13 books that turn 25 this year and why they still matter

Covers of Annie Proulx's The Shipping News
Category: Reading

Remarkably for those who lived through it, 25 years have passed since 1992. 

The year marked the formal end of the Cold War, but the start of the Yugoslavian conflict. John Major won a shock election victory, and Bill Clinton swung, sax in hand, into the White House.  Simply Red's Stars was the UK's most popular album and Robin Williams' genie, Whitney Houston's superstar voice and Sharon Stone's leg-cross were packing them in at the cinema.

Perhaps not a vintage year then, culturally, until you look at the fiction and non-fiction titles that hit bookshop shelves that year. We've taken a look at a selection at some of 1992's year's most notable releases and had a wee think about why these books matter.

We realise that some big releases are missing. Books such as Angels in America by Tony Kushner, Clockers by Richard Price, Fatherland by Robert Harris and Diana: Her True Story by Andrew Morton. Please add your misty-eyed reflections on these and other books from 92 in the comments below.  

Blurbs written by Leila Cruickshank (LC - @GirlofBooks), Helen Croney (HC - @HelenCroney) and Danny Scott (DS - @ASimpleDan)

The Secret History by Donna Tartt book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Perhaps the books that date best over the years are those that convey a snapshot of time or place. The Secret History captures the cloistered world of an elite Vermont university with its peculiar rules and out of time atmosphere, plus the intellectual snobbery and adolescent self-obsession only achievable by undergraduates. Starting with a murder confession, The Secret History works up to the actual act throughout a story packed with Greek drama, including Bacchanalian orgies, incest, fate and blackmail. (LC)

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby's autobiographical essay was the author's first book. Since then Fever Pitch has gone on to net two adaptations on either side of the pond, and its author's bibliography has grown to include High Fidelity and About a Boy - as well as the screenplays for Brooklyn and Wild. Fever Pitch won the 1992 William Hill Sports Book of the Year and Arsenal (the team Nick so lovingly supports) included it with their season ticket for their final season at the old Highbury stadium in 2005-06. The book stands the test of time as a heartfelt account of what it means to be a fan of a team. It also endures as a document of what English football was like before the Premier League began, in the same year it was published. (DS)

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

The Shipping News is famous for having an incredibly unlikeable hero. A quoyle is a knot 'made... so [he] may be walked on', and Quoyle lives up to this unfortunate name, while simultaneously being slow, dull-witted and unprepossessingly ugly. However, Proulx demonstrates that everyone, not just the beautiful, clever and lucky characters who populate the pages of most novels, is worthy of consideration and self-respect – an excellent message for our appearance-obsessed times. (LC)

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus Cover

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, first published in 1992 and written by American author and relationship counsellor John Gray, went on to become the highest ranked work of non-fiction in the 90s. The book has now sold more than 15 million copies and spent 121 weeks on the bestseller list during its lifetime. Its central argument is that most relationship problems stem from fundamental psychological differences between men and women. Gray employed the now legendary central metaphor to argue his case that men and women come from different planets, with different customs and values, and offered insight and advice to help these two cultures form lasting bonds. Twenty-five years on, the book is still selling well and claiming to help thousands of people to find or build satisfying relationships. It even has its own website. (HC)

 
Poor Things by Alasdair Gray
 

Poor Things by Alasdair Gray

Poor Things came as a surprise to critics. Alasdair Gray had spent the years hitherto its release proclaiming the death of his imagination before, in 1992, he released what The London Review of Books called his ‘funniest… most high-spirited… least uneven’ book. A postmodern take on Frankenstein, the Whitbread and Guardian Fiction Prize-winning novel replaces Frankenstein's monster with the erotomaniac Bella Baxter who has, allegedly, been brought back to life by scientist Godwin Baxter. Alasdair Gray tells her tale through fictitious found documents from both Bella and her second husband Dr Archibald McCandless. Alasdair Gray also prefaces the novel and provides anatomy illustrations through the book under the pseudonym William Strang. Following the success of another Scottish history/found documents book in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, now would be the perfect time to revisit one of Scotland's most celebrated authors' most popular works. (DS)

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Jazz by Toni Morrison

The middle book of the trilogy including Beloved and Paradise, Jazz explodes the idea that sequels don't live up to the original. When Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature the year after this novel was published, the judges said Morrison 'in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality' – by which they meant that weren't enough books about the histories of black people in America. And sadly, in 2016, this bias still exists. (LC)

