The best books on the 1960s

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the 1960s and why they recommend each book.

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The Girls

By Emma Cline,

Book cover of The Girls

I love how this book is written. It’s lyrical and deeply felt with a keen eye and luminous prose. Told from her middle-aged perspective, it’s the story of 14-year-old Evie and the summer she dallied, first at the outskirts, and then at dead center of a Charles Manson-like clan. Evie’s a lonely innocent drawn to the sexy and audacious Suzanne who is closest to the leader, Russell. All the women revere Russell, and Evie performs as required: sex, thievery, nighttime home invasions, initially just for fun. The book captures the grunge and the glory of its late-1960s setting, the ragged hope for a better world. Evie longs for connection and would follow Suzanne anywhere, even to murder. I followed along, too, fearing for Evie and wishing her well.

The Girls

By Emma Cline,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A gripping and dark fictionalised account of life inside the Manson family from one of the most exciting young voices in fiction.

If you're lost, they'll find you...

Evie Boyd is fourteen and desperate to be noticed.

It's the summer of 1969 and restless, empty days stretch ahead of her. Until she sees them. The girls. Hair long and uncombed, jewelry catching the sun. And at their centre, Suzanne, black-haired and beautiful.

If not for Suzanne, she might not have gone. But, intoxicated by her and the life she promises, Evie follows the girls back to the decaying ranch where…


Who am I?

I came of age during the tumult of the 1960s and 1970s. I stood more on the sidelines than at the burning center, so I’ve always wondered what it was like for those who did. That’s why I wrote my first novel, to go beyond the borders of my own experience. The 60s/70s era of political and sexual upheaval has reduced itself over time to a series of cliches. What I love about the books on my list is how willing they are to break through to real feelings and events and sensations. Hope you like them, too.


I wrote...

Nothing to Declare

By Richard Ravin,

Book cover of Nothing to Declare

What is my book about?

Sex. Drugs. Revolution. Grilled tuna.

What happens when you’re named next of kin to someone you haven’t spoken to for 15 years? Jesse Kerf’s got his life buttoned up: flash L.A. bistro, spiffy BMW, all-white condo with an ocean view. But his friend Marty’s death floors him, pulling him back to a past he’s tried to forget. Between Jesse’s long-ago love triangle, a trip that bounces him from Boston to Bali, and the weight of secrets held too long – he’s got a lot to handle. What really went down in the turbulent 1970s, when he and his friends were turning everything upside-down? To get his life together, Jesse must face not only who he was, but who he wants to be from now on.

Love & Saffron

By Kim Fay,

Book cover of Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love

This is a slim, poignant, epistolary novel about two women friends, Jane, who is 27, and Imogen, who is 59. It starts in the 1960s because Jane sends a fan letter to Imogen about her columns on island life outside Seattle. But it turns in to a correspondence largely about food and recipes but then also culture, family and marriage, racism and change, trust and hope. This sweet novel explores more than what foods sustain us, but also what kinds of relationships. Love & Saffron includes sad moments, but the novel lives in a place of hope and acceptance, of connections, and of creating family on our own terms. I so enjoyed it. I gave it to my mom to read, and she enjoyed it, too.

Love & Saffron

By Kim Fay,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Love & Saffron as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Instant National Bestseller and #1 Indie Next Pick

In the vein of the classic 84, Charing Cross Road, this witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.

When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter--as well as a gift of saffron--to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for…


Who am I?

I am a book publicist of roughly twenty years, a writer, and a reader. My award-winning short story collection, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts (Fomite Press, 2017), deals with family, reconciliation, loss, and hope. My first novel, Geographies of the Heart (Fomite Press) was released in January 2022. It’s about the importance of forgiveness, the power of legacies, and the fertile but fragile terrain that is family, the first geography to shape our hearts. I am surrounded by books, live and breathe books, work with books. Lucky me!


I wrote...

Geographies of the Heart

By Caitlin Hamilton Summie,

Book cover of Geographies of the Heart

What is my book about?

In Geographies of the Heart, Sarah Macmillan is devoted to her multi-generational family, but her younger sister, Glennie, is dedicated to her career. As they age and face loss and other challenges, they’re forced to confront their differing priorities, sometimes with Sarah’s husband, Al, serving as mediator. This is a novel about the power of legacies, the importance of forgiveness, and the fertile but fragile ground that is family, the first geography to shape our hearts. Southern Literary Review said, “This novel of four generations is rich in nuance and its warmth and generosity leave a lasting impression."

