Share I Heart the 80s: 12 Radical Reads About Everyone’s Favorite Decade

I Heart the 80s: 12 Radical Reads About Everyone’s Favorite Decade

Julianna Haubner joined the editorial team at Simon & Schuster in September 2014. A lifelong reader, she is most drawn to literary fiction, biography, cultural history, and narrative non-fiction; it’s her firm belief that every human should own a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, and EMPIRE FALLS is the book that changed her life. When Julianna’s not reading and reviewing, she’s downloading podcast episodes as if there are more than 24 hours in a day, watching Bravo, baking, and running the Off the Shelf Instagram. You can follow her on Twitter @jhaubner2.

There’s a saying that goes “Everything old is new again,” and nowhere is that more true than in our newfound nostalgia for the raddest decade in history. The ‘80s had it all: big hair, big news, and big stories. Here is a list of neon-bright books whose tones range from the silly to the serious and topics stretch from romance to Reagan. So, take out your scrunchies, turn up your boombox, and start reading!


Tuesday Nights in 1980
by Molly Prentiss

Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the eighties: a haven—and heaven—for artists and writers looking to make it big. Among them is James Bennett, an art critic for The New York Times who has synesthesia, a condition that enables him to see and describe things in incredible ways. When he meets Raul Englaes, an exiled Argentinian painter, both of their lives change.

Tuesday Nights in 1980
Molly Prentiss

Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the eighties: a haven—and heaven—for artists and writers looking to make it big. Among them is James Bennett, an art critic for The New York Times who has synesthesia, a condition that enables him to see and describe things in incredible ways. When he meets Raul Englaes, an exiled Argentinian painter, both of their lives change.

MENTIONED IN:

I Heart the 80s: 12 Radical Reads About Everyone’s Favorite Decade

By Julianna Haubner | October 27, 2016

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The Bonfire of the Vanities
by Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe’s modern masterpiece about a city and society about to implode isn’t just considered one of his best—it was also one of the best fiction debuts of the decade. Moving from the fiery South Bronx to the corrupt Financial District, the novel introduces a colorful cast of characters who interact with one another in unexpected and unbelievable ways.
The Bonfire of the Vanities
Tom Wolfe

This quintessential story of 1980s New York centers on three characters—a WASP bond trader, a Jewish assistant district attorney, and a British expatriate journalist—as they navigate a cutthroat world of ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed.

MENTIONED IN:

I Heart the 80s: 12 Radical Reads About Everyone’s Favorite Decade

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The Pale King
by David Foster Wallace

This unfinished, posthumous novel by one of the most iconic writers of our time reimagines the experiences of IRS employees in Peoria, Illinois, in 1985. There, newly appointed trainee David Wallace (a character, not the author) immerses himself in a routine so tedious that he needs to undergo boredom-survival training.

The Pale King
David Foster Wallace

This unfinished, posthumous novel by one of the most iconic writers of our time reimagines the experiences of IRS employees in Peoria, Illinois, in 1985. There, newly appointed trainee David Wallace (a character, not the author) immerses himself in a routine so tedious that he needs to undergo boredom-survival training.

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Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell
This universally adored novel follows the titular couple through a school year in 1986. When outsider Park realizes that the red-haired, awkward Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder on the school bus every morning, he slides them to her side of the seat. Thus begins a relationship that will make you laugh, cry, and remember your first love.
Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell

If your favorite character is Mike Wheeler

This young adult novel is also set in the 1980s and deals with first love between two outsiders. Except in Rainbow Rowell’s book, the kids are older and the monster isn’t a tulip-headed child-eater but an abusive stepfather.

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Bright Lights, Big City
by Jay McInerney

Perhaps the quintessential ’80s novel, BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY follows a young man as he weaves his way through the party scene, publishing offices, and pretty people of Manhattan. With nothing but illicit substances to sustain him, it’s a troubling but remarkable portrait of youth and New York life in this decade.

Bright Lights, Big City
Jay McInerney

Perhaps the quintessential ’80s novel, BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY follows a young man as he weaves his way through the party scene, publishing offices, and pretty people of Manhattan. With nothing but illicit substances to sustain him, it’s a troubling but remarkable portrait of youth and New York life in this decade.

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Tell the Wolves I'm Home
by Carol Rifka Brunt

In this tender coming-of-age story, June Elbus is fourteen years old and grieving the loss of her uncle Finn, a renowned painter with whom she shared a special bond. Though her mother refuses to speak about the mysterious illness that Finn suffered from, his death brings a new friend into June’s life: one whom she must keep secret, but will ultimately help her heal.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Carol Rifka Brunt

In this tender coming-of-age story, June Elbus is fourteen years old and grieving the loss of her uncle Finn, a renowned painter with whom she shared a special bond. Though her mother refuses to speak about the mysterious illness that Finn suffered from, his death brings a new friend into June’s life: one whom she must keep secret, but will ultimately help her heal.

