We live in a day and age of short-lived virality. Creators are constantly pushing out new content, seeking their piece of fame before people inevitably move on to the next big thing. Personally, I see the world of books as a much-needed reprieve from this mindset. Not every story is timeless, of course – terms will become outdated, and narratives will be overdone. As our world changes, some stories might not resonate with people as they used to. But there’s nothing quite the same as passing a well-loved book down from generation to generation. That’s why we here at Bookstr are highlighting the most popular books by year from the ’60s through the ’90s.
Consider this lovely infographic a teaser of what’s to come. I’d love to go into every one of these books right here and now, let’s be honest. Forty books is a lot for one article. If your birth year is the ’70s, ’80s, or the 90’s (90’s kids, I’m with you), we’ll get to you soon. But for now, we’re going to start at the bottom and appreciate some infamous works from the ’60s.
These are books that have connected us across multiple generations. Whether you read these in school or shared them with your grandkids, they’re still enjoyed today. Without further ado, here are the most popular books, as shelved on Goodreads, from 1960-1969.
1960: To Kill A Mockingbird
Shelved eight million times on Goodreads with a 4.27-star rating, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a classic. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and the film adaptation was released in 1962. While the book is a staple for students to read, more than one school took it off their curriculums due to the controversy surrounding it. Regardless of where you fall on the issue, I think we can all safely say that this book has been extremely influential.
The circular premise of this book by Joseph Heller might have you scratching your head a bit. With 3.99 stars and two million shelvings, Catch-22 is not only the name of the book but also a term used to describe a very specific conundrum. It follows a man named Yossarian, who no longer wishes to fly for his army. He needs to be proven ‘insane’ to quit, however, if he were to make a case for himself, he’d be proven ‘sane’. This gimmick, paired with the non-linear storytelling, might turn some people off, but it’s also what makes the novel unique and appealing.
This book isn’t for the faint of heart. Written by Ken KeseyI has 4.2 stars and one million shelvings on Goodreads, and the film adaption came out in 1975. The story follows McMurphy, a man who feigned insanity in order to lessen his jail sentence. When he’s sent to the mental hospital, he fights against the nurse’s overbearing routines with his own brand of chaos. The book is dark and definitely a little outdated. That said, plenty of people still find enjoyment from it. If you’re going to give it a read, I’d make sure you come prepared with a critical eye.
1963: The Bell Jar
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is about the downward spiral of a young woman, who’s trying to kick start her career through the throes of mental illness. This book is known for it’s significance in increasing discussion surrounding women’s mental health. I think it’s important to note that there not unlike other stories from this time, there’s controversy surrounding the reoccurring racist and outdated language. The film adaptation released in 1979, and the book has 4.04 stars and two million shelvings on Goodreads.
1964: The Giving Tree
Shelved two million times with 4.38 stars, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein gives us much more than we bargained for. Because of its simplicity, the book leaves itself open to interpretation. Essentially, the story revolves around a tree that gives everything it has until there is nothing left. Regardless of whether you view the book as a story of parental love, or a cautionary tale about giving too much of yourself away, there’s a reason people still read this book to their children.
Dune by Frank Herbert is a story about the universe’s demand for a drug that can extend life and heighten consciousness, a boy whose family suffered a betrayal, and how his journey will change him. It has one million shelvings and 4.26 stars, and the film adaptation was released as recently as 2021.
With 214,000 shelvings and 4.16 stars, this work is a little less known than some of its counterparts. The book still has multiple awards, though, and has proven itself worthy of standing on this list. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein is a sci-fi novel about a moon colony’s rebellion against Earth. The Moon colony has its own dialect and culture, and most interestingly to me, an AI character that wants to ensure the rebellion’s success.
1967: The Outsiders
Not only was The Outsiders S.E. Hinton’s first book, but she wrote it in high school. I don’t know about you, but the idea of letting my teenage work see the light of day is horrifying. The book has two million shelvings and 4.12 stars on Goodreads. And if you like the film adaptation released in 1983, you might be interested to know there’s actually a museum. The Outsiders House Museum opened as recently as 2019 after Danny Boy O’Connor, a hip-hop artist, discovered it was part of the set for the film. Being a story about two rival gangs from different walks of life, it’s also another book both taught and banned through several school districts.
1968: 2001: A Space Odyssey
In a time just before man had taken their first step on the moon, of course, space expiration would be of huge interest. A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke has 525,000 shelvings and 4.16 stars on Goodreads. The most interesting part, however, is its relation to the movie released the very same year. As part of a creative back-and-forth process between Arthur C. Clark and the film’s director, Stanley Kubrick, they wrote the two stories in conjunction with each other.
Last, but not least, we have Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. coming in with two million shelvings and 4.09 stars on Goodreads. I’ll be honest, the premise is hard to wrap my head around. But from what I understand, the book is an anti-war story where aliens kidnap a man, and he experiences time in an unusual way… Or so it goes. Its film adaption debuted in 1972, and interestingly enough, they adapted it into a graphic novel.
Curious about popular genres? Check out what you need to know here!