Blast from the past

With the 30th anniversary of Printers Row Lit Fest on the horizon, participating Lit Fest authors share their favorite books pegged to 1985. (Robert Neubecker illustration)

In 1985, in a South Loop neighborhood once the hub of Chicago publishing, a group of book lovers started a book fair. Thirty years later, that book fair has grown into Printers Row Lit Fest, the highlight of Chicago's literary calendar.

In the spirit of the anniversary — which will be celebrated at this year's June 7-8 event — we asked a handful of participating Lit Fest authors to reflect on books they connect to the year 1985. In some cases, that meant books that were written in 1985; for others, it was a book an author read that year. Here's what they told us.

— Printers Row Journal editors


This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.



James Patterson

Best-selling author and winner of the Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literary Award

Here's a creepily modern thriller premise for you: a serial killer who's got an almost superhuman sense of smell and who doesn't smell like anything himself. Patrick Süskind's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" was first published in 1985, but it feels just as fresh today. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a perfume apprentice in 18th-century France whose extraordinary sense of smell leads to an obsession with finding the perfect scent, which he aims to achieve by stalking and murdering young women. Süskind expertly crafts a depraved odor-obsessed killer, and I remember being immediately impressed by his skilled narrative. I've read and even written a few bad guys in my time, and I find the secret to a great villain is that he or she has to be just as compelling to readers as the hero. I have more than once encouraged aspiring thriller writers to read "Perfume" to prove the point. Grenouille is one of the greatest literary villains of all time.

Marlo Thomas

Actress and author of "It Ain't Over ... Till It's Over: Reinventing Your Life — and Realizing Your Dreams — Anytime, at Any Age"

Nineteen-eighty-five was a big year for books — from Anne Rice's creepy chronicle, "The Vampire Lestat," to James A. Michener's sprawling "Texas," to Robin Norwood's seminal self-help manual, "Women Who Love Too Much." But for all that gripping grown-up matter, my favorite read of '85 was the award-winning children's book, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" by Laura Numeroff (illustrated by Felicia Bond). I remember reading it to my little niece, Kristina, and we were enchanted. All about an adorable mouse in overalls whose opening-page plea for a cookie quickly spirals into a cascading barrage of other requests — a glass of milk, a napkin, a mirror, scissors, crayons, even a roll of tape — it reminds us that we all have a bottomless appetite for life — and that's OK! If you've never read the book, I won't spoil the ending for you — but I will tell you this: It's a lot more fun than vampires.

Joseph J. Ellis

Author of "Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence"

In the summer of 1985, I re-read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" and decided to re-read it every year. Why? Because of Fitzgerald's lyrical prose style, which I wanted to internalize and emulate in my own work.

Cristina Henríquez

Author of "The Book of Unknown Americans"

In 1985, I was a shy girl with glasses attending third grade at Falling Spring Elementary in the mountain town of Covington, Va. I don't remember much from those days beyond this: I found a four-leaf clover once at recess and I used to go to the school library and check out "The Boxcar Children" books. Who didn't want their own hideaway in the woods, a space apart from the watchful eyes of adults? The idea — four young orphans who live in an abandoned boxcar — was magical, and for a long stretch of that year, it captivated me.

I haven't looked at those books in a long time, but I would be surprised if they didn't hold up. I doubt children will ever stop craving an escape, a place of their own, and next to an actual boxcar in a forest, a book is the best way to find that.

Kathleen Rooney

Author of "O, Democracy!"

"The Lover" by Marguerite Duras: Technically, this brief and impressionistic novel of just 117 pages and a great deal of white space was published in France in 1984, but it appeared in English (translated by Barbara Bray) in 1985. Lyrical, dreamy and formally inventive, the book rejects linear chronology and shifts narrative point of view, unfolding in flashes and fragments. Duras takes heavily autobiographical subject matter — her teenage affair in French colonial Vietnam with a wealthy and much older Chinese man — that could be melodramatic or sentimental and makes it simultaneously austere and intense, a sad and unforgettable look at loss and memory. Its direct and un-self-pitying tone is perfect.