Inherent Vice

By Thomas Pynchon,

Book cover of Inherent Vice

Pynchon’s books are often dense and long and hard to get through (but rewarding if you power through). Inherent Vice is one of his lighter reads–accessible enough that Paul Thomas Anderson made it into a movie. It’s a funny, bizarre detective novel set in 1970s Los Angeles. Inherent Vice’s private eye protagonist Doc Sportello is looking for a vanished man in the sundrenched, sun-blasted landscape of southern California. There is no doubt that Pynchon consciously copied much of Chandler’s plot in an homage to the classic work. Like Murakami though, Pynchon works a kind of magic with it that leaves me both satisfied and mystified. 

Inherent Vice

By Thomas Pynchon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Inherent Vice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon-Private eye Doc Sportello surfaces, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era

In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre that is at once exciting and accessible, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there.

It's been a while since Doc Sportello has seen his ex- girlfriend. Suddenly she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. It's the tail…


Who am I?

I’ve been a passionate reader since I was old enough to pick up a book and I have always loved books where the plot twisted and turned and led me down blind alleys. I love books that create a tense, dream-like atmosphere and confound my ability to guess what will happen next. I try to recreate that kind of plot and atmosphere in my own novels. I always try to find ways to allow for multiple interpretations and never tie up a plot so tight that there isn’t some room for speculation. I hope you’ll enjoy the books on this list as much as I do. 


I wrote...

Engine Nine

By Bradley W. Wright,

Book cover of Engine Nine

What is my book about?

A familiar voice, echoing down the years. Justin’s long-lost sister on the phone. But something is off. She’s in danger. She warns him to stay away but he resolves to find her. Undercover, Justin infiltrates the remote commune in Utah where Malena was living only to find she has been transferred to another location. Digging for clues, Justin discovers disturbing evidence: black market ICBM parts and an international smuggling operation. The cult members grow suspicious. Justin is trapped and transported to headquarters in Costa Rica. Drugged and imprisoned, he must find a way to escape, rescue Malena, and foil the cult’s demented doomsday plot.

Free Love

By Tessa Hadley,

Book cover of Free Love

It's 1969, Phyllis is married to a kind man, with two children and a large house in suburban London. Her domestic world is not far removed from a dutiful 50s housewife’s. Then a much younger man, dashing, selfish, and a family friend, kisses her in a dark garden, and her life explodes. She abandons her family and moves to a shabby flat in Ladbroke Grove. A new world opens to her – she meets people of colour, artists, activists, drinkers, and idealists. She experiences sexual freedom and romantic love. Phyllis’s teenage daughter joins her in her new life, and mother and daughter must work out a different kind of relationship. I found myself feeling furious with Phyllis at the same time as emphasising with her.

Free Love

By Tessa Hadley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Free Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Tessa Hadley recruits admirers with each book. She writes with authority, and with delicacy: she explores nuance, but speaks plainly; she is one of those writers a reader trusts.”—Hilary Mantel

From the bestselling author of Late in the Day and The Past comes a compulsive new novel about one woman’s sexual and intellectual awakening in 1960s London.

1967. While London comes alive with the new youth revolution, the suburban Fischer family seems to belong to an older world of conventional stability: pretty, dutiful homemaker Phyllis is married to Roger, a devoted father with a career in the Foreign Office. Their…


Who am I?

I’m an author and a romantic. Put the two together and it makes sense for me to write love stories. I’ve always been interested in relationships and fascinated by how complex our feelings make us when we fall in love. There’s a love story in all my books, but for the last three novels, a love story has been the story. I’m a Londoner too, and I like it when a city becomes another character in a book, as I hope London has in The Central Line.


I wrote...

The Central Line

By Saskia Sarginson,

Book cover of The Central Line

What is my book about?

A novel that is set in and celebrates present-day London; each chapter heading is a tube stop on the Central Line. Cora and Jacob live at opposite ends of the Line. When a chance meeting on the underground brings them together, they fall for each other. But forging a relationship is fraught with difficulties; not only is Cora more than ten years older than Jacob, but her grown-up daughter, Fran, an unhappy would-be actress, also falls for him. Jacob lives on a narrow boat, and seems to have a simple, successful life, but he has a dark secret – a long-held guilt that keeps him an emotional prisoner. This is a novel about London, families, guilt, loss, love, and the healing power of forgiveness. 

