21 Unforgettable Books From The 80s

The 1980s was a decade of great creativity and innovation in the world of literature. Many classic works of fiction were published during this time, capturing the imagination of readers and becoming beloved staples of popular culture.

21 Unforgettable Books From The 1980s

From timeless coming-of-age tales to thrilling mystery novels, the books of the 1980s offer something for everyone. In this list, we’ll explore 21 of the most memorable books from the 1980s, showcasing the diversity of styles, themes, and perspectives that defined this decade of literature.

Whether you’re a lifelong fan or discovering these books for the first time, these 21 memorable works are sure to captivate and inspire you.

21 Most Memorable Books From The 1980s

Here is a list of 21 memorable books from the 1980s:

The Color Purple By Alice Walker (1982)

The Color Purple: A Novel

The Color Purple” by Alice Walker is a powerful and moving novel set in rural Georgia in the early 20th century. It tells the story of Celie, a young black woman who has been oppressed and abused by the men in her life, including her father and husband.

Despite these hardships, Celie finds the strength and resilience to forge her own path and build a new life for herself.

Along the way, she forms deep and meaningful relationships with other women, including her sister Nettie and her best friend Shug, who help her find her voice and reclaim her dignity.


  • A powerful and engaging story.
  • Female bonds are explored well here.


  • Very distressing scenes throughout the book.

The Silence Of The Lambs By Thomas Harris (1988)

The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter)

The Silence of the Lambs” is a psychological thriller novel by Thomas Harris, first published in 1988.

The book follows FBI trainee Clarice Sterling as she works with the brilliant but imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter to catch the elusive serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

As Clarice delves deeper into the case, she is drawn into the dark and twisted mind of Dr. Lecter, who becomes both a mentor and a threat to her.

Through a series of tense and suspenseful encounters, Clarice must navigate the dangerous waters of the criminal underworld and her own psychological demons to bring Buffalo Bill to justice.


  • Fast moving.
  • Very scary in parts.


  • Gory in parts.

Bright Lights, Big City By Jay McInerney (1984)

Bright Lights, Big City

“Bright Lights, Big City” is a novel by Jay McInerney, first published in 1984. The book is a classic of 1980s literature and is set in New York City during the era of excess and excessiveness.

The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, a young man who works at a fact-checking job at a magazine, and who is struggling to find meaning and purpose in his life.

The narrator is a chronic party-goer and a user of drugs, and the book explores his downward spiral as he becomes increasingly detached from reality and his own sense of self.

Despite the excesses of his lifestyle, the narrator finds solace in his relationships with his friends and family, and in his quest to find a meaningful connection with others.


  • Very descriptive throughout.
  • Good exploration of relationships between the characters.


  • There isn’t as much focus on the plot as on the emotion of the characters.

The Handmaid’s Tale By Margaret Atwood (1985)

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale” is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, first published in 1985.

Set in a near-future America that has been taken over by a totalitarian regime known as the Sons of Jacob, the book tells the story of Offred, a handmaid who is assigned to bear children for a wealthy couple.

The regime has stripped women of their rights and assigned them to specific roles based on their abilities, with handmaids being the only ones allowed to have children in a world where fertility is declining.

Offred’s life is one of servitude and oppression, and she struggles to maintain her humanity and hope in a society that values her only for her reproductive abilities.


  • Builds a dystopian world beautifully.
  • The jumps between time periods are handled well.


  • Some of the scenes are distressing to read.

It By Stephen King (1986)

It: A Novel

It” is a horror novel by Stephen King, first published in 1986. The story takes place in the small town of Derry, Maine, and revolves around seven children who band together to face a powerful and evil entity that has taken the form of a clown named Pennywise. 

The entity has been preying on the children of Derry for centuries and can manipulate and feed on their fears.

The children, who call themselves “The Losers Club,” must overcome their personal demons and work together to defeat Pennywise and end its reign of terror.


  • Genuinely scary.
  • The bonds of friendship are explored well.


  • Some readers found the ending disappointing.

