Book to the Future: 1950s
Pick up your South West Reading Passport 2016: Book to the Future from your local library, read through the decades and win prizes from now until March 2017. Find out more on our Book to the Future blog post.
There are more suggestions in your passport, as well as on the South West Reading Passport website, but we’ve gathered a selection of books to get you started, either set in, or published in, the 1950s. You can also download a reading list here: 1950s
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958, this is the tragic tale of Okonkwo – the greatest warrior in West Africa, whose position in tribal society is threatened by European colonialism and his own inherent character flaws. This classic book was one of the first modern African novels in English to receive global critical acclaim, with Nelson Mandela calling Achebe “the writer in whose company prison walls fell down”.
Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 .Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns. Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books. Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity, and still has the power to dazzle and shock.
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Forget the Audrey Hepburn film – read the book! And meet Holly Golightly – a free-spirited, romantic girl about town with tousled blonde (yes, blonde) hair, dark glasses and chic black dresses whose exuberant personality hides a secret yearning. Written in 1958, Capote’s novella is a charming, wistful portrait of a woman who will capture your heart.
Graham Greene, The End of the Affair. Writing a review of this 1951 novel, Evelyn Waugh states that ‘Graham Greene has taken a domestic, romantic drama of the type of Brief Encounter and has transformed it in his own inimitable way’. Greene’s trademark themes of betrayal, guilt, sin and redemption are woven through this beautiful and moving account of a doomed affair. Read it and muse on what it is to be frail and human.
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea. Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway’s magnificent 1952 fable is the tale of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. This story of heroic endeavour won Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature, and stands as a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man’s challenge to the elements.
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. The best-known of Shirley Jackson’s books, and the inspiration for writers such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, The Haunting of Hill House is a powerful work of slow-burning psychological horror. King has called this 1954 novel “as nearly perfect a haunted-house tale as I have ever read”.
Jack Kerouac, On the Road. On the Road swings to the rhythms of 1950s underground America as young and innocent Sal Paradise joins the slightly crazed Dean Moriarty on a breathless, exuberant ride back and forth across the United States. Their hedonistic search for release or fulfilment through drink, sex, drugs and jazz becomes an exploration of personal freedom and a test of the limits of the American Dream. Bob Dylan said the novel “changed my life like it changed everyone else’s”.
Francoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse. Bonjour Tristesse scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager Cecile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility in favour of her own sexual freedom. Written when she was in her late teens, Sagan paints a picture of a summer idyll brought to an end in tragic circumstances.
Nevil Shute, On the Beach. Nevil Shute’s most powerful novel – a bestseller for decades after its 1957 publication – is an unforgettable vision of a post-apocalyptic world. After a nuclear blast has destroyed most of the world the few remaining survivors are in Australia, awaiting the radioactive cloud which is heading their way, bringing with it certain death. But then an intermittent Morse Code signal is picked up from the United States – surely nobody could have survived the blast? A submarine is dispatched to investigate… terrifying and intensely moving, Shute’s novel is a remarkably convincing portrait of ordinary people facing a nightmare future.
Muriel Spark, Momenti Mori. ‘”Remember you must die” said the voice on the telephone’. Dame Lettie Colston is the first of her circle to receive these anonymous calls, and she does not wish to be reminded of her mortality, nor do her friends and family, who also begin to get similar calls. As the tension mounts, instances of adultery and blackmail surface, and the characters delight in the frailties of others. Spark’s 1959 novel was termed by the Sunday Telegraph ‘a hilarious farce and one of English literature’s most moving portraits of old age’.
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time. Inspector Alan Grant becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the hunchback villain of popular history. With the help of the British Museum, Grant delves into the background of this enigmatic figure and attempts to solve the mystery of who killed the Princes in the Tower. First published in 1951, a year before the author’s death, this mix of history and mystery makes a compelling read and will make you question your understanding of the Tudors.