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.)
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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?