Beloved By Toni Morrison (1987)

Beloved (Vintage Classics)

Beloved” is a novel by Toni Morrison published in 1987. The novel is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War and is centered on the life of a former slave, Sethe, who lives with her daughter Denver in Ohio.

Sethe is haunted by the ghost of her deceased baby, Beloved, who died soon after being born. The novel explores themes of slavery, loss, and the legacy of trauma.

Through the character of Beloved, Morrison examines the pain and suffering caused by slavery, and the psychological scars it leaves on those who have lived through it.

The book also deals with the idea of motherhood and the lengths a mother will go to protect her children, as well as the love, sacrifice, and resilience of the human spirit.


  • Depicts slavery and its after effects well.
  • The characters are lifelike and well-developed.


  • The dialect can take some time to decipher when first reading.

The Bonfire Of The Vanities By Tom Wolfe (1987)

The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities” is a novel by Tom Wolfe, published in 1987. The novel is set in New York City in the 1980s and follows the story of Sherman McCoy, a wealthy bond trader, and his fall from grace.

Sherman finds himself caught up in a series of events that ultimately leads to his downfall, after a hit-and-run accident involving his car and a black youth in the Bronx.

The novel takes a satirical look at the social, political, and cultural landscape of New York City and the characters that inhabit it, including Sherman, his wife, his mistress, and the various journalists, politicians, and lawyers that become involved in his case.

The novel is a commentary on the greed and decadence of the wealthy elite, as well as the racial tensions and class conflicts that exist in society.


  • Portrays New York in the 1980s beautifully.
  • Lots of enjoyable humor.


  • Some readers found the book overly wordy.

Blood Meridian By Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

“Blood Meridian” is a novel by Cormac McCarthy, published in 1985. The novel is set in the mid-19th century and follows the journey of a teenage runaway referred to only as “the Kid.”

He joins a group of scalp hunters led by a mysterious and enigmatic figure known as “the judge,” who is rumored to be a devil. The group travels through the American Southwest, participating in acts of violence and killing against Native American tribes.


  • The Kid is an interesting character.
  • Interestingly explores humanity.


  • Very violent in parts.

Norwegian Wood By Haruki Murakami (1987)

Norwegian Wood

“Norwegian Wood” is a novel by Haruki Murakami, published in 1987. The novel is set in Tokyo in the late 1960s and is a coming-of-age story about a college student named Toru Watanabe.

The story is told from his perspective as he navigates the complexities of young love and adult relationships.

Toru is torn between his love for two women: the reserved, traditional Naoko and the lively and independent Midori. The novel explores themes of love, loss, and the search for meaning in life.


  • The relationships between the characters are explored well.
  • Love is depicted accurately.


  • A little slow in places.

Midnight’s Children By Salman Rushdie (1981)

Midnight's Children: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels)

“Midnight’s Children” is a novel by Salman Rushdie, published in 1981. The novel is set in India and follows the story of Saleem Sinai, a young man born at the stroke of midnight on the day of India’s independence from British rule.

Saleem is one of 1,000 children born at that exact moment who are said to possess magical abilities and are destined to shape the future of India.

The novel is a sweeping epic that spans several decades and follows Saleem’s life as he navigates the tumultuous events of Indian history, including the partition of India, the conflict with Pakistan, and the rise of Indira Gandhi.


  • Lots of information and plot in the book.
  • Explores colonial rule in India well.


  • Quite long.

A Brief History Of Time By Stephen Hawking (1988)

A Brief History of Time

“A Brief History of Time” is a popular science book written by physicist Stephen Hawking, first published in 1988.

The book provides an overview of the history of cosmology and the fundamental laws of the universe and explains complex scientific concepts in a clear and accessible manner.

Hawking begins by explaining the history of our understanding of the universe, starting with the ancient Greeks and continuing through the discoveries of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein.

He then delves into the principles of general relativity, black holes, and the Big Bang theory, and explores the possibility of time travel and the existence of multiple universes.


  • Very informative.
  • The principles of relativity are explained well.


  • Some of the language is hard to understand.

