 1970 novel — 50 years ago — is Jack Finney’s time-travel tour de force Time and Again, which has the bonus of being illustrated with great 19th-century photos of New York City.

The best 1960 novel is a no-brainer: Harper Lee’s iconic To Kill a Mockingbird, which deserves all its renown and sales. I’m also a fan of Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey, about two dogs and a cat trying to find their way home across 300 miles of Canadian wilderness.

A decade earlier, 1950 had high-profile titles such as Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, and C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Things were even more impressive in 1940 with Richard Wright’s Native Son (a searing look at race), Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (the Spanish Civil War novel that’s my favorite Hemingway work), and Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (a stunning debut for an author in her early 20s).

Among the excellent novels published in 1930? William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison, and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

My two 1920-released favorites from a century ago are Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (the first novel by a woman to win the Pulitzer) and Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street (that author’s sixth novel but his first bestseller).

Of novels published in 1910, I particularly like Colette’s The Vagabond. And, for 1900, there’s Colette’s Claudine at School, Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The 19th century was graced with Emile Zola’s The Beast in Man, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of the Four (all released in 1890); Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Henry James’ Washington Square, and Zola’s Nana (1880); Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870); George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860); Charles Dickens’ย David Copperfield, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Herman Melville’s White-Jacket, and Alexandre Dumas’ The Black Tulip (1850); and Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pathfinder (1840).

I think I’ll stop there.

Your favorite novels published in a year ending with zero? (Not zero sales for those authors. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning โ€œMontclairvoyantโ€ topical-humor column for The latest piece — about an imaginary run for mayor of my town — is here.

34 thoughts on “More Than Zero Interest in Zero-Year Novels

  1. Pingback: Season 2. Episode 16: Dave Astor on Books & Creativity – Tea Toast & Trivia

  2. Dave Lee Child`s ” Blue Moon” . just missed the mark by a couple of months, liked it a lot and a sweet romance was going on there. So is John Grissam`s “The Guardian”, still havent finished it, too much distraction by that orange bluff master, plus Pomchi is unwell.

    Loved Ernest Hemingwayโ€™s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” , 2000 “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith , I still have the book.

    But still my all time favorite one Harper Leeโ€™s iconic “To Kill a Mockingbird .”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! I’m currently reading “Blue Moon”! And enjoying it very much, as I always do with Lee Child’s page-turning Jack Reacher books.

      Yes, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “White Teeth,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” — all terrific in different ways.

      Sorry about Pomchi. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I hope your doggy will be feeling better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pomchi is almost 15 and , few weeks ago she was bleeding profusely from her mouth, emergency etc. Yesterday she had dental cleaning with 4 teeth extracted. Plus we got her xray done, shows has a large liver tumor, surgery is out of question.
        So go one day at a time…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So many great picks, Dave and everyone. I’d add Waiting For The Barbarians (1980) and Age of Iron (1900) both by J.M. Coetzee.; The Human Stain by Philip Roth and Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz both in 2000; and Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich in 2010.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Mary Jo! You’ve given me several novels to add to my list. I’ve read Philip Roth and Louise Erdrich, but not the titles you mentioned. And now I’m puzzling over why I’ve never read J.M. Coetzee. ๐Ÿ™‚

        As for that typo that placed two Coetzee books 80 years apart, I immediately wondered which authors’ novelistic careers spanned the most years. Among those with VERY long tenures were P.G. Wodehouse, whose first and last novels were 72 years apart (1902/1974); and Herman Wouk, whose first and last novels were 65 years apart (1947/2012). With an assist from Wikipedia…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Dave, I agree with quite a few of your favorites in each zero year, but I’ll only mention those that I really loved: “”So Much for That,” “Prodigal Summer,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Incredible Journey,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “Native Son,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” “Strong Poison,” “”The Maltese Falcon,” “The Age of Innocence,” “Sister Carrie,” “The Sign of Four,” “Washington Square,” and “David Copperfield.” You listed many books that I’d also like to try one day

    Now for my personal favorites: “Sister” by Rosamund Lupton, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson, and “The Long Way Home” by Louise Penny (all 3 from 2010); “The Amazing Mrs. Polifax” by Dorothy Gilman (1970); “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller; and “Howards End” by E.M. Forster (1910). As you know, I’m quite partial to mysteries and I’ve listed a few, but special mention goes to “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” by Agatha Christie (her very first book published in 1920) and “The Murder at the Vicarage” also by Christie (her first Miss Marple novel published in 1930).

    I suppose that my very favorites taken from both our lists are “So Much for That” (contemporary novel) that we’ve talked about before, as well as “Strong Poison” (mystery), I also love the classic “Howards End” and the movie starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins. There’s a Masterpiece Theatre production that’s been running now on PBS, which I’d like to see one day. It was fun and interesting to think about all these books again. Thanks as always, Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! GREAT list of novels! I can see I forgot to mention two excellent ones I’ve read (“Catch-22” and “The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax”) and that there are others I SHOULD read. I haven’t gotten to the Louise Penney one you mentioned, but I enjoyed a different novel of hers (“How the Light Gets In”) and look forward to reading more of her work.

