Read a book published before you were born this year

The seventh category for the 2017 Reading Challenge—for those of you who are stretching yourselves this year—is “a book published before you were born.”

This category forces you to take a break from a habit many of us fall into, by accident: reading brand-new releases non-stop. This is your chance to take a step back in time and find a good book that’s proven to have staying power.

Of course, just how much staying power that book has is relative, depending on how old you are. Your choices for this category are many and varied: in fact, there are so many choices it’s a little overwhelming. I’ve chosen a selection of my favorites from recent (and not-so-recent) decades to help you hone in on just one title for this category, plus a bonus pick to give you more ideas.

Want even more titles to choose from? Try this Goodreads feature. Enter the year you were born—or any year prior—and Goodreads will generate a list of the top 200 books published that year. (You can also search by month and year, if you want to easily ensure a certain book was in fact published before your birthday.)

Read a book published before you were born
The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth

This was my personal pick for this category and I knocked it out in January. I'm so glad I finally read it—I can't believe how many references to it I've been missing over the years! This classic is set in the Gilded Age among New York City's high society, and depicts the rise and fall of Lily Bart, a young woman trapped by social conventions, a victim both of society and of her own choices. This feels like social commentary and reads like a tragedy, and while I feared it would be boring it was anything but. Published 1905. Also published this decade: E. Nesbit's Five Children and It (1902). More info →
The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

A spoiled, loveless orphan and a coddled, cantankerous invalid bring a forgotten garden—and each other—to life again in this childhood classic. This has been called the ultimate children's classic, but don't let that stop you from reading it now if you never read it as a child. (I read this for the first time in my thirties.) Children will be intrigued by the garden itself, but adults will see the story is ultimately about the power of learning to love, and to receive love in return. Published 1911. Also published this decade: Parnassus on Wheels (1917). More info →
Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moon

These were the first books that I finished under the covers with a flashlight at 2:00 a.m. because I had to know where Emily’s hopes, dreams, and disappointments led her. Montgomery wrote the Emily stories decades after Anne: they're a little darker, and more informed by the author's personal experience. Like Anne, Emily is an orphan who goes to live with strangers—although, unlike Anne, she's related to these strangers, and the theme of artists and their work permeates the three-book series. Published 1923. Also published this decade: The Great Gatsby (1922). More info →
Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind

This 1936 epic novel and Pulitzer winner is enjoying a resurgence, and for good reason. More than a Civil War novel, this is a tale of the breadth and depth of human emotions, set against the backdrop of the Old South from the dawn of the war through Reconstruction, and is told through the eyes of Scarlett O'Hara, a beautiful, vivacious Southern Belle pressed into the unforeseen challenges of war. Scarlett is but one of a cast of many unforgettable characters that has been bringing readers back to this book for 75 years. Published 1936. Also published this decade: Rebecca (1938). More info →
Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited

This is one of my very favorites that I read over and over again. This sweeping novel set in Britain between the world wars chronicles the Flyte family’s unraveling—along with the rest of Britain’s aristocracy—as viewed through the wistful eyes of lieutenant Charles Ryder. Drenched in themes of love, loss, and grace. Recommended reading for Downton Abbey fans. Published 1945. Also published this decade: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1948). More info →


This book is taking a much-deserved place in the spotlight in the wake of Wiesel's recent death. In this beautiful, heartbreaking book, he asks, "What does it mean to remember? It is to live in more than one world, to prevent the past from fading and to call upon the future to illuminate it." In this moving memoir, Wiesel recalls his experience as a young boy with his father in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps in 1944-45, during the Holocaust at the height of World War II. It's amazing how much Wiesel packs into 100 pages. "Never shall I forget ... " Published 1956. Also published this decade: Fahrenheit 451 (1953). More info →
To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird

In this 1960 classic, small-town attorney Atticus Finch attempts a hopeless defense of a black man unjustly accused of rape, and to teach his children, Scout and Jem, about the evils of racism. It's been a staple on high school reading lists for years (and I talked about my significant high school experience with Mockingbird here), but it enjoyed a fresh burst of publicity when its companion Go Set a Watchman was recently published. (I'd love to be in the course that reads both, together.) Published 1961. Also published this year: Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). More info →
Watership Down