MENTIONED IN:

I Heart the 80s: 12 Radical Reads About Everyone’s Favorite Decade

By Julianna Haubner | October 27, 2016

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The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Madeleine Hanna is an English major at Brown in the 1980s when she meets two very different men: the intense Leonard Bankhead and her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus. Their relationships begin to mimic the marriage plot that Madeleine is dutifully studying for her senior thesis, creating a contemporary love story that is not to be missed.
The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides

This smart and thought-provoking story focuses on Madeleine Hanna, an English major obsessed with Austen and Eliot and their use of the “marriage plot” device in literature. As she studies the classics, her love life becomes complicated when her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus and the intense intellectual Leonard Bankhead compete for her affections.

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Rabbit at Rest
by John Updike

Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom has acquired a condo, a grandchild, and a heart condition. His family is having trouble, and so is the country—AIDS is ravaging American cities and Reagan has introduced a new level of debt before handing the country over to George Bush. RABBIT AT REST is a tale of late-life malaise and a pitch-perfect depiction of a crucial decade in our history.

Rabbit at Rest
John Updike

Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom has acquired a condo, a grandchild, and a heart condition. His family is having trouble, and so is the country—AIDS is ravaging American cities and Reagan has introduced a new level of debt before handing the country over to George Bush. RABBIT AT REST is a tale of late-life malaise and a pitch-perfect depiction of a crucial decade in our history.

MENTIONED IN:

I Heart the 80s: 12 Radical Reads About Everyone’s Favorite Decade

By Julianna Haubner | October 27, 2016

Close

The Carrie Diaries
by Candace Bushnell

Everyone knows what Carrie Bradshaw did when she came to New York in the 1990s, but how did she get there? Carrie is a senior in high school, juggling boys, friends, and writing when a betrayal makes her question everything. In this coming-of-age tale, Candace Bushnell shows us the small-town girl who decided that she needed to take the big city by storm.

The Carrie Diaries
Candace Bushnell

Everyone knows what Carrie Bradshaw did when she came to New York in the 1990s, but how did she get there? Carrie is a senior in high school, juggling boys, friends, and writing when a betrayal makes her question everything. In this coming-of-age tale, Candace Bushnell shows us the small-town girl who decided that she needed to take the big city by storm.

MENTIONED IN:

I Heart the 80s: 12 Radical Reads About Everyone’s Favorite Decade

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Close

American Psycho
by Bret Easton Ellis
Patrick Bateman is young, handsome, and successful, spending his days making deals on Wall Street and his nights doing things you wouldn’t believe. With a slightly unreliable narrator and a propulsive plot, this one isn’t for the faint of heart—or stomach—but is still a must-read.
American Psycho
Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman is your typical Wall Street jerk: he spends his days in mergers and acquisitions and his nights in murders and executions. AMERICAN PSYCHO is Bret Easton Ellis at his most unhinged and brutally honest—and this story is so jaw dropping because it lacks control. While this very violent novel is hard to read as a feminist, it is bizarre, uncompromising, darkly humorous, and truly, truly crazy.

Crazy like: Dexter without a conscience.

Best crazy moment: Bateman being stalked by a talking park bench.

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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
by Fannie Flagg
Flagg’s Southern classic recounts the story of two women, tomboy Idgie and her quiet friend Ruth, who live and work in Whistle Stop, Alabama, in the 1980s. Together, they serve barbecue, coffee, laughs, and trouble. Harper Lee called the community tale “a richly comic, poignant narrative that records the exuberance of their lives.”
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
Fannie Flagg

This fresh and folksy classic is brimming with good barbeque and Southern charm while tackling heavy subjects with grace and subtlety. In 1930s Alabama, two women run a small-town cafe with love and integrity, surviving visits from the local sheriff, the terror of the Ku Klux Klan, and the rigors of the Great Depression.

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Finale
by Thomas Mallon

Thomas Mallon is one of our generation’s best political novelists. In FINALE, he takes us into the 1986 White House, when a perfect storm of critical events—AIDS, Iran-Contra, and the Reykjavik Summit—came to a single man’s desk, and shaped history. With cameos from Nancy Reagan, Christopher Hitchens, and the president himself, it’s historical fiction that comes to life right before your eyes.

Finale
Thomas Mallon

Thomas Mallon is one of our generation’s best political novelists. In FINALE, he takes us into the 1986 White House, when a perfect storm of critical events—AIDS, Iran-Contra, and the Reykjavik Summit—came to a single man’s desk, and shaped history. With cameos from Nancy Reagan, Christopher Hitchens, and the president himself, it’s historical fiction that comes to life right before your eyes.

MENTIONED IN:

I Heart the 80s: 12 Radical Reads About Everyone’s Favorite Decade

By Julianna Haubner | October 27, 2016

Close

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