Five Books, Five Decades (1970-2010)

I blatantly stole this idea from book blogger Gordon at Grab This Book, who invites crime authors every week to share five books, one from each of the last five decades, which they think should really be in everyone’s library. I thought that no one will invite me to do such a thing (at least not for the foreseeable future), so I might as well create my own post. Besides, it fits in rather nicely with my own five decades of life. I won’t stick to crime fiction, but will try to limit to books that I have on my shelves.


This is a toss-up between two books which actually have a lot in common: Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva (1972) and Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights (1979). Both are very short, both are a sort of stream of consciousness or philosophising about the minutiae of everyday life and the artist, especially the woman artist, and the sacrifices she still had to make to be able to create freely (and possibly still has, even now, fifty years later). Lispector’s novel was translated by Stefan Tobler in 2012.


I haven’t dared to reread this book, but back then it really changed my world; it was a sort of sexual awakening for me, all the more so because it weaved politics into love, and was forbidden in Romania for most of that decade. Which always makes a book irresistible: Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). Translation: Michael Henry Heim.


Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseille trilogy was all published during the 1990s, with my favourite, the middle volume Chourmo appearing in 1996. This is the dirty, smelly, criminal Marseille before its facelift (and City of Culture status) – yet full of colour, rhythms, diverse cultures, fully alive. Howard Curtis translated this work for Europa Editions, reissued a couple of years ago.


Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel (2002) is one of those romantic novels which I supposedly don’t enjoy. I loved this very loose adaptation of Wuthering Heights set in Japan, which skilfully blends a social fresco of post-war Japan with a timeless love story. I most certainly want to reread it. Translation: Juliet Winters Carpenter.


This is the decade that I started blogging and reviewing for other sites, so I discovered a lot of new authors and read more new releases than ever before. One author who really bowled me over when I first read her, even before she won the Nobel Prize, was Olga Tokarczuk, but the two books that have been published in English translation were both published in the original in the previous decade, so I cannot use that. I will therefore alight upon Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen, Ging, Gegangen (2015), which describes so well the fear of refugees flooding one’s country and the consequences of that, which have pretty much marked (and scarred) this past decade. You can find it translated as Go Went Gone by Susan Bernofsky for Granta.

As I prepared this post, I realised two things:

A. I cannot resist cheating, so I snuck in six books rather than five (or even more, if you count the trilogy as three separate books).

B. A lot of my favourites are older than the 1970s, so I will probably create another one for the 1920-1960 period.

21 thoughts on “Five Books, Five Decades (1970-2010)”

  1. Love this idea – I may steal it 😂. I will check out some of these books, as most of them I have not heard of before!

    1. That”s music to any booklover’s ears of course, the idea that I might have tempted you to check out any of these books. Of course, I’m not claiming that they are the best of each decade, but simply the ones that came most readily to mind. And please do steal the idea, would love to see what you come up with!

  2. This is a nicely varied bunch of books! I was impressed by the Erpenback although preferred The End of Days. Coincidentally, I’m about to post the latest in a series of Five Books… I do every so often. It’s an enjoyable feature to put together, isn’t it.

    1. Still haven’t read End of Days by Erpenbeck, so I’ve got that to look forward to. The problem is I want to read her in German, so that is a bit expensive to get books bought and shipped over from Germany. I do have her Visitation on my shelf.

  3. Marvellous. I’m ashamed not to have read a single one, nor even heard of all of them. I might steal this idea too – though getting my books into date order might be the first problem!

    1. I had to search long and hard on my bookshelves, because many of the books that I thought dated from the 1970s or 80s were in fact from the 1960s or even earlier…

  4. What have you started? We’re all going to be stealing this idea and adapting it for our own purposes, but it’s on your shoulders that you’ve turned us all into kleptomaniacs! I might take a cue from Shakespeare and call mine Seven Ages, a title for each decade…

  5. Yes, yes, yes to everything you’ve said about The Unbearable Lightness… I found my way to it via the Daniel Day-Lewis film (like many others, I had a huge crush on him at the time), and it was the gateway drug to Kundera’s writing for me. Definitely a ‘landmark’ book for me too!

    1. Not naming any names, but a friend of mine and I wore out our VHS tape of The Last Mohican (a film I don’t even like all that much) for a particular scene where DDL tosses his hair back!!! And you’ve reminded me that I want to rewatch In the Name of the Father, which will probably feel quite different now that I’m living in the UK.

  6. This is such a good idea, Marina Sofia! I love it! And I really like the way you also provide some background on each of the decades you mention. I like your choices, too (must re-read the Izzo trilogy). Now you’ve got me thinking of what my choices might be….

    1. Well, Gordon has very kindly invited me to his blog to have another go, so I can mention a whole set of five other books, while refering to the ones here as well!!! So that’s 10 books (still not enough, but a bit better)

  7. I’ve been fascinated by Gordon’s project and in awe that his guests could come up with just one book per decade. If I get around to doing this I will likely choose the 19th century but deciding which decade comes first is going to be so hard….

    You’ve answered something that has been bugging me for ages. A blogger (no longer active sadly) told me years ago about a crime series set in Marseille but I lost the name of the author – seeing it mentioned by you today has been such a relief.

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