The Satanic Verses By Salman Rushdie (1988)

The Satanic Verses

“The Satanic Verses” is a novel by Salman Rushdie, published in 1988.

The book is a work of magical realism that combines elements of history, myth, and fantasy to tell the story of two Indian actors, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, who fall from a hijacked plane and are transformed into angels.

The novel explores themes of immigration, identity, and the relationship between religion and politics.


  • Full of rich culture.
  • The characters are interesting.


  • Difficult in parts to understand.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love By Raymond Carver (1981)

What We Talk about When We Talk about Love

This title is a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver, first published in 1981. The book contains some of Carver’s most well-known stories, including “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and “Cathedral.”

The stories are characterized by their spare, minimalist style and their focus on working-class characters struggling with relationships, alcoholism, and other forms of personal crisis.

In each story, Carver examines the complexities of human emotions and relationships, often exploring the struggles of characters who find it hard to connect with others or find meaning in their lives.


  • Relationships between characters are explored deeply.
  • Varied short stories.


  • Some of the stories are very short.

Love In The Time Of Cholera By Gabriel García Márquez (1985)

Love in the Time of Cholera (Oprah's Book Club)

“Love in the Time of Cholera” is a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, first published in 1985. The novel is set in South America and follows the story of a man named Florentino Ariza, who is passionately in love with Fermina Daza.

However, Fermina marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a wealthy and respected man, and Florentino must wait for her for more than fifty years, through several affairs and a long period of celibacy, before he can finally win her back.

The novel is a meditation on love, aging, and the passage of time, and is known for its lyrical and magical realist style, as well as its incorporation of elements of Colombian history and culture.

The book has been widely acclaimed for its exploration of the enduring power of love and the resilience of the human heart.


  • Excellent narration.
  • The book keeps you guessing and engaged throughout.


  • Some readers found the ending unsatisfying.

The Bourne Identity By Robert Ludlum (1980)

Robert Ludlum The Bourne Trilogy 3 Books Set Pack

The Bourne Identity” is a spy thriller novel written by Robert Ludlum and first published in 1980. The book follows the story of Jason Bourne, a man who wakes up in the Mediterranean Sea with amnesia and two bullet wounds.

He is unable to remember his past or why he is being hunted by assassins.

As Bourne tries to piece together his past and uncover his true identity, he becomes embroiled in a web of international espionage and political intrigue, involving governments, intelligence agencies, and assassins.

He must use his combat training and survival skills to stay one step ahead of his pursuers and discover the truth about his past.


  • Lots of action.
  • Mystery and intrigue build well throughout the book.


  • Some readers found elements unrealistic.

The Prince Of Tides By Pat Conroy (1986)

The Prince of Tides: A Novel

The Prince of Tides” is a novel by Pat Conroy, first published in 1986. The book tells the story of Tom Wingo, a former high school football coach from South Carolina who travels to New York to help his sister, Savannah, who has attempted suicide.

As Tom begins to explore his family’s troubled past, he reveals the story of his childhood, including his abusive father and the complicated relationships among his siblings.

The novel is a complex exploration of family dynamics, mental illness, and the impact of childhood trauma on adult life.

Conroy uses Tom’s memories and experiences to paint a vivid portrait of the South Carolina Lowcountry and its people and to delve into themes of love, loss, and the search for healing and redemption.


  • Beautiful use of language.
  • Tugs on your heartstrings.


  • Some of the language is overly sweet in parts.

The Cider House Rules By John Irving (1985)

The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules” is a novel by John Irving, first published in 1985. The book is set in rural Maine and follows the story of Homer Wells, an orphan who grows up in an orphanage and becomes a doctor.

Despite his success as a physician, Homer is restless and longs for a sense of purpose and belonging.

The novel explores several themes, including the ethics of abortion, the complexities of family and relationships, and the struggle for personal freedom and independence.


  • Tackles sensitive subjects well.
  • The storyline is written beautifully.


  • Quite a long book.

