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10 Notable Books Turning 50 This Year

How many have you read?

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 14, 2024

The popular culture of an era often says something about the character of the time it inhabits. Today, we’re revisiting ten of the most notable books turning fifty this year. Some of these 1974 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 shelves.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

This popular espionage novel follows the endeavors of taciturn, aging spymaster George Smiley to uncover a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. The novel was praised for its complex social commentary, as well as its relevance, following the high-profile defection of a British Intelligence officer. The first in a series, it has been adapted into both a 1979 TV series and a 2011 film.

Jaws by Peter Benchley

The success of this thriller may have been somewhat eclipsed by the Stephen Spielberg-directed blockbuster adaptation that came out just a year later, but the novel was a bonafide hit spending 44 weeks on the bestseller list. It is the story of a murderous great white shark who turns a tranquil beach town into a nightmare zone. The plot in the book is more complex and layered than that of the film.

Carrie by Stephen King

The first novel from the King of horror, this is the story of an abused and bullied teenage girl who develops telekinetic powers. When she is the subject of a cruel prank at the high school prom, she unleashes her supernatural wrath on her unsuspecting tormentors, destroying the entire town. The horror classic has inspired several adaptations, including Brian de Palma's 1976 film.  

All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward 

One of Time's All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books, this exposé changed the course of American history. Two Washington Post reporters, whose brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation smashed the Watergate scandal wide open, deliver a riveting first-hand account of their reporting. A 1976 film adaptation stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the two intrepid journalists.   

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

This novel is one of just a few books to win Best Novel for all three major sci-fi awards: Hugo, Locus, and Nebula. Part of the Hainish Cycle Series, this is the story of Shevek, a brilliant physicist determined to reunite the isolated anarchist, utopian Anarres with its mother planet, Urras. This tenuous goal is threatened by  centuries of distrust and profound conflict.  

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

This heartbreaking love story is set in early-1970s Harlem. Tish is a 19-year-old girl engaged to Fonny, a 22-year-old sculptor. She is newly pregnant when Fonny is incarcerated after being falsely accused of rape. Their families rally to clear his name and, facing an uncertain future, the lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions. The movie inspired an Oscar-winning 2018 film

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

This revolutionary book, the first in a series, offers a powerful, moving examination of how we live and a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. It is the story of a father and his young son taking a summer motorcycle trip across America's Northwest. The narrative, both touching and transcendent, represents a personal and philosophical odyssey into life's fundamental questions. 

Burr by Gore Vidal

Decades before Lin Manuel Miranda's musical hit Broadway, this bestselling novel, the first in a series, told the story of Aaron Burr. The man who killed Alexander Hamilton was a successful, if often feared, statesman of our fledgling nation. It is an extraordinary portrait of one of the most complicated—and misunderstood—figures among the Founding Fathers. 

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

This whimsical, and somewhat provocative, collection of children's poetry, stories, and drawings has been cherished by generations of readers. From a boy who turns into a TV set and a girl who eats a whale to flying shoes and crocodiles visiting the dentist, the wonderfully inventive volume stretches the bounds of imagination, teases social implications, and invites flights of fancy. 

Centennial by James Michener

Written to commemorate the Bicentennial in 1976, this saga is an enthralling celebration of the frontier. Brimming with the glory of America's past, the story of Colorado—the Centennial State—is manifested through its people, including trappers, traders, homesteaders, gold seekers, ranchers, and hunters. The action-packed story was made into a popular twelve-part miniseries

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

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