The Crow Road by Iain Banks cover

The Crow Road by Iain Banks

Arguably, The Crow Road is best known for having one of the greatest opening lines ever written: 'It was the day my grandmother exploded'. Iain Banks' much-loved Bildungsroman is set in 1990 and follows Scottish student Prentice McHoan's attempts to discover what has happened to his errant uncle, Rory, who disappeared years before. The book doesn't follow a regular timeline, instead jumping back and forward between the present and the past, exploring characters from Prentice's unconventional family in the fictional Argyll town of Gallanach. The Crow Road was adapted for television by the BBC in 1996, the very first of Banks' novels to be adapted for the screen, going on to win three BAFTAS, including Best Drama Series. It was recently voted for as the 3rd best Scottish book-to-screen adaptation of all time in a public poll. (HC)

 

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Sometimes seminal works can seem stale to the reader who has spent years reading books inspired by them. This fate might have befallen Neal Stephenson's cyberpunk-parody Snow Crash – named by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the all-time best 100 English language novels written since 1923. However, if you want to find out where the internet term 'avatar' came from, turn to Stephenson's prescient tale of a new computer virus that's taking out hackers everywhere. In it, Hiro Protagonist must race along neon-lit streets to try and bring down the virtual villain whose goal is an 'infocalypse'. Snow Crash took its name from a failure mode on early Apple Macs and its influence on a generation of computer nerds is well documented. Indeed, many virtual globe programmes, like Google Earth, resemble fictional software in Stephenson's novel – with one Google Earth co-founder actually referencing the novel as an inspiration for the programme. (DS)

 
Electric Brae by Andrew Greig

Electric Brae by Andrew Greig

Andrew Greig's 'modern romance without heather or hardmen' was heralded as a breath of fresh air and a welcome change of direction from the gritty urban realism of many Scottish writers of the time. In the same year as Kevin Williamson was releasing Rebel Inc., across town Andrew Greig was releasing his tale about oil rig engineer Jimmy Renilson. Renilson balances a stormy love affair with rock climbing in wild landscapes. Along with his buddy, Graeme, Jimmy's ambition is to climb the Old Man of Hoy. This study of intimacy plays out against a vividly realised backdrop of remote Scottish landscapes, and those disenfranchised by Thatcherite politics. The List named Andrew Greig's debut as one of the 100 Best Scottish Books of All Time, stating: 'Electric Brae features the density, scope and page-turning intensity of a true modern epic and there are surely few contemporary novelists who can explore the big themes of love, death and loss in language that is so spare and beautiful.' Why not read/re-read it for its 25th birthday? (DS)

All the pretty horses by Cormac McCarthy cover

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses is the sixth novel by American author Cormac McCarthy. It was an international bestseller, winning both the U.S. National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. The first of McCarthy's Border Trilogy, it tells the story of a young rancher who heads off for a dangerous adventure along the Texas–Mexico border. The book was adapted for the silver screen in 2000, directed by Billy Bob Thornton and starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz. (HC)

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje book cover

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Winner of the Booker Prize and the Governor General's Award in 1992, The English Patient became a film starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas in 1996 and won nine Academy Awards. The beautiful prose that gave the book its place on the Booker Prize list certainly hasn't dated over the years. What's more, the way the novel looks at the myths of national identity and the ways the characters react to the patient as they begin to unpick his 'Englishness' seems more relevant than ever in post-Brexit Britain. (LC)

Women Who Run With the Wolves cover

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Women Who Run With the Wolves, written by post-trauma specialist Clarissa Pinkola Estes, investigates the 'wild woman', the wise and ageless presence in the female psyche that gives women their creativity, energy and power. In her 1992 book, still in print today, the Jungian analyst and cantadora (keeper of the old stories) offers advice on how women can restore their vitality, using multicultural myths, fairy tales, folk tales, and stories as inspiration. The book was on The New York Times' bestseller list for 145 weeks, and received a Book of the Year Honor Award from the American Booksellers Association. (HC)

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson Walker

Twenty-five years after it first opened its pages, this charming story, inspired by a lost girl in a supermarket, still has the power to attract children and parents alike. The story of three baby owls whose mother has gone away and hasn't returned, the book has pathos, drama and a great sense of family bonds, especially when expressed through the medium of three owl siblings, one of whom only says 'I want my mummy' in tones of increasing worry. As beautifully reassuring now as it was in 1992. (LC)

Read our recent interview with Martin Waddell on the inspiration behind Owl Babies, and his tips on sharing it with little ones. 

 

Looking for a new, or old, read? Visit our book lists for loads for fantastic places to start a new reading journey.

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