My current manuscript it the first in a series that takes place between the summer of 1991 through 1999. While the series encompasses the decade of the 1990s, the first book is set in the summer of 1991 and has more in common with the 1980s so I’ve been reading contemporary novels set in that era.
I read The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell of “Sex and the City” fame. Set in the early 1980s, this prequel is not a “clean”, read but the teenage Carrie Bradshaw is a more innocent girl than one would expect. It’s set in an unspecified year in the early 1980s, a bit too early to be applicable but still a fun read.
I just finished Eleanor and Park Rainbow Rowell. It takes place in Omaha in 1986-87. While it’s four years earlier than my manuscript, the blue-collar, Midwestern setting was spot on. Everything from a lack of alternative radio stations and the sketchy independent record store to the attitudes of Eleanor and Park’s classmates was so similar to my setting.
It’s been a while, but I listened to The Time Travel’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s probably the closest to my story. The heroine is within a year or two of my main characters’ age, she’s from an upper class family (far more privileged than my heroine), it’s set in the Midwest, and the hero has a supernatural medical condition that makes a romantic relationship difficult (at least in his mind). The beginning timeline matches within a year or so of my timeline (early 1990s).
Forever Laila by Melissa Turner Lee is another book very similar to The Time Traveler’s Wife with biological time travel and a 1990s setting. It too had points that dovetailed well with my story.
The challenge of books set in the recent past is that tiny anachronisms are amplified because people are alive to remember those years.
I almost gave up on Eleanor and Park because there are a couple of lines that hint Park’s dad was a Korean War vet even though he would have been a tween in the early 1950s. Fortunately, it was a matter of semantics, a couple of chapters later it explained that Park’s dad was a Vietnam era veteran stationed in Korea.
Yes, two lines nearly derailed a book for me. Details are so important. Something that’s so accurate brings a smile of understanding like Eleanor writing Smith’s lyrics on her notebook. I had a college classmate who did that, well it was Morrissey’s solo lyrics by then (circa 1993), but still I nodded. I got it. This story was drawn from an experience at least tangentially common to mine.
I’ve come across similar things in my own research. In my original timeline (set in 1990-91), I couldn’t use Michael W. Smith’s Go West Young Man because it hadn’t been released for the scene I was writing. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” can’t appear in this version because it wasn’t released until September 1991. In one of my drafts, I referred to Jay Leno and a critique partner asked if he was on then. Nope. It was still Johnny Carson although Leno was a regular guest host. Leno didn’t take over until 1992. Thankfully, that mistake was caught, and I learned my lesson on thorough research.
Have you ever read a book that didn’t get an era, location, or other detail right? If so, how did affect your opinion of the book and/or the author?