The 1970s Had Distinguished Novels Amid the Disco Din

(Photo credit: The Toni Morrison Society.)

When one thinks of the 1970s, what comes to mind are such things as Watergate, the latter part of the Vietnam War, disco music, Star Wars, and…a number of notable novels.

I’m going to mention about 30 of those books — most of which I’ve read — now that I’ve just finished Song of Solomon.

Toni Morrison’s 1977 novel is complex, nuanced, harrowing, occasionally funny, full of superb prose, socially conscious in its depiction of racism and sexism, and astute in dissecting a dysfunctional family. It also offers several of literature’s most memorable names for its memorable characters: protagonist Macon Dead (aka Milkman), his sister Corinthians, his aunt Pilate, his friend Guitar, etc.

Song of Solomon was Morrison’s third novel — following The Bluest Eye (1970) and Sula (1973). 

Margaret Atwood began writing novels a year before Morrison did, with 1969’s The Edible Woman. She followed with the very good Surfacing (1972) and Lady Oracle (1976) before starting a run that would include various much-better-than-very-good works over the ensuing decades. 

Herman Wouk also had an ultra-successful 1970s with his lengthy tour de force novels The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978), both set during the WWII era.

In between those Wouk works was Alex Haley’s Roots, the saga of slavery and more that was widely read as a novel (1976) and then widely watched as a blockbuster TV miniseries (1977).

Meanwhile, Stephen King took the book world by storm with his debut novel Carrie (1974) — quickly followed by ‘Salem’s Lot (1975), The Shining (1977), The Stand (1978), and The Dead Zone (1979).

Joyce Carol Oates, an author I haven’t sampled much, also had quite a 1970s run — as did two novelists I’ve read several times: Margaret Drabble and Kurt Vonnegut.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez? I haven’t gotten to his The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), but have read several of his excellent novels written in previous and subsequent decades. The first English-language edition of his 1967 masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude came out in…1970!

John Irving’s first major success was his quirky 1978 novel The World According to Garp. Soon after, Cormac McCarthy really hit his stride with the absorbing Suttree in 1979 — the same year of Octavia E. Butler’s searing time-travel classic Kindred.

The start of that half-century-ago decade saw the publication of another time-travel novel, Jack Finney’s haunting Time and Again (1970). Also arriving that year were Alice Walker’s first novel The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Erich Segal’s sappy but romantically readable Love Story. (I can’t believe I just put those two authors in the same sentence. 🙂 )

Other notable 1970s releases included William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971), Richard Adams’ Watership Down (1972), Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying (1973), James Michener’s Centennial (1974), Peter Benchley’s Jaws (1974), Thomas Tryon’s Lady (1974), E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime (1975), James Clavell’s Shogun (1975), Agatha Christie’s final mystery Curtain (1975), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Anne Rice’s debut novel Interview with the Vampire (1976), Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds (1977), William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice (1979), and Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979).

Any 1970s novels you’d like to name and discuss? I know I left out quite a few.

And here’s one of the most beautiful songs of the 1970s — 1972 to be exact:

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 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — containing more of my reaction to an appalling education-related opinion piece by a local leader — is here.

103 thoughts on “The 1970s Had Distinguished Novels Amid the Disco Din

  1. Thanks for the memories! I did not read these books when they were first published, but I did enjoy some of them later. One book I did read when it came out was The Omen by David Seltzer. Gave me nightmares.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome, vanaltman, and thank you for the comment! Always better late than never. 🙂 I also read a number of ’70s novels many years after the ’70s — though I haven’t gotten to “The Omen.”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You mention so many books that I enjoyed, Dave! I also remember Ordinary People by Judith Guest as being from the 70s? It was a memorable tale of a family struggling with a tragedy.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Steve! Glad you liked the post. 🙂

      “Ordinary People” is a great mention! I’ve never read it, but did see the excellent movie with Mary Tyler Moore doing a memorable job playing against type.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave- I just absolutely love how succinct your quick reviews or book mentions are!
    So good
    And the author that stands out today from this 1970s post is Steven King
    I saw him being interviewed a few years ago (and he said Something about avid readers always carry a book with them to read in gaps of time throughout the day” something like that!
    But your post reminded me of his stamina and ongoing success

