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J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Whether you consider Holden an egotistical whiner or a melancholy young genius, and also even if friend really, really hate it, there’s no denying that this novel, which has sold much more than 65 million copies due to the fact that its publication (though this number is a couple of years old and also certainly soft), and continues to market at a healthy clip, was a crucial cultural touchstone in America in the 1950s. David Shields and also Shane Salerno go more in the advent to your biography Salinger, creating that the publication “redefined postwar America and also can ideal be understood as a disguised war novel.”


Famously, the contemporary hype around Catcher was so good that it forced Salinger right into the reclusiveness he’s now well-known for—he was looking, primarily, for privacy, and didn’t psychic perpetuating a myth around himself in the process.

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Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

“I am invisible, understand, simply since people refuse to view me,” Ellison writes in the opened lines of this much-read, much-assigned, and highly significant novel. (So prominent that president Obama modeled Dreams of my Father on it.) The novel to be awarded the National book Award in 1953. In his acceptance speech, Ellison said: “If ns were request in all seriousness just what I taken into consideration to be the chief definition of Invisible Man as a fiction, I would reply: Its experimental attitude and its attempt to go back to the the atmosphere of personal moral duty for democracy i beg your pardon typified the best of our nineteenth-century fiction.”

When i examined the fairly rigid concepts of reality which informed a number of the functions which impressed me and to which i owed a an excellent deal, i was required to conclude that for me and for so plenty of hundreds of thousands of Americans, reality was merely far more mysterious and also uncertain, and at the same time an ext exciting, and still, despite its raw violence and capriciousness, much more promising.


To see America with an awareness that its well-off diversity and also its virtually magical fluidity and freedom i was forced to develop of a novel unburdened through the narrow naturalism which has actually led after ~ so plenty of triumphs come the final and also unrelieved despair i m sorry marks so much of our current fiction. Ns was come dream of a prose which was flexible, and also swift together American readjust is swift, confronting the inequalities and brutalities the our culture forthrightly, yet yet thrusting soon its images of hope, human being fraternity, and also individual self-realization. A prose which would manipulate the wealth of our speech, the idiomatic expression, and the rhetorical flourishes from previous periods which room still alive among us. Regardless of my an individual failures there have to be feasible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, deserve to arrive in ~ the truth about the human being condition, here and also now, v all the bright magic the the fairy tale.

The novel manages to be countless things in ~ once; this is among its plenty of strengths. “Evenhandedly exposing the hypocrisies and also stereotypes of every comers,” Lev Grossman created in TIME, “Invisible Man is far an ext than a race novel, or also a bildungsroman. The the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century.”

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Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Fahrenheit 451 is among those books we all think we understand—probably since we’ve all had actually to “analyze” that in high school—but even its author wavered ~ above the point. In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury described it in the paper definition of federal government censorship:


He additionally spoke against McCarthyism in his lifetime, and also the novel has typically been construed of a criticism that the same, yet in later life Bradbury refuse this and claimed that it to be “a story around how tv destroys interest in analysis literature,” despite the truth that tv was relatively brand-new at the time, just ending up being popular. Whatever it means, it stays an enduring classic.

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J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)

Initial reviews were mixed when the very first volume of Tolkien’s fantasy epic was first published, however the ones that knew, yes, really knew. None other than W. H. Auden the review the book in the Times, praising Tolkien’s The Hobbit as “one that the ideal children’s stories of this century” and writing that his new volume for adults:

On the primitive level of wanting to understand what happens next, The Fellowship that the Ring is at least as great as The Thirty-Nine Steps. . . . if one is to take it a tale of this sort seriously, one need to feel that, however superficially unequal the civilization we live in that is characters and also events might be, it nevertheless holds up the winter to the just nature we know, our own; in this, too, Mr. Tolkien has succeeded superbly, and also what occurred in the year that the Shire 1418 in the third Age that Middle earth is not just fascinating in A. D. 1954 but also a warning and an inspiration. No fiction I have read in the last 5 years has provided me an ext joy than The Fellowship the the Ring.


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Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

Nabokov’s most renowned novel was initially published in Paris (in English) in 1955 by a publisher whose other titles included Until She ScreamsTender Thighs, and There’s a Whip in mine Valise, and also generally ignored till Graham Greene dubbed it among the ideal books that the year. Climate it to be roundly disparaged and dismissed as trash, and also banned by the French government—no wonder the smuggled-in copies were already being offered for $20 a pop when it was ultimately published in the united state by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, kicking off what Nabokov called in his newspaper “Hurricane Lolita.” as Steve King writes:

Within 4 days of publishing in the U.S. The publication was into a 3rd printing; by September 13th that had become the very first book since Gone through the Wind to market 100,000 duplicates in its very first three weeks; by the finish of September, it was #1 on the bestseller lists. By the moment Nabokov appeared on the cover of Newsweek in 1962, it seemed that the only one that hadn’t read the publication was Groucho Marx, who quipped, “I plan to placed off reading Lolita for 6 years, until she’s eighteen.”