Neuromancer By William Gibson (1984)

Neuromancer (Sprawl Trilogy)

“Neuromancer” is a science fiction novel by William Gibson, first published in 1984. The book is set in a dystopian future and is considered to be a seminal work in the cyberpunk genre.

The story follows the journey of a washed-up computer hacker named Case, who is recruited by a mysterious employer to pull off a seemingly impossible virtual heist.

As Case travels through the virtual world of cyberspace, he encounters a variety of characters, including a powerful artificial intelligence, a deadly street samurai, and a powerful, elusive entity known as the matrix.

Through his adventures, he uncovers a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of corporate and political power.

“Neuromancer” is known for its innovative use of technology and its depiction of a bleak future where corporations hold immense power and the line between the virtual and the real has become blurred.


  • Interesting and complex.
  • Technology is incorporated well.


  • Some of the concepts can be tricky to grasp.

The House On Mango Street By Sandra Cisneros (1983)

The House on Mango Street

“The House on Mango Street” is a novel by Sandra Cisneros, first published in 1983.

The book is a collection of vignettes and short stories that explore the experiences of a young Chicana girl named Esperanza Cordero growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago.

Through her observations and experiences, Esperanza reflects on the complexities of identity, community, and the search for a sense of belonging.

The book is noted for its lyrical and powerful voice, as well as its vivid depiction of the experiences of Latina women and the issues of poverty, gender, and racism that they face.


  • Very emotional.
  • The characters are well-developed.


  • Parts of the book are hard to read.

The Joy Luck Club By Amy Tan (1989)

The Joy Luck Club: A Novel

“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan, published in 1989, is a novel about the relationships between four Chinese-American mothers and their American-born daughters.

The book explores the themes of cultural identity, immigration, and the struggle to understand and connect across generations.

Through a series of interconnected vignettes, Tan portrays the experiences of these women and the complex emotions that arise as they navigate their relationships with each other and their shared heritage.


  • Lots of detailed background information.
  • The bond between mothers and daughters is explored well.


  • It can be difficult to keep track of all the characters.

Ender’s Game By Orson Scott Card (1985)

Ender's Game (The Ender Saga, 1)

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, published in 1985, is a science fiction novel set in the future, in which humanity is threatened by an alien race known as the Buggers.

The book follows the story of a young boy named Ender Wiggin, who is trained to become a commander in the military’s fight against the Buggers.

“Ender’s Game” is a classic of the science fiction genre and is known for its exploration of themes of war, leadership, and the morality of violence.


  • Explores the dark side of human nature well.
  • The characters are well-developed.


  • Some readers did not enjoy the use of children throughout the book.

How To Choose Books From The 1980s?

Choosing books from the 1980s can be a great way to explore the literature of that decade and get a sense of the cultural and social trends of that time period. Here are some tips for choosing books from the 1980s:

Check Out Bestseller Lists

One way to find popular books from the 1980s is to look at bestseller lists from that decade. You can find lists from that time period online, or check out books about the history of publishing to see which titles were selling well.

Look For Award-Winning Books

Another way to find great books from the 1980s is to look for books that won awards during that decade. The Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Booker Prize are all prestigious awards that were given out during the 1980s.

Explore Genres

The 1980s saw the rise of many different literary genres, including science fiction, horror, and fantasy. If you have a favorite genre, look for books from that time period in that genre.

Final Thoughts

The 1980s was a decade of great creativity and innovation in the world of literature. The 21 memorable books highlighted in this list showcase the diverse themes, styles, and perspectives that defined this exciting time in publishing.

From timeless coming-of-age tales to thrilling mystery novels, these books continue to captivate and inspire readers of all ages.

Whether you’re a longtime fan or discovering these books for the first time, they offer a window into the unique cultural and literary landscape of the 1980s.

These memorable books are a testament to the enduring power of literature and the impact that great storytelling can have on our lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Were The 1980s A Great Decade For Literature?

The 1980s were a great decade for literature due to several factors. There was an increase in the number of publishers, leading to a wider range of literary works being published.

The rise of literary movements such as postmodernism, magic realism, and multiculturalism led to a diverse and experimental body of work.

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Noah Burton