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The Talking Books that defined each decade

We take a look at the books that defined the decades since the launch of the RNIB Talking Book Library in the 1930s.

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1930s: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of thirteen dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an unexpected journey “there and back again”. They have the plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.

1940s: 1984 by George Orwell

Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Inwardly he rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the watchful eye of Big Brother, the symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia. He soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

1950s: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which a book will burn. Montag is a fireman but the work of the fire brigade is not to put out fires but to burn books. The penalty for any fireman who tries to read or hide away a book is death by the fangs of a mechanical blood-hound. And Montag has begun to doubt the wisdom of the all-powerful system.

1960s: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

'To Kill a Mockingbird' centres on lawyer Atticus Finch’s attempts to prove the innocence of Tom Robinson, a black man who has been wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1930s Maycombe County, Alabama. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much. The story is narrated by Finch's young daughter Scout.

1970s: Roots by Alex Haley

Tracing his ancestry, Alex Haley followed a trail that begins with sixteen-year-old, Kunta Kinte. Torn from his homeland, Kinte was brought to the slave markets of the New World. Through six generations – slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lawyers and architects – this is history told through one man’s family story.

1980s: Beloved by Toni Morrison

It is the mid-1800s. An era is ending as slavery comes under attack. Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love.

1990s: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of morality, their lives are changed profoundly and forever. The Secret History is a story of two parts; the chain of events that led to the death of a classmate and what happened next.

2000s: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found. Her uncle is convinced it was murder and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. The pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of murders from forty years ago as they unravel a dark family history.

2010s: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples, Italy. Growing up on these tough streets two girls, Elena and Lila, learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, they remain best friends, even as their paths sometimes diverge. This is the story of a neighbourhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that change the relationship between Elena and Lila.

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