1960s Popular Essay Collection

POP CULTURE: The Way We Were

Pop culture is that loose blend of books, music, fashion and other daily ephemera that contributes to the identity of a society at a particular point in time. In essence, pop culture is a self-portrait created through purchasing power. In the '60s, radio, film, television, and books carry the essence of American pop culture.

In 1960, nearly half of America's population is under 18 years old. It's a young society, and the most affluent generation in U.S. history. American teenagers have $22 billion a year at their disposal (a sum equivalent to $140 billion in 2005 dollars).

1960… to…1969
average house$16,500$27,900
postage stamp
of gas
of milk

The best-selling books often reflect a society's most pressing concerns. Definitive reads of the decade include To Kill a Mockingbird and Valley of the Dolls. But evenings spent with a good book are on the way out: TV is the new centerpiece. Color TV arrives in the early '60s and is embraced far more rapidly than the old black-and-white sets. By the end of the decade, 95 percent of homes have at least one TV.

The Beatles are heard everywhere: pocket-sized transistor radios, eight-track stereos in cars, and portable record players. Everyone with a radio can sing along to the thrilling quality of stereo FM broadcasts. Although Elvis works hard to keep up, music is changing for good. The brightest stars are linked to the British Invasion, and the Motown and San Francisco sounds.

The advent of color TV has a direct and immediate impact on drive-in movie theaters. In '62, there are 6,000 drive-ins in the U.S.; a year later there are 3,550. Walk-in theaters also feel the change as more people choose to stay home and watch the three networks fight for ratings. The movie industry peaks in 1964 with the release of 502 films. Box office sales will continue to increase with ticket prices, but the selection of films is never again so varied.

Mainstream religion is on the wane, except in growing evangelicalism and the new kind of relaxed non-denominational churches. In '66, the TIME cover story will actually ask "Is God Dead?" By the end of the decade, nearly 60 million people-a third of the population-have moved out of cities and into suburbs in search of a brighter, cleaner world.

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“In good fiction, every sentence and detail is necessary. The same is true of these impeccably economical essays, which, collected here with a wise introduction by Pinckney, offer a rich immersion in both [Hardwick’s[ brilliant mind and the minds of so many others….Astringent and unsentimental, these essays span over half a century and, as such, constitute a monumental, if unwitting, autobiography.” —Hermione Hoby, The New York Times

“Elizabeth Hardwick, long recognized as one of the great literary critics of the 20th century, is generously represented by this selection of her eloquent, erudite, chatty, and often very witty essays and reviews, with a warmly sympathetic and informative introduction by Darryl Pinckney.” —Joyce Carol Oates

“How crucial it is to have Hardwick’s Collected Essays now. For they are incorruptible. Their intelligence is prodigious, but never boastful. This major American writer dares, inspires, and cajoles us into reading and writing with renewed conviction and resistance to the meretricious.” —Catharine R. Stimpson

“This collection, edited and with an introduction by her former student Pinckney, is significant. Hardwick, who was a cofounder, editor, and advisor to the New York Review of Books, covered the important events of her time (the civil rights and women’s movements, protests against the Vietnam War) with clarity and precision and without sentimentality. Her ear for language and eye for detail, i.e., her novelist’s sensibility (she published three), makes her sketches and essays a pleasure to read and savor. Pinckney’s introduction offers insights into Hardwick’s keen intelligence and quick wit.” —Library Journal, starred review

“Throughout her . . . career, Hardwick was devoted to pursuing literature as a way of life and finding life in literature.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This fine, revealing career retrospective showcases the late Hardwick, a novelist and cofounder of the New York Review of Books, honing her favorite form, the literary review, to razor-sharp precision…this book contains ample examples of literary criticism that might be imitated or even matched but not surpassed in its style, insight, and genuine love for literature.” —Publishers Weekly

“Just as Edwin Denby, Clement Greenberg, and Pauline Kael transformed the nature of criticism in the fields of dance, art, and film, respectively, Hardwick has redefined the possibilities of the literary essay.” —The New Yorker
“Hardwick wrote when she had something to say, and she took her time; the impression of ease is owing strictly to her style. Not a poet, she produced a poet’s prose…” —The Guardian
“Elizabeth Hardwick is our most original, brilliant, and amusing critic. Many of these essays are already classics for their insight and style.” —Diane Johnson
“Hardwick has a gift for coming up with descriptions so thoughtfully selected, so exactly right, that they strike the reader as inevitable.” —Anne Tyler


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