The talking books that defined each decade

The best books change our perspective on the world ­– books like the ones in our Talking Books library that are life-changing for our members.

In the 80 years since we launched the service, it’s fair to say that the novel has gone through a few changes of its own. Tastes and styles have transformed to reflect the world around us, and we’ve followed this evolution every step of the way to bring you must-read books as and when they’re released. Now, we roll back the years to bring you the talking books that have defined each decade. 

1930s: Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

Murder mysteries are as popular today as ever – the massive sales of Gillian Flynn's “Gone Girl” prove that. But the late Agatha Christie helped define the genre in the 1930s with all-time classics like “Murder on the Orient Express”. Another of Christie’s mysteries, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”, was selected in our initial batch of recordings back in 1935, and the author’s stories are still loved by our members 80 years later. 

Murder on the Orient Express


Animal Farm

1940s: “Animal Farm” by George Orwell

Animal Farm” celebrated its 70th birthday this summer and the fact the satirical novel remains relevant today is proof of Orwell's enduring genius. Originally read by John Richmond, this might appear to be a simple farmyard fable, but beneath the surface you’ll find a thrilling, terrifying tale of how power corrupts.


1950s: “The Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger

"The Catcher in the Rye” is one of the best selling novels of all-time, with Salinger's story of teenage angst and rebellion finding a new audience in each generation. Through protagonist Holden Caulfield, Salinger also explores loss and belonging, making the book one that blind people can identify with, while its 1951 publication was particularly timely in the aftermath of World War II. Indeed, many commentators have argued “The Catcher in the Rye” is a war novel in disguise. 

The Catcher in the Rye


To Kill a Mockingbird

1960s: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee 

The United States Civil Rights Movement intensified in the 1960s and books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” were hugely influential in furthering the cause. With key themes of tolerance and prejudice at its heart, the book is a firm fixture on school curricula around the world and its legend was multiplied by the fact Lee never published another novel. Until this year, that is, when the sequel “Go Set a Watchmen” was released unexpectedly and narrated at RNIB’s studios by actress Reese Witherspoon. 


1970s: “The Shining” by Stephen King

Ghost stories are best read aloud – preferably around a campfire late at night – which made "The Shining" ripe for recording as a talking book. “Carrie” and “Salem's Lot” had already ensured King was a much talked about horror author in the 1970s, but it was this story of a haunted hotel that catapulted him into the big time. Rightfully so, it’s one of the scariest novels ever published.

The Shining


Midnight's Children

1980s: “Midnight's Children” by Salman Rushdie

Complex novels were increasingly popular in the 1980s and “Midnight's Children” encapsulated the trend, with Rushdie's most famous work telling the story of India's journey to independence. Arguably the best way to wrap your brain around this book is to hear it spoken, and narrator Garrard Green does a fine job of bringing Rushdie’s magical realism to life. 


1990s: “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone” by JK Rowling

Harry Potter was – and still is – a literary phenomenon, inspiring hugely successful films, plays and even a theme park in its name. The talking books narrated by Stephen Fry have also proved enormously popular, importantly released at the same time as the hardbacks so that everyone could join in on the conversation. As the first book in the series, this one even has a special introduction read by author J.K. Rowling. 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone


The Da Vinci Code

2000s: “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown

Our digital DAISY players inspired a brand new generation of readers when they arrived in 2002 – five years before the Kindle and just in time for Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”. It may have divided opinion, but the novel tapped into the public’s fascination with the Holy Grail and many readers adored this mystery detective romp. 


2010s: “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James

“A Brief History of Seven Killings”’ won the 2015 Booker Prize and is well placed to become an era-defining novel of the current decade. Inspired by an assassination attempt on Bob Marley, the book contains over 75 characters whose distinct voices are brought to life with multiple narrators for the talking book. With a big-budget HBO TV series in the works, the popularity of James' stunning work will surely grow even further.

A Brief History of Seven Killings


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