Funny Girl

By Nick Hornby,

Book cover of Funny Girl

No, not the 1968 musical starring Barbara Streisand. It’s about a woman trying to be a comedian in the 1960s. No, it’s not The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel either. It’s a great light-hearted and immensely sweet look at London on the verge of its swinging days as a beauty queen trying to emulate Lucile Ball and break into the business of comedy superstardom. Hornby obviously did a lot of research in trying to emulate the films, television, and even humor of the time. His details color the world, but it’s his penchant for true-to-life, emotional characters that stuck with me. You can’t help but cheer on Sophie Straw as she goes for her comedy star dream. It’s a pure joy to read!

Funny Girl

By Nick Hornby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Funny Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER SOON TO BE A TV SERIES STARRING GEMMA ARTERTON AND RUPERT EVERETT

'Simply unputdownable' Guardian

'Hilarious' Daily Telegraph

'Highly entertaining' Sunday Times
_________________

Make them laugh, and they're yours forever . . .

Barbara Parker is Miss Blackpool of 1964, but she doesn't want to be a beauty queen. She wants to make people laugh.

So she leaves her hometown behind, takes herself to London, and overnight she becomes the lead in a new BBC comedy, Sophie Straw: charming, gorgeous, destined to win the nation's hearts.

Funny Girl is the story of a smash-hit TV show and…


Who am I?

I’m a classic Hollywood fanatic. I can name you every Best Picture Oscar Winner on command. I’ve written screenplays and seen the industry firsthand, but if I had my choice, I’d go live through the Hollywood Golden Age. I've published numerous non-fiction film history books and have a whole lot more classic-film-inspired novels coming. And I do it all simply for the single reason that writing a book is the closest thing to time travel that I can find. Immersing myself in this world with actors that have lived, and even a few that I’ve made up, is pure heaven that transports me back to the days of the silver screen. 


I wrote...

He's No Angel

By Ryan Uytdewilligen,

Book cover of He's No Angel

What is my book about?

In this new humorous take on Hollywood, Charlie Fritz is a talent agent hanging onto his career by a thread. After embarrassing himself at a movie screening, he's in need of a comeback and a superstar client. Luckily, success comes his way in the form of his presumed-to-be dead father.

When Bernie Fritz mysteriously arrives, it's evident he doesn't remember anything about his prior life. All he has is a cryptic message from the afterlife to share with anyone who will listen. After Bernie's message goes viral and creates a social media sensation, Charlie seizes the opportunity to become his dad's agent. It's the perfect opportunity for them to finally connect and find a little meaning in their lives—even if for one of them, life is technically over.

Dark Harvest

By Norman Partridge,

Book cover of Dark Harvest

This book is fast and punchy. It’s filled with twists and a high level of unnerving emotions. Set during autumn harvest, this is an absolutely perfect Halloween read. It is rather short, which means a fast reader or someone with some time could devour it in a day or two. There’s also an upcoming film adaptation.

Dark Harvest

By Norman Partridge,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dark Harvest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is Halloween, 1963. They call him the October Boy, or Ol' Hacksaw Face, or Sawtooth Jack. Whatever the name, everybody in this small Midwestern town knows who he is. How he rises from the cornfields every Halloween, a butcher knife in his hand, and makes his way toward town, where gangs of teenage boys eagerly await their chance to confront the legendary nightmare. Both the hunter and the hunted, the October Boy is the prize in an annual rite of life and death. Pete McCormick knows that killing the October Boy is his one chance to escape a dead-end…


Who am I?

I’ve been a fan of horror—specifically, supernatural horror—for as long as I can remember. Though the topic of life after death is perhaps one of the most long-standing debates in existence, almost every family has a story or two about things that can’t be explained. I’ve turned my lifelong interest in death, the occult, and how the two can coexist, into slow-burn horror stories for people who like a little weird with their fear. Stories that explore the beautiful complexity of queer people. Stories for the strange at heart.


I wrote...

Listen: The Sound of Fear

By R.B. Thorne, Lauren Jane Barnett, E.E.W. Christman, Eule Grey, Ridley Harker, Jon James, T.S. Mitchell, Alex Silver, A.R. Vale, Elizabetta McKay (editor)

Book cover of Listen: The Sound of Fear

What is my book about?

A knocking. A ringing. A steady drip-drip-drip. These are the sounds that haunt us. Drive us mad. Draw us in like the songs of sirens, hypnotic and deadly. And we must either give in or resist with everything we have…and hope it’s enough.

Listen: The Sound of Fear offers ten stories written exclusively by trans and nonbinary authors that explore the chilling, perplexing, terrifying nature of sound.