Watership Down

I finally read this one as "a book everyone has read but you" for last year's Reading Challenge. A larger-than-life story about a brave band of rabbits in the English countryside and their quest for survival, that powerfully probes love, courage, loyalty, and human nature. Published 1972. Also published this decade: Song of Solomon (1977). More info →
The Color Purple

The Color Purple

An incredible modern classic. In this epistolary novel, a young woman living in the South in the 1930s describes her life in a series of heartbreaking letters. But ultimately, redemption arrives in an unlikely form. A painful, beautiful book about the power of love. Published 1983. Also published this decade: Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). More info →
The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

I love Kingsolver; this is one of her best. Southern Baptist Missionary Nathan Price heads off to the African Congo with his wife and 4 daughters in 1959, and nothing goes as planned. Though they bring with them everything they think they will need from their home in Bethlehem, Georgia—right down to the Betty Crocker cake mixes—the Prices are woefully unprepared for their new life among the Congolese, and they all pay the price. A previous Summer Reading Guide pick. Published 1998. Also published this decade: A Suitable Boy (1993). More info →

What are you reading for this category? What are YOUR favorite books with staying power? 

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Leave A Comment
  1. Maria says:

    OMG how did you like Watership Down?
    I COULD NOT get thru it!! I can usually read anything but it was such a hard book for me to finish!

    • Susan says:

      I read Watership Down when I was a newlywed, back in 1976 or 1977. I remember sitting in our modest apartment in the evening, both of us reading, and I finished Watership Down, and I started SOBBING, and my poor husband had no idea what was wrong until I could stop crying long enough to tell him it was the end of the book I was reading. ;-o

  2. Jess says:

    I actually have the opposite problem. Most of the books I read are quite a bit older than I am. I get tired of the same old Gone Girl type of books that seem to be the only thing released recently. I read one or two new books and think they will never be classics. It seems like most of the new things I read are utterly forgettable.

    • I had the same thought! When looking for a new book I almost always turn to another classic – Austen, Dickens, Hardy, and my perennial favourite LM Montgomery… I find their language is so thick with meaning, and the scenes more real than books set in my own time, even. There’s something to be said for stories that last. I really have been trying to break out of my rut, though, and get some recommendations on newer books!!

    • Joy in Alabama says:

      I agree! I read lots of old stuff that nobody wants to hear about but I love! I spent all last year reading new books and went back to my old books this year.

      I’ve just finished Goodbye, Mr Chips (it makes me cry so much that this is only the second time I’ve read it). I also read Lost Horizon, about Shangri-La, and am rereading my current favorite, Random Harvest, all by James Hilton.

      I’m buying Angela Thirkell books at the moment and one of my favorite authors of all time is D E Stevenson. Both write books set in England around WW I and II. I also love Miss Read, but many would probably find her dull. I think her books are relaxing.

      • Joy in Alabama says:

        I just thought of another great author, Elizabeth Goudge. My favorite book of hers is Pilgrim Inn, published in 1948 and part of a trilogy about a family in England after the war. But all her books are good.

        Ooh, ooh, then there’s the Mrs ‘Arris books: Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris and Mrs ‘Arris Goes to New York are the two I have. They are so cute!

      • Joy, I want to read Random Harvest so bad. It’s expensive to buy, so I may have to check it out from the library. I love the movie and want to compare it to the book. I did that with another Greer Garson movie, The Valley of Decision. The book was fantastic and much longer than the movie. I’ll have to read Goodbye Mr. Chips and Lost Horizon. I was thinking of reading The Razor’s Edge this year too.

        I’ve read two books this year by Clara Benson that you might enjoy. These are, I believe, the second and third books she wrote, The Mystery at Underwood, and Treasure at Poldarrow Point. I found the first book she wrote on BookBub a few years back for free. In that book there is a note that she wrote books as a relaxing diversion from taking care of the house and children, but never published them. Her family found them later. The books are no longer free, but they are worth the small cost. Most of them are country manor mysteries. I hope you’ll check them out.

  3. Jennifer N. says:

    I’m happy I’ve read so many of these on your list. I really want to give The Secret Garden and Watership Down a re-read but haven’t gotten to it yet. I read Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” for my pick, which is not so much science fiction as it is social commentary. It’s also more of a collection of stories than a novel. I found it fascinating. I also recommend The Lathe of Heaven for science fiction/fantasy readers.

