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

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.