Bad Penny Blues

By Cathi Unsworth,

Book cover of Bad Penny Blues

I absolutely loved this book, set in the London of the 1960s. It starts with the murder of a prostitute and takes you into the shady world of Soho with its drugs and clubs, its swingers and its singers. A young PC is assigned to work with the CID to catch the killer, as he found the body. The writing is vivid and it appeals as the murder, though central, is only part of a broader picture of the London of that era.

Bad Penny Blues

By Cathi Unsworth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bad Penny Blues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A gripping crime novel inspired by the "Jack the Stripper" killings in 1960s London.

Bad Penny Blues is the latest gripping crime fiction from Cathi Unsworth, London's undisputed queen of noir. Set in late 1950s and early 1960s London, it is loosely based on the West London "Jack the Stripper" killings that rocked the city. The narrative follows police officer Pete Bradley, who investigates the serial killings of a series of prostitutes, and, in a parallel story, Stella, part of the art and fashion worlds of 1960s "Swinging London," who is haunted by visions of the murdered women.


Who am I?

I began my freelance career as a travel writer, though I now also write about drinks. While living in London I worked for a while at the men’s magazine, Mayfair, and around that time went out for several months with a woman who was a stripper. I didn’t know that when we met, so judged her by her personality not her profession. One of the magazine’s models was murdered, and one of the staff questioned by police. He was totally innocent. I wanted to write the kind of book I like reading, bringing together those two storylines to create a fictional version of a very real part of London life.


I wrote...

Strip till Dead

By Mike Gerrard,

Book cover of Strip till Dead

What is my book about?

Liz is Nicola. Nicola is a stripper. And a stripper is about to die. When Liz Pendle moves from the north of England to go to university in London, her life is about to change in more ways than she can imagine. Persuaded by her flatmate Zuzzi that stripping is an easy way to make money to pay off her student loan, Liz is soon taking her clothes off in some of London’s seediest pubs and clubs. But when a stripper is found murdered, Liz is lured even further into this secret world.

Arcadia

By Lauren Groff,

Book cover of Arcadia

The utopian dreams of the 60s died hard, and this beautiful novel captures the mood of the decade—and the forces that destroyed it. Set mostly in a back-to-the-land hippie community, the book centers on Bit, the first baby born to the settlers. It follows him through childhood and adolescence, and checks in on him on the cusp of middle age, a single father in New York City. Bit’s a sensitive soul, and I felt for him, especially when the story tracked his relationship with his first lover and later runaway wife, the self-destructive Helle. Groff’s expressive use of language, her feel for the natural world, and her deep sensitivity to the psychology of her characters marks this book as a classic not to be missed. 

Arcadia

By Lauren Groff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Arcadia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A staggering portrait of a crumbling utopia, this "timeless and vast" novel filled with the "raw beauty" beautifully depicts an idyllic commune in New York State -- and charts its eventual yet inevitable downfall (Janet Maslin, The New York Times).
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"Timeless and vast... The raw beauty of Ms. Groff's prose is one of the best things about Arcadia. But it is by no means this book's only kind of splendor."---Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Even the most incidental details vibrate with life Arcadia wends a harrowing path back to a fragile, lovely place you can…


Who am I?

I came of age during the tumult of the 1960s and 1970s. I stood more on the sidelines than at the burning center, so I’ve always wondered what it was like for those who did. That’s why I wrote my first novel, to go beyond the borders of my own experience. The 60s/70s era of political and sexual upheaval has reduced itself over time to a series of cliches. What I love about the books on my list is how willing they are to break through to real feelings and events and sensations. Hope you like them, too.


I wrote...

Nothing to Declare

By Richard Ravin,

Book cover of Nothing to Declare

What is my book about?

Sex. Drugs. Revolution. Grilled tuna.

What happens when you’re named next of kin to someone you haven’t spoken to for 15 years? Jesse Kerf’s got his life buttoned up: flash L.A. bistro, spiffy BMW, all-white condo with an ocean view. But his friend Marty’s death floors him, pulling him back to a past he’s tried to forget. Between Jesse’s long-ago love triangle, a trip that bounces him from Boston to Bali, and the weight of secrets held too long – he’s got a lot to handle. What really went down in the turbulent 1970s, when he and his friends were turning everything upside-down? To get his life together, Jesse must face not only who he was, but who he wants to be from now on.