    For a more classical read, I recommend “Far From the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy. It’s a lovely English pastoral with an imperfect female lead. I detested “Tess” when I read it in high school, but wanted to read this other work prior to the movie’s release and I really enjoyed it. I’ve also thought about picking up “Tess” again to see if I appreciate it more as an adult.

  4. Jill D says:

    Giants in the Earth – Ole Rolvaag
    My Antonia – Willa Cather
    Because of the Lockwoods – Dorothy Whipple
    The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

  5. Diane says:

    That Printer of Udell’s (1903) , Shephard of the Hills (1907) , The Calling of Dan Matthews (1909) all by Harold Bell Wright – Read an OLD book, and see how much has really NOT changed. 🙂

  6. Jo says:

    I’m reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. It’s slow and quiet and I don’t know where it is going but I am determined to finish it this weekend. I was born in 1953 so a lot of books younger folks mention weren’t around then!

    • Jennifer O. says:

      My book club just read this book! We alternate between contemporary and classics so I read a good number of books written before I was born.

    • Mary Ann Garcia says:

      I remember reading this as a teen and it made me fall in love with reading all over again. It was so heart wrenchingly poingent.

    • Julie says:

      I really enjoyed the Poldark series. Around book 9 or so I really had to force myself to keep going, but I was glad that I completed the series. I was pregnant at the time, so I will forever associate that pregnancy with Ross and Demelza! Good memories. 🙂

  7. Jamie says:

    I read “The Outsiders” for this category. Somehow I made it through my school years without ever reading it. Glad I finally did!

  8. Allison says:

    I’m going to read Brideshead Revisited and try to forget the fact that three of the books on your list were published AFTER I WAS BORN. I’m laughing as I type this. Great list and a great reading challenge. I enthusiastically agree with your choice of Poisonwood Bible – I discovered Barbara Kingsolver by reading The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams and Pigs in Heaven (I love all her stuff), but PB is on a whole different level, in my opinion. One of my all-time faves.
    And now I’ve picked up two more (And Then There Were None, and The Heart…Hunter) based on previous comments! My son is going to give Agatha Christie a try, based on your Instagram post, and because the college freshman boy across the street is addicted to her books – great suggestion!

  9. Aimee says:

    Love this list, Anne! For the 2017 challenge I finally finished Pride & Prejudice (after starting and quitting every Austen novel repeatedly). At about 2/3 of the way through something clicked and I ended up loving it. I think I had never realized how mocking Austen is being of her own society. I just kept thinking, ‘These characters are so ridiculous! How can anyone stand this?!’ Now I feel like I’m finally in on the joke ?

    • Allison says:

      I am really glad to read this, because I am one of those people who has also started and quit numerous Austen novels – so your comment gives me hope. I really, really want to read and enjoy Emma, and it just hasn’t happened for me yet. And I read like crazy – I just haven’t been able to “click” with the writing yet. I keep thinking that I’m just one of those people who has to enjoy Austen through some excellent film adaptations. Maybe not! I’ll give it another shot.

      • Jess says:

        Emma…oh my goodness! As a self-proclaimed Jane-ite, Emma is a tough one. But the BBC production of it starring Romola Garai is amazing and will make you like the book more, promise!

        • Allison says:

          I own that version of Emma! That’s what makes me want to dive in and try to stick with it – knowing that the book is always “more” than the film adaptation. Thanks for the encouragement!

  10. Madelyn says:

    I am so excited to learn of the feature on Goodreads! I had no idea. So, I’ve selected Gift From the Sea by Anne Lindbergh (which gives you SOME idea of how old I am!) Thanks for this tip!

  11. Brianna Santellan says:

    I listened to Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup for this category. I hadn’t seen the movie before listening to it, and I definitely won’t be watching it now; I just can’t imagine watching some of the things that the book describes. Any hoot, I listened to it on a long Amtrak trip. Unless you’re a fan of crying to yourself in public, I don’t recommend following my example.

  12. Britt says:

    Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle” was one of my favorite reads all year. It is so charming, doesn’t feel antiquated, and I laughed out loud a LOT. Would recommend for anyone struggling with this challenge!

    • Kristen says:

      I have just read this book after wanting to for decades, and I loved it! It will definitely be a re-read. I also laughed out loud at times – the runaway bear scrambling up the bank!!