    Liked by 1 person

  4. No Thomas Thompson fans? “Blood and Money” and “Serpentine” were both riveting for me, back in the days when there weren’t entire network channels devoted to true crime. Yes, I used the phrase “back in the days”. That makes me officially old, at least at heart!
    This was a fabulous post, Dave. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane! So glad you mentioned “Jaws”, and I’d add Benchley’s creepy pirate tale, “The Island”!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Many fab books were written in the 70’s.
    How about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter Thompson?
    Post Office – Bukowski?
    Stepford Wives – Ira Levin.
    There’s more. I was still reading a lot in the 70s’. I read 6 of your mentions. My Ultimate favourite would be “One Hundred Years of Solitude” followed by Shogun!
    Fab post, Dave!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I remember reading Harvest Home by Tom Tryon, and I can’t say why its always stuck out in my head. I should really go back and read it again. Read Beautiful Losers by Cohen, though it was published in the late 60s, Most of my reading in the 70s were books from the 60s. Perhaps I was catching up since I was less high by then, Ha! Very nostalgic post Dave, thanks. Susi Btw I still havent figured out a way to hit like on a lot of the comments when I do I end up in wordpress purgatory. *sigh*

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susi!

      I’ve only read one Thomas Tryon novel (“Lady”) but was quite impressed. Like Fannie Flagg, an actor/actress-turned-author.

      I hear you — I also often read novels published the previous decade. I’ve gotten to a number of 2010s books the past couple of years.

      Sorry about your WP issues. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m surprised at how many of your mentions I have read before – Hitchhiker’s Guide being a big favorite from that era. Also anything by Toni Morrison is always good, I haven’t read as much of her stuff as I’d like. I also think I might be one of the few people around who never really got into Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire.” It just didn’t sit well with me at all. I guess vampires aren’t everyone’s cup of tea although I’ve read “Dracula” multiple times and always enjoy it. And yes – I did go through the inevitable Stephen King phase in high school where I read most of the books you mentioned, with the exception of “the Dead Zone.” 1970s – a good era for books! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Hi Dave, I’ve read a lot more of the books you mentioned than I thought I would have when I read the title of this. I didn’t read them when they were new though but in the late 80s and 90s. I had to cheat and look up books from the ’70s to see what others I have read and Are you there God, It’s me Margaret by Judy Blume popped up. I really enjoyed her books. I also saw The Lorax by Dr Seuss on the list and who has read and loved that book. Amazing to think he wrote that in the 70s before all the ‘noise’ about the destruction of our planet. It was quite visionary of him.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Robbie!

      Like you, I read many 1970s novels after that decade. 🙂 And I also had to do some online searching to recall some of the ’70s books I read. 🙂

      I’ve only gotten to a bit of Judy Blume’s work but enjoyed it, too. And I totally agree that Dr. Seuss was ahead of his time environmentally and in several other ways.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I’ve actually read quite a few of these! There weren’t as many books around then (at least, that’s how it seems), I was younger, and there was no internet! I just checked Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives (a really good book) was published in 1982, which is close but no cigar. It was all about the ’60s and ’70s, though. And I was a big fan of Stephen King at the time.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Audrey! Great that you’ve read many 1970s novels!

      You might be right about there being fewer books back then — a lot less self-publishing, for one thing.

      I shared your ’70s fandom of Stephen King. 🙂 And have liked quite a few of his later novels, too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Dave, sort of off topic.
    I am talking about the author Walter Mosley again.
    I have read about 50 pages of His 2021 Novel Blood Grove.on 2067 some Novels.
    The reason I am referring to it is that it feels good moving as we are living through this horrifying Pandemic and war in Ukraine by the monster Putin.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Very long interview Dave…so many of His books to read, I was thinking of going through some of his Novels.
        About a Black Man living in America in that period of time.

        Just look at this Country now after so many decades have passed, still a Black man is stopped driving a car, forget about fancy cars, by Police and then are killed sometimes for no apparent reasons.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Walter Mosley has indeed written a LOT of books, not just the Easy Rawlins ones.

          And, yes, while some things have improved re race, there’s still lots of blatant discrimination — and worse. Police killings off unarmed Black motorists (as you noted), the nasty way Republicans treated Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, etc. 😦

          Liked by 2 people

  11. What drew me to Love Story was that I read it was written as a “challenge” to the author who was supposed to be a professor of English literature. He was supposed to have often claimed in his class that successful romances were formulaic and anyone with sufficient background could write a bestseller, a student challenged him, and the rest is (was) history. I’m not sure if that’s true? 🤷‍♀️

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I always think of the 1970’s as standing in the middle of a bridge. It was the decade of my high school graduation, of leaving home, moving across Canada, university and marriage. And along the way I read a few books. If I search the books that defined the 1970’s, the books that are featured are: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig, Roots by Alex Haley, Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy and Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? By Raymond Carver and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.

