Our Reading Lives

When I’m Nostalgic for the ’80s and ’90s, I Read These Books

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

The Goonies. Adventures in Babysitting. Playing with either a Pogo Bal or Skip-It, picking out my Trapper Keeper for the school year, plastering my walls with posters of Kirk Cameron (hey, it was the ’80s, I didn’t know what would happen) and the Coreys (Haim and Feldman), and listening to Menudo, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, and NKOTB. Ah, the ’80s.

I love the ’90s, too: Empire Records, Cruel Intentions, the Delia’s catalog, shopping at Merry-Go-Round and Contempo Casuals, slap bracelets…I could go on forever. Lilith Fair, Dazed and Confused, Nirvana, and grunge all have special places in my heart.

I am a child of the ’80s and ’90s, and often scroll the nostalgia Instagram pages, remembering things I forgot about and bringing back lots of other memories. Don’t get me wrong: I know that as a young kid in a fairly secluded environment, I wasn’t aware of a lot. While I don’t remember some of the more serious events like the Iran-Contra hearings, I do remember reading about Christa McAuliffe and watching the Challenger explode on live television. I remember the Lisa Steinberg case, Ariel Glaser and Ryan White and the discussion about HIV and AIDS (and later, I learned about Reagan’s handling of it…or lack thereof), the fall of the Berlin Wall, Rodney King, Operation Solomon, and much more.

While these two decades are full of historically and socially relevant events, I remember it from a kid/teen’s perspective. Knowing all the things I know now of those decades, there’s a different backdrop to many of my memories if the time. For me, this doesn’t take away from the memories; it adds texture, context, and information to them.

Sometimes the urge to revisit these two decades will hit me, and of course, I turn to books. I turn to books when I just need a little escape from today. When I’m missing my grandparents and all the times I spent with them as a kid and teen. Or even when I want to read more about an event I didn’t know much about back then (or now).

Books That Take Me Back

cover of The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman

When I get nostalgic for the ’80s or ’90s, sure, sometimes I reach for bookish favorites from that time, like Tuck Everlasting, but I also love reading both fiction and nonfiction set in those decades, or about that time. Chuck Klosterman’s The Nineties was a super fun read for me, especially since I wasn’t always old enough to fully appreciate much of what he discussed at the time it happened. (You can read more about my thoughts on the book here). I loved the mix of personal opinion and experience, research, and pop culture commentary.

cover of Meet Me By the Fountain by Alexandra Lange

Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall by Alexandra Lange was a great read, especially since she talked about Southpoint in Durham, which has a Barnes & Noble I spent plenty of time shopping and studying at during during grad school. As a little kid, going to the mall with my grandparents or parents meant getting a penny to throw in the fountain so I could make a wish and getting a soft pretzel at Auntie Anne’s or a huge cinnamon bun at Cinnabon. We’d always make sure to stop at Waldenbooks or B. Dalton for the next book in The Babysitters Club Sleepover Friends series. While I was never allowed to “hang out” at the mall every day as a teen, I did go to the mall with some friends on Friday nights. After the mall, we’d walk across the street to Chili’s for a late dinner or snacks. Reading this nonfiction exploration of the mall and its social implications didn’t just bring me back to all sorts of memories, it also made me think about the things I saw at the mall and what its functions were socially.

cover of Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

While I wasn’t even thinking about NYC as a kid in the ’80s, reading about ’80s NYC never gets old for me, which is one reason why I loved Abdi Nazemian’s Like a Love Story. Set in 1989 NYC during the AIDS crisis and ACT-UP activism, it’s a beautiful story about friendship, love, and being true to who you are. Another novel, The Black Kids, by Christina Hammonds Reed, takes place in 1992 L.A., when the police were acquitted of beating Rodney King and the ensuing riots and protests took place. Reading these books now afford me a whole new point of view on the time that I simply didn’t have at 9 and 12 years old.

Books are a great way to spend some time with memories of childhood, and I’m sure it would be infinitely better if such nostalgia were paired with snacks like Gushers, Dunkaroos, and Giggles cookies.

For even more about the ’80s and ’90s, check out this post of must-read novels from the 1990s and this post on ‘80s nostalgia book recommendations.