  13. Casey says:

    Another fun Goodreads feature is the “stats” page. In your browser, click “My Books” on the top bar. Then in the left sidebar find the list labeled “tools” in light gray. “stats” will be second from the bottom in that list. After you follow that link, find the radio button for “publication year” along the top of the graph. This will show you the publication year for the books you have already read, by year you read them. So far I am reading a LOT more classics in 2017 than I have read in the six years previous.

    • Danica says:

      I love the stats on Goodreads. My reads seem to be clustered within the last 15 years (definitely not all new releases) with handfuls of older classics each year. It is definitely an interesting tool.

  14. Nanette says:

    The Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset was written in the 20s. Fascinating read. Also I like Gene Stratton Porter (Girl of the LImberlost, Freckles). I must be older than a lot of people since Poisonwood Bible came out when I was in my late 30s and Color Purple in my late 20s.

    • Mary Ann Garcia says:

      I too have read several of the books on this list and a few are all time favs. I too have chosen an Austen title for this prompt. I will be reading Northanger Abby since it the only one I haven’t read yet. After I decided to read this title, Audible announced they were doing a special edition and it just released last week! Can’t wait.

    • Mary Ann Garcia says:

      I really enjoyed listening to Kristin Lavransdatter. It was over 40 hours of listening from Audible, so I selected this title for the more than 600 pages prompt. And yes, I was still interested until the end.

  15. Andrea Methvin says:

    It is like you are in my brain! I re-read Secret Garden and Gone with the Wind every few years. These are my “stranded on a desert island” books. And, I decided to re-read Watership Down last week. I am about 2/3 through it. My mantra this summer is “read one new, read one old”. It is working out very well, and it feels very satisfying. Just finished a new one today, Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson. Highly recommended! I saw she and Sara Gruen at an author event this week. They were a hoot!

  16. Mary H says:

    I listened to Excellent Women by Barbara Pym for this category. I’d never heard of Pym or her books until the Washington Post gave this audio a nod last year. Great read.

  17. Cheryl Weaver says:

    I was born in 1943 and The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois was punished in 1903. So I am going to finish it this weekend! Ilvechallenges like this. Thank you.

  18. kate Donnelly says:

    I have read numerous ones on this list. I now have a huge addition to my TBR list. I am going to create two stacks-new or nearly knew and have wanted to read, but have not YET!
    I just re-read Captains and Kings, an all-time favorite. I sometimes do binge reading Ann Tyler, James Michner, Follett(saving last of trilogy for this winter.

    Thanks Anne(with an e)

    • Kate, I read Captain and the Kings when I was in high school and loved it, though it is also prophetic and a little scary. I also loved Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. I have never read any Ann Tyler, maybe I’ll give her a try. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve given up reading Michner after reading several of his books. I loved them at the time, though.

  19. I try to mix up my reading life, so classic books are always on my list. At the end of last year I read, for the first time, A Christmas Carol. Then in quick succession, The Moonstone, and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. This year I have read, The Mystery at Underwood and Treasure at Poldarrow Point by Clara Benson. They are light mysteries, but the interesting thing about Clara Benson is that she wrote many country manor mysteries as a way to relax after taking care of children and the house, but she hid them away. After her death her family found them and began publishing her work. They are great for vacation reading, or to relieve stress.

  20. Annie Hoffman says:

    This reminds me of a goal I set for myself many years ago. I read my choice of “classics” from A to Z. I began with Anthony Adverse and finished with Zorba the Greek. I read books I never would have picked from the book store! I may do it again, but use the names classic authors to make my list.

  21. Mirel says:

    Hi, I’m Mirel, new to the group, but not to reading 🙂

    Actually, as part of a my reading for a few other challenges and research for a book I’m writing, I’ve read a few books that fit this prompt including: The Great Gatsby, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Daddy-Long-Legs, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Man Who Was Thursday, Tevye’s Daughters, Jewish Children (the latter 2 by Shalom Aleichem), Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account, and an anthology of stories translated from Yiddish. Some were revisits of old favorites, some were new. Having actually already passed my goal of 100 books this year, I’ve covered a lot…

  22. Lisa Harrison says:

    There are some good ones on your list that I really want to read so thanks for sharing. I chose The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I tried to read For Whom the Bell Tolls but couldn’t get into it. I’m halfway through The Sun Also Rises (1926) as it’s a much easier read!! This is my first year to do the reading challenge and I am loving it!!! Thank you!!!

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