There are times when people like to jump back in time and experience what it felt like to be in a different era. Have you ever thought about the 1960s and the things that happened back then? One of the ways to relive those experiences is by reading novels. There are books that are read for entertainment and then left on the shelves for years. But there are some that stick around and read and re-read, and taught and discussed. Most of the time, novels become popular due to luck, or sometimes because they were able to recognize and capture some element of the culture of the time.
The 1960s is a very interesting decade. And if you want to learn more about it, let’s talk about the novels that became very popular back in those times. Here’s a list of the best-selling novels in the 1960s.
1. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)
This novel is a literary classic that made Philip Roth an international celebrity, and it sparked a storm of controversy over its explicit and candid treatment of sexuality. It is a continuous monologue of the character to his psychoanalyst. Many of this novel’s characteristics went on to become Roth’s trademarks. In 1998, this novel was ranked 52nd on Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It was also included in Time’s 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005.
2. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five has achieved cult status after its publication, which was in the middle of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement. It is a science-fiction also known as The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. It is about the life and experiences of Billy Pilgrim as an American soldier and chaplain’s assistant during the Second World War to the post-war years, with him infrequently traveling through time. The novel has been referred to as an example of unmatched moral clarity and among the most enduring novels of all time.
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969)
This is the first book by Maya Angelou, which is a memoir of her childhood. Upon its publication, it has become a bestseller. It is the first in a seven-volume series and a coming-of-age story that shows how the strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome trauma and racism. The story starts when Maya was three years old and sent to Stamps, Arkansas, with her older brother. It ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of 16. This novel was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and had been on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years.
4. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968)
This is a 1968 collection of essays that mainly describes the author’s experiences in California during the 1960s. The title of the book was taken from the poem “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats. This book was favorably received, and its popularity continued to grow, making it a phenomenon, having a devoted readership for many years. It was able to bring together some of the finest magazine pieces published by anyone in America in recent years.
5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
This is a non-fiction novel written by Truman Capote, and it was first published in 1966. This book contains the details about the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the little farming community in Holcomb, Kansas. Before the killers were captured, Capote learned of the quadruple murder. With this, he traveled to Kansas to write about the crime, together with his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee. They interviewed residents and investigators assigned to the case, which lead to thousands of pages of notes.
Truman Capote worked on the novel for six years before it was published, but it became an instant success. It is regarded by critics as a pioneering work in the true crime genre, even though it did not win the Pulitzer Prize.
6. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcom X and Alex Haley (1965)
This novel was published through the collaboration between human rights activist Malcolm X and journalist Alex Haley. It was co-authored by Haley based on a series of in-depth interviews that he made between 1963 and Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965. It is a spiritual conversion narrative that talks about the philosophy of Malcolm X about black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism. After he was killed, Alex Haley wrote the epilogue of the book.
When the book was published, it was described as a brilliant, painful, and important book. In 1967, a historian named John William Ward wrote that this novel would become a classic American autobiography. It was also among the ten required reading nonfiction books of Time in 1998.
7. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
This novel by Betty Friedan is widely credited with sparking the start of second-wave feminism in the United States. In 1957, the author conducted a survey of her former college classmates for their 15th-anniversary reunion. However, the results showed that most of them were unhappy with their lives as housewives. These results prompted her to start researching The Feminine Mystique. She interviewed housewives and researched psychology, media, and advertising. Originally, she wanted to create an article on the topic and not a book. However, no magazine would want to publish her article.
The novel became a bestselling non-fiction book in 1964, having more than a million copies sold. The author created the phrase “feminine mystique” to show the assumptions that women would be fulfilled from their housework, marriage, children, and sexual lives. She wanted to prove in this book that women were unsatisfied by afraid to voice out their feelings.
8. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (1961)
This is a science fiction novel written by American author Robert A. Heinlein. It is about Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth after being born on Mars and raised by Martians. It explores his interactions with and the eventual transformation of Terran culture. The working title of this novel was “A Martian Named Smith,” which was also the name of the screenplay that was started by a character at the end of the novel.
In 1991, Heinlein’s widow arranged to have the original unedited manuscript published, which was three years after Robert died. It was named by the Library of Congress as one of the 88 books that shaped America in 2021.
9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
This one is a satirical war novel by Joseph Heller. He started writing the novel in 1953, and it was first published in 1961. Catch-22 is often cited as one of the most significant novels of the 20th century. Its narration uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person all-seeing narration. The novel is about the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and it is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. In 1970, this novel was made into a film adaptation. A sequel is published in 1994 titled “Closing Time.”
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
This is a novel written by Harper Lee. When it was published in 1960, it became successful instantly. It is widely read in high schools and middle schools in the United States. It is a classic of modern American literature, and it had also won the Pulitzer Prize. The plot and characters of this novel were based on the author’s observations of her family, neighbors, and an event that happened near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 1936, when she was ten years old. Even though this novel tackles issues of rape and racial inequality, it is renowned for its humor and warmth. The narrator’s father in this novel, Atticus Finch, has become a moral hero for a lot of readers, and as well as a model of integrity for lawyers.
These are some of the best-selling novels in the 1960s. Up until today, some of these novels are still loved by many, no matter what year they are from. These are timeless classics that many people love to reread many times over.