Back to the '90s
Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Terry McMillan—the 1990s were a beach-read paradise of movie-optioned paperbacks. Here are nine page-turners just as addictive as they were a decade ago.
The Sum of All Fears, Tom Clancy August 1, 1992
Before Robert Langdon, there was Jack Ryan. This fourth installment of Tom Clancy's bestselling series, The Sum of All Fears follows Clancy's Irish-Catholic CIA hero and affords him yet another chance to save the world. Ryan thwarts a massive terror plot and brings about a Middle East peace settlement through the Vatican that will allow Christians, Jews, and Muslims to live in harmony. The fourth book of the Jack Ryan series to be turned into a movie, The Sum of All Fears became a commercially successful movie starring Ben Affleck in 2002.
Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan May 1, 1992
Terry McMillan's third novel, Waiting to Exhale, follows a group of successful young black women as they navigate life in Arizona—from bemoaning the dearth of eligible bachelors to the challenges of having a brother fighting in Kuwait. All of them are "holding their breath" for the right man, and, because this is essentially a proto- Sex and the City, realize that banding together—and supporting each other—is the only way to survive in the end. The book became a movie starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett in 1995.
The Rainmaker, John Grisham April 1, 1995
The Rainmaker, John Grisham's sixth novel, took the summer of 1995 by storm. With a plot that reflects the ‘90s health-care war, it centers around Rudy Baylor, an up-and-coming lawyer, who stumbles upon the case of a lifetime: a family who is suing their insurance provider after being refused payment for their son's leukemia treatment. The Rainmaker felt like a progression from Grisham's A Time to Kill, which he scribbled in notebooks while practicing law in Mississippi. The book, which is dedicated "to American trial lawyers," spent 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list before Francis Ford Coppola converted it to a screenplay for a movie starring Danny DeVito and Matt Damon in 1997.
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, John Gray May 1992
It's the book that, depending on who you ask, helped heal millions of relationships or served to reinforce outmoded stereotypes. Either way, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus made enough of a splash that it feels like it’s been around since long before it was published by Harper Collins in 1992. John Gray’s pop-psychology study attempted to negotiate a peace between the sexes with an elaborate point system. People listened: The book has sold over 15 million copies and was dubbed the bestselling book of the decade by USA Today.
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier June 1, 1997
America’s warm beaches were drenched with copies of Cold Mountain during the summer of 1997. The story follows W.P. Inman, a wounded Confederate deserter in the Civil War on his Odyssey: a long journey home—through hunger and robbery—to return to the love of his life. Though it was only Frazier's debut novel, the book sold over 3 million copies worldwide, and picked up the National Book Award.
Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt September 5, 1996
Frank McCourt's recent death is all the more reason to return to Angela's Ashes, the 1996 bestseller that earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography. In it, he describes his poor childhood in Ireland in which his infant brother dies, his father descends into alcoholism, and he develops typhoid. The book ends with McCourt sailing into New York, a future of writing ahead of him. As you near the last page, you’re reassured by the knowledge of how he’ll end up in life.
It's the bestselling sports book of all time: Harvey Penick's Little Red Book brought the elusive game of golf to the American Everyman, with testimonials from a slew of golf pros. Penick was, in some ways, the first golf blogger, taking notes on the game throughout his career and sharing them piece by piece with the world. He understood golf like no one else—and taught the world (one course at a time) how to "take dead aim."
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt January 1994; June 28, 1999 (paperback)
Part travelogue, part thriller, John Berendt wrote Midnight over the course of eight years in Savannah, and what results is a murder mystery enhanced by the rich character of the city. According to The New York Times, Berendt's "writing is elegant and wickedly funny, and his eye for telling details is superb." The book spent 216 weeks on the Times’ bestseller list, and inspired a movie by Clint Eastwood in 1997.
The Green Mile, Stephen King Summers 1996-1999
From April 1996 to August 1999, King’s serial novel The Green Mile made beach reading a more brooding activity. The story of Paul Edgecombe, a penitentiary supervisor on death row in 1932, it flips expertly between present tense—in which Edgecombe sits in a nursing home writing his story—and flashbacks of actual experience. It became a movie starring Tom Hanks in 1999.
Isabel Wilkinson is a Daily Beast intern who attends Columbia Journalism School. She has written for New York magazine and Women’s Wear Daily.