Books

I Love The '90s: Books Edition

The cover of John Grisham's The Firm.
Bantam Dell

If you have been following the countless, broad-sweeping trend pieces that have been published so far this year — and of course you have — then you likely know that the 1990s are suddenly, magically "back." New bands are making homages to the sounds of Nirvana and The Pixies, the Beastie Boys are once again on top of the charts, teens are sporting ripped tights and flannel shirts with combat boots.

MTV has decided to rededicate itself to showing music videos, and Newt Gingrich may be running for president (a move that SNL spoofed with an "I Love the 90s" speech last Saturday). '90s director-darling Whit Stillman will debut his first film since that decade later this year. Even our own All Songs Considered team got in on the phenomenon with an entire show devoted to the era.

So literary types can't help but wonder — could '90s books be the next big retro comeback? Will the big bookstore hits of the decade suddenly become the hot accessory to be seen reading at a bar? Sure, it used to be uncool to admit you hadn't read Memoirs of a Geisha. But could sporting a vintage copy of Arthur Golden soon be the bookish equivalent of kicking down the street in Doc Martens?

We want to empower you to begin the trend on your own; to start the back-to-the-'90s reading movement one used bookstore purchase at a time. So what to read to truly embody a reader from twenty years back? Here's our primer for your So-Called-Reading-List.

1) The Early John Grisham Canon: The man is still publishing today (his second YA book in his Theodore Boone series is out on June 7), but the lawyer-turned-blockbuster-author really hit his stride in the early '90s. In that decade alone, he published The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Rainmaker, and The Runaway Jury. We advise you to seek them all out and read them in rapid succession — bonus points for tattered movie-tie in covers featuring Chris O'Donnell and Julia Roberts.

2) The Joy Luck Club: Yes, the book came out in 1989, but it dominated bestseller lists in 1990, and paved the way for Amy Tan's other hits of the decade (The Hundred Secret Senses, The Kitchen God's Wife). Every woman in America seemed to be reading her intergenerational stories about love and passion and mahjong going into the Clinton administration. And because Tan doesn't want to be left behind on the '90s revamp, she announced just last month that she will be publishing a brand new book about San Francisco, returning to the setting for The Joy Luck Club.

3) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: Self-help books were all the rage in the 1980s, but the '90s, with its relative prosperity, allowed readers to continue to focus inwards and explore new ways to improve themselves. Stephen R. Covey's Seven Habits became one of the top sellers of the decade, pushing more than 15 million copies and creating buzz-phrases like "sharpen the saw" and "abundance mentality."

John Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, came out in 1992 and proceeded to affect nearly all American households, with women arguing that they are not "getting enough love points" from their partners and men asking to "retreat into their caves" when things got rough. Though the two books are rarely discussed today, you can begin your own retro-trend by re-reading them and dropping their language into everyday conversation. Tell your friend that you don't think they are "beginning with the end in mind," or that they need to "do more Big Acts" and see how they react. If they are confused, they clearly don't have your '90s cred.

4) The Bridges of Madison County: The 1992 bestseller by Robert James Waller existed in symbiosis with the Kleenex industry — so many readers around the country were weeping over the unrequited love story between a married woman and an exotic bridge photographer that there must have been a bump in tissue sales. The book has now sold over 50 million copies worldwide, but you don't hear too many people admitting that they haven't read it recently. It's up to you to bring it back.

5) Jurassic Park: Next to Grisham, Michael Crichton really owned the 1990s book market. When Jurassic Park came out in 1990, it became an immediate and untouchable bestseller (and three years later, the film would become one of the top-grossing of all time). We think there is no cooler accompaniment to your flannel outfit than a battered, mass-market copy of the original; sure, in the time between the novel coming out and now, we have invented the Internet and the microchip, cloned sheep and created smartphones ... but have we yet brought dinosaurs back to life? Crichton's sci-fi epic presents a vision that we have yet to master in the modern world, showing that he was ahead of his time, even though his time is now hip again.

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