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10 Notable Books Turning 50 This Year

How Many Have You Read?

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 03, 2023

The popular books of an era often say something about the character of the time they inhabit. Today, we’re revisiting some of the most notable reads, for a range of ages, from half a century ago. Some of these 1973 titles tapped into the cultural zeitgeist of that moment in history. Others offer something universal that speaks to us all. Whatever the reason, they still have a place on our bookshelves.


Protagonists Sula and Nel are two Black women living in a small Ohio town. From their close-knit childhood in the early 1900s, the story traces the sharply divergent paths they take as women. At times brutal and dark, the second novel by Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison creates an unforgettable portrait of what it means and costs to be a Black woman in America.

The Princess Bride

Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate William Goldman's modern fantasy classic with anything other than Rob Reiner's sweet, celluloid romance, but fans of the book maintain that the movie misses the point (not to mention a lot of the action). Set in 1941, the novel is framed as a retelling of a centuries-old tale.

A Wind in the Door

Madeleine L'Engle won the Newbery Medal for her 1962 YA fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time, but it would be over a decade before she published this sequel to what would eventually become her Time Quintet. Here, Meg is again embarking on an otherworldly mission to save a family member, this time her little brother Charles Wallace who has fallen deathly ill.

Breakfast of Champions

Known for his darkly humorous perspective, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was a vocal critic of American society. His experimental seventh novel traces the cross-country journey of the long-suffering writer Kilgore Trout as he travels to attend an arts festival in a gritty Midwestern town. The satirical tale is peppered with barbs on contemporary American maladies like war, consumerism, racism, and pollution.

A Taste of Blackberries

Many of us remember crying when we first read this middle-grade novel about a boy grieving the death of his best friend. Initially rejected by publishers who thought it was too dark for young readers, the book was finally released to wide acclaim by readers and critics alike who appreciated Doris Buchanan Smith's sensitive and honest portrayal of a child's capacity for emotional depth.

Gravity's Rainbow

Winner of the National Book Award, this postmodern epic has been compared favorably to Joyce's Ulysses. Thomas Pynchon is noted for his dense and complex novels and this sprawling encyclopedic narrative is no exception. The wartime saga traverses the boundaries between high and low culture, literary propriety and profanity, and science and speculative metaphysics.

The Dark is Rising

Decades before Harry Potter, there was Will, the eleven-year-old protagonist of this middle-grade fantasy, who learns that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals who protect the world from evil. At once, he is plunged into a quest for six magical Signs to aid in the battle between the Dark and the Light. This is the second book in Susan Cooper's award-winning series.

The Dance Hall of the Dead: A Leaphorn & Chee Novel

This is the second book in Tony Hillerman's celebrated crime fiction series featuring Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police. Here, the detective is enlisted when two Native American boys disappear, leaving a pool of blood behind them. Hillerman's series has been adapted for the screen several times including, the 1991 film Dark Wind and the current AMC series Dark Winds.

Rubyfruit Jungle

Gloria Steinem called this novel, "The rare work of fiction that has changed real life." Rita Mae Brown tells the story of Molly Bolt, the adopted daughter of a poor family who knows early in childhood that she is gay. With her startling beauty and crackling wit, Molly finds that women are drawn to her wherever she goes—and she refuses to apologize for loving them back.

Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction

Although it was written ostensibly for children, this Caldecott winner appeals to anyone who has ever marveled at the sight of grand medieval cathedrals. With minimal text and intricate pen-and-ink drawings, David Macauley transports readers back to the year 1252, showing the step-by-step, 80-year construction of the fictional Cathedral of Chutreaux.

Whether these books are new to you or favorites from your past, join us in celebrating their continued relevance and resonance after fifty years! How many have you read?

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