      VERY nice mention of Agatha Christie’s first novel — which, in retrospect, made 1920 a banner year for the mystery genre.


      • Not that it matters, but I realize I didn’t note the publication year for “Catch-22,” which was 1960. A few weeks ago, my best friend was here on a short visit, and we briefly discussed this book and the film made from it. The subject came up because my friend is a clinical psychologist specializing in veterans suffering from PTSD, which she loves doing but hates dealing with the VA. I just read about the novel on Wiki, which was fascinating and made me want to reread it.

        Off-topic, but I just did something I hadn’t done for a long time. I finished reading “Every Note Played” by Lisa Genova, which chronicled the life of a world-famous concert pianist suffering from ALS and his bitter ex-wife, who eventually becomes his caretaker. It was heart-breaking and at times difficult to read about his struggles with this terrible disese, but it was ultimately life-affirming. After shedding a few tears, I immediately chose another book from my shelves — “The Lying Game” by Ruth Ware. It was a quite suspenseful mystery, wonderfully written, and I devoured it in a few days. It appears that my recent move back to Chester County and somewhat improved health has rejuvenated me and brought me back to my great love of books and reading. I can only hope this will last!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Kat Lit! “Catch-22” IS a memorable novel, with a lot to satirically say. And funny as hell.

          I haven’t read “Every Note Played,” but the three Lisa Genova novels I HAVE read do indeed fit your description of being both heartbreaking and life-affirming. (I love that “life-affirming” phrase.)

          Last but not least, SO glad you’re feeling better, that you’re settling in to your new place, and that you’re reading more again. Three pieces of wonderful news! ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. Hmm I have not thought about favourites by publication year. Totally agree with your assessment of Possession, a fantastic book and a book I always use in library displays for library lover’s day 14th of Feb which is just around the corner.
    I also really like For Whom the Bell Tolls, not generally the most popular of Hemingway’s novels, so nice to see I am not alone in liking that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sharon! Every year I write an “anniversary” post — not much significance to them; just something to do. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Glad you’re also a big fan of “Possession,” and great that you use it in library displays! I don’t think that novel is as known as it should be.

      I’m not a big Hemingway fan — I can take or leave “The Sun Also Rises,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” and a couple other of his works. But, like you, I found “For Whom the Bell Tolls” really compelling.


  6. Hi Dave,

    2010 saw the publication of Anh Doโ€™s autobiography The Happiest Refugee. Anh is an Australian comedian, and most of his autobiography was a light and fun read. However, the story starts with Anh escaping Vietnam when he was quite young. A thoroughly harrowing tale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “The Happiest Refugee” sounds fantastic and intense, Susan!

      I virtually never read nonfiction books these days, but I’m actually in the middle of one now. It’s called “A Good American Family” by my wife’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cousin David Maraniss, who writes about his left-leaning father’s experiences during the McCarthy era. My wife’s father, who was an Abraham Lincoln Brigade volunteer during the Spanish Civil War, is also featured quite a bit in the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I just recently read “the Invisible Bridge” by Julie Orringer, which was published in 2010. It was a pretty amazing read. It was one of those multi-layered stories that is very dense, but the writing is so good that you get completely swept into it. I also enjoyed the Hunger Games series, and I think “Mockingjay” was published in 2010. Although, and I might draw some ire here, I do think that is an incredibly rare instance where I liked the movies a bit better than the book. But “Angels and Demons” was one of my favorite books of 2000, and I didn’t much care for the movie at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B., for the mentions of those 2010 and 2000 novels! I also found “The Hunger Games” trilogy compelling. The third book — “Mockingjay” (2010, as you say) — was really grim, even more so than the grim first two, but I felt it worked and was faithful to what Suzanne Collins was trying to do. It IS unusual when movies are better than the novels, but not unprecedented. (I never saw “The Hunger Games” films. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ )

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Elena! I found “Possession” mesmerizing, and thought both of the separated-by-a-century relationships were really well depicted. I’ve read that the female 19th-century poet was partly based on Christina Rossetti, and the male one was kind of an amalgam of Robert Browning and Lord Tennyson.

      I’ve just read two of the Easy Rawlins novels (the first two), and they were both quite good.


    • Thanks so much for those very kind words, Clanmother! ๐Ÿ™‚ I guess with all the terrific novels out there, approximately one-tenth of them were published in a year ending with zero. So, a lot of great “zero literature.” ๐Ÿ™‚

      I wanted to end the post with a 200th-anniversary mention of Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe,” but some sources say it was published in late 1819 rather than 1820. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      Liked by 1 person

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