Since last week, I’ve been swirling in a vortex of ecstasy and nostalgia. Why? Because after Miley Cyrus fried my neural cortex, I still had enough sentience left to enjoy the NSYNC reunion for which I’d been waiting a decade.
They were marvelous.
Now, after days of of listening to No Strings Attached (on CD, as it was meant to be), I’ve come to this conclusion: WE HAVE TO GO BACK. We’ve got to go back to 1998, the year NSYNC released their first stateside single, “I Want You Back.” If that’s not enough to have you dusting off theold time machine, let me remind you that 1998 was a pretty darn good vintage for books, too. Take a walk down memory lane with me, to a time when Clinton ruled the White House, Tom Clancy was dropping Rainbow Six, and Toni Morrison had just unleashed Paradise. Here’s a noncomprehensive list of some of the brightest tomes on 1998’s bookshelves. I’ll be looking for a flux capacitor while you reminisce:
The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
More than 50 years after her death, Virginia Woolf reigned again in Cunningham’s affecting stream-of-consciousness novel, concerning the lives of three women—one being Woolf herself—all related to Mrs. Dalloway. The concept is the same as Woolf’s original telling, in that it covers a single day in the life of each character, but you come away with a deeper understanding of all three: their struggle for meaning, and the quiet desperation that haunts each one. Heavy, I know, but when you’re done, you can go ogle Nicole Kidman’s fake schnoz in her Oscar-winning performance.
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
Oprah loved it. A lot of other people did too. This saga of a missionary family in postcolonial Africa is relayed by the four daughters and wife of fire-and-brimstone Baptist minister Nathan Price. That alternating POV roots the narrative in reality: as the girls mature, so do their outlooks on their situation and on the Congolese who surround them. It’s a swirl of historical upheaval and anthropological observation, told through a bevy of strong female voices and a thought-provoking (if not unanimously palatable) spin on religion.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
Oh, to relive the days when you not only had more wizarding adventures to look forward to, but you also had to wait just one year for the next installment! The second book of Harry and Ron’s magical mischief-making (and Hermione’s putting up with it) finds our young hero in his bedroom, making no noise, and pretending he doesn’t exist. Chamber of Secrets is one of my favorites of the series—the Ford Anglia! The Whomping Willow! Moaning Myrtle! Why did it have to be spiders?! It’s probably a good idea for you to just take some time off work and reread it right now.
Holes, by Louis Sachar
The ultimate chain-gang novel for the recess set, Holes put the fear of the Warden into many a late-90s youngster. Sachar’s work won the Newberry Medal, which is all the more remarkable considering how little had gone right for Stanley Yelnats by the time he wound up digging holes at Camp Green Lake. Come on in, the Sploosh is fine.
About a Boy, by Nick Hornby
And they say the the aughts were the domain of overgrown man-children. Here, the man-child is a well-off bachelor (so, in essence, Hugh Grant). In his quest to woo sexy single mothers, he joins a single-parent support group, ends up meeting a schoolboy, Marcus, whose grasp on all things social is somewhat tenuous, and bada bing bada boom—you’ve got yourself an infinitely readable, disarmingly witty good time.
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s rendition of a sweet old-fashioned fairy tale is his standard fare: the surreal meets the familiar, magic is complemented by charming reality. Don’t be fooled: it may be fluffy on the outside, but the quest to find one’s Heart’s Desire can be bitingly funny. Not to mention, it introduces a phenomenal naming strategy for large families: on Primus, on Secundus, on Tertius…
Bag of Bones, by Stephen King
Picture it: a haunted author with writer’s block in Maine. Yep, he’s back! It’s a more subtle spook that King presents here, as opposed to the straight nightmares-forever plots of an It or The Shining. To say too much about what transpires for Mike Noonan, still grieving four years later for his wife, would be a sin, but it’s safe to say appearances are never what they seem, and King’s Maine can never be fully trusted.
What’s your favorite book of the 90s?