    I only read two books out of that list in the 1970’s – Roots and The Thorn Birds. So here are some of the thoughts/rhetoric questions that came to me as I read the post and the follow-up comments. Are we defined by books even though we have never actually read them? I believe we are for we are influenced by those who have read the books. Books are a reflection of current status and possible future status. Do writers synthesize our thoughts and provide a space for new understanding? I believe they do. The 1970’s were marked by the conservative backlash and the emerging environment movement, women’s rights, anti war movement, Watergate as well as macrame hangings, Disco, Rolling Stones and Queen. An unforgettable decade!! The books that have been listed in this post continue to influence long after they were first published.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca! Various wise thoughts and interesting questions!

      The 1970s were also a pivotal decade for me — going away to college, then moving to New York City, etc. — and the novels I read back then are interspersed with those memories. Perhaps books feel more memorable when read during memorable times of our lives.

      You have read MANY ’70s novels! Like you, I got to some of those books that decade and many later on.

      A fascinating thought about being influenced by novels we haven’t read! I guess that’s quite possible when they were read by people we knew and/or somehow reflected the “zeitgeist” of a particular time. The ’70s were certainly a mix of liberal and conservative events, trends, and movements.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I was in college and grad school in the 70s. I read a lot of books by Kurt Vonnegut, but many were written prior to that decade. Your list is a good one. I read several, and I think some might be worth a second look.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Dan! Like you, I was also in college and grad school in the ’70s, and it was a very good time for reading then-contemporary fiction (in addition to older literature 🙂 ).

      I looked back at the post, and see I haven’t revisited any of the novels mentioned. But many were sure worth one read!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s funny. When I reread something that I read in my late teens and early twenties, I often find meaning that I either missed or forgot. I don’t reread often, but it is interesting when I do.

        I have always thought I should reread Moby Dick, since I was forced to read it in high school and again (the Norton Critical edition) in college. I think I have held a grudge against it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, Dan, rereading a novel many years after first reading it as a young person can pay major dividends. I did that with “Moby-Dick” and also “The Scarlet Letter” (among others) and appreciated them much more the second time. Having to read “Moby-Dick” twice when young, not many years apart, does not sound ideal. 😦

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cindy! John Irving IS a great writer; my favorite of his is “The Cider House Rules” from the following decade (1985). And, yes, Stephen King was compulsive reading in the 1970s; what a run of intense novels. As for the film version of “The Shining,” many authors are understandably not happy with the screen adaptations of their books, even if the movie is pretty good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My Irving fav is “A Prayer for Owen Meany” but that came out in 1989. Let’s see, my two favorite 1970s books:
        “Sophie’s Choice” by William Styron (1979)
        “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams (1979)

        Liked by 2 people

        • “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is my second-favorite John Irving novel — so quirky and interesting. “Sophie’s Choice” is heartbreaking, and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is incredibly clever! 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  14. Wow – 70s were a good time for books! For me, Roots ranks as one of the most important works of our times. One Hundred Years is my all time favorite. Love Story, Shogun, Sophie’s Choice – were all lovely books.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, rajatnarula! “Roots” was indeed hugely important and influential back then. Certainly one of the first serious TV productions with a mostly African-American cast and focus.

      I agree — “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is masterful, “Shogun” is ultra-compelling, and “Sophie’s Choice” is heartbreaking.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. I’m quietly laughing cos every other book there towards the end of this wonderful blog, was one I was thinking of, reckoning you would ask at the end for other notables, and right there as I thought of jaws, and Ragtime and Interview with the Vampire, and many more, there they were! Love Story was a huge book here. never quite figured why actually. But hey a lot of very different types of books. Another one i never quite understood the huge success of was Johnathon Livingston Seagull. But maybe I just missed the point? Frederic Forsyth was another big hitter in the 70s. Day of the Jackal and the Odessa File.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Shehanne! Sorry I stole some of your thunder there. 🙂 There were definitely some popular-fiction phenomena in the 1970s.

      I never read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (sounded too new-age-y or something) or any title by Forsyth, but certainly knew of “The Day of the Jackal” and “The Odessa File” back then.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Karen! Yes, the 1970s was a pretty good decade for novels — and movies, too. “The Godfather,” “All the President’s Men,” “Taxi Driver,” “Apocalypse Now,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “1900,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Rocky,” etc., etc.

      Liked by 2 people

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