The Crazy Man

By Pamela Porter,

Book cover of The Crazy Man

Twelve-year-old Emmaline and her mother are desperate for help with their farm and agree to take on Angus who has just been released from a hospital for patients with mental illness. At first they have the same fears and prejudice as people in town, but they come to learn that Angus is gentle and extremely knowledgeable. Thanks to him they have the best crop they’ve ever had. The most heroic point in the story is when one of the locals, Harry Record, leaves Angus far from town during a snowstorm with the expectation he will die. But as Angus struggles for safety he finds Harry’s little boy who was accidentally stranded in the storm and near death and gets him to the hospital in time to save his life. 

Quote: "That man is from the mental, stay away from him." 

This book was lovely to read because it was written…

The Crazy Man

By Pamela Porter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Crazy Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 1965, and 12-year-old Emaline, living on a wheat farm, must deal with a family that is falling apart. When her dog, Prince, chases a hare into the path of the tractor, she chases after him, and her father accidentally runs over her leg, leaving her with a long convalescence and a permanent disability. Even worse, from Emaline's point of view, is that in his grief and guilt, her father shoots Prince and leaves Emaline and her mother on their own.

Despite the neighbors' disapproval, Emaline's mother hires Angus, a patient from the local mental hospital, to work their…


Who am I?

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, when people were often uncomfortable with anyone who had a disability. My sister had Down syndrome and this drew a lot of negative attention. I struggled with being overprotective of her and often angry at those who treated her differently. When I grew up I became an advocate, not only for my sister, but for others who struggled with being accepted because of physical or developmental disabilities. Early on I worked in a pretty awful institution. What I learned there inspired my novel, Free as a Bird. Like my sister, I moved on to do other things, including archaeology, journalism, and teaching for 27 years.


I wrote...

Free as a Bird

By Gina McMurchy-Barber,

Book cover of Free as a Bird

What is my book about?

Sometimes a hero is someone who saves a stranded cat from a burning building. And sometimes a hero is someone who survives a life of neglect, abuse and ridicule but still finds joy in life and can love others. Such a hero is Ruby Jean Sharp. Ruby Jean was born with Down syndrome at time when being a mentally disabled person could mean growing up behind locked doors. As a child, her mother abandons her at Woodlands Institution. She must learn to survive isolation, boredom, and every kind of abuse. Just when she can hardly remember if she’s ever been happy, she learns a lesson about perserverance from an old crow.

Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature and five other book awards.

The Armageddon Rag

By George R.R. Martin,

Book cover of The Armageddon Rag

Before Game of Thrones became a cultural touchstone, Martin was known as much for his horror novels as for his fantasy. The Armageddon Rag follows the reunion of 1960s prog-rock legends The Nazgul, who broke up after their lead singer, Patrick Hobbins, was assassinated onstage. When a wealthy promoter introduces the surviving band members to a Hobbins doppelganger who seems to be possessed by the spirit of the late vocalist, it becomes apparent that the Nazgul are the unwitting center of a ritual to bring darkness to a world that rejected the light and love of the Sixties. Vivid characters, flower-child nostalgia, and an ominous vibe combine to make this an absorbing read.

The Armageddon Rag

By George R.R. Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Armageddon Rag as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Magic, music, drugs and rock'n'roll in an early novel from George R. R. Martin, author of A GAME OF THRONES

One-time underground journalist Sandy Blair has traveled far from his radical roots in the '60s - until the bizarre and brutal murder of a millionaire rock promoter draws him back. As Sandy sets out to investigate the crime, he finds himself on a magical mystery tour of the pent-up passions of his generation. For a new messiah has resurrected the once legendary rock band Nazgul - but with an apocalyptic new beat that is a requiem of demonism, mind control,…


Who am I?

An author who also runs an online shop, PZBaubles New Orleans, specializing in quirky vintage jewelry, occult curios, holy objects, rare Tarot decks, metaphysical parlor games, and more. Music has always been a huge inspiration to me, and bands often turn up in my fiction, the best-known probably being Lost Souls from the novel of the same name. I published and lived for twenty-odd years under the name Poppy Z. Brite, but now go by Billy Martin.


I wrote...

Courtney Love: The Real Story

By Poppy Z. Brite,

Book cover of Courtney Love: The Real Story

What is my book about?

Published in 1997, it’s an unauthorized but very inside biography of Courtney Love. One of the most vilified women in rock, I think she’s also one of the most interesting, and it was easy to tell her story as I would have written a novel. I examined her early life bouncing between reform schools and foster homes, her youthful travels as a stripper, actress, and musician, her marriage to Kurt Cobain, and her career with the band Hole.

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