Listen: when I saw the Book Bingo category “published the year one of your parents was born” the first thing I did was Google “books published in 1950.” I was prepared to tell you of more labyrinthine research processes to help you find a book for this category, but it turns out Google is a pretty effective strategy on this one.
My search led to the GoodReads page Most Popular Books Published in 1950, which is the year my mom was born. This GoodReads list was among the most robust lists I found, largely because it was one of the few to include genre fiction – it had I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, the Miss Marple mystery A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie, and The Grand Sophy, a historical romance by Georgette Heyer, alongside general fiction and children’s books. On the right hand of the page is a drop down menu where you can select other years – my colleague was fretting over finding a book from 1925, the year her father was born, but there’s a good selection of ideas she can mine. These are crowd-sourced lists based on data entered by GoodReads users, so I like to verify the publication date, but it’s a great place to start.
If you want to know the bestsellers of any given year, Daniel Immerwahr, now a professor at Northwestern University, has compiled The Books of the Century, a year-by-year journey through the 20th century that lists fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, other titles he has deemed critically acclaimed and historically significant, and Book-of-the Month Club selections.
A similar historical overview is provided by the Library of Congress exhibit Books That Shaped America, calling out one title per year from 1750 to 2000. They don’t quite have a book for every single year, though, which can be disappointing if it is the one you need.
Perhaps you want an award winner, a book that judges of the time thought was the best of any given year. The Nobel Prize in Literature goes back to 1901. Good news for nonfiction readers: Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded in a variety of nonfiction categories for much of the 20th century: History since 1917; Biography since 1917; General nonfiction since 1962. Poetry has been awarded since 1922, with Fiction beginning in 1948 and a previous category, Novel, awarded 1917-1947.
With all this research done, I think I know what I’ll be reading: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, published in 1950, the year my mother was born. This is also a book my mom really enjoyed reading about ten years ago, which brings it all full circle.