Favorite Books Written Before I Was Born

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is about our favorite books written before we were born.  I haven’t written about my favorite classics for a while, so this was a nice opportunity to span a couple centuries of great literature and pick out my favorites. 

In making this list, I thought about the books that have had the greatest impact on me, as opposed to maybe being the best books ever written.  Most of these are books I read years ago, some of them in high school and college. But they’ve stuck with me.

  1. Emma by Jane Austen (1815).  Emma isn’t everyone’s favorite Austen, but I’ve loved her as a character since I first read this in college.  I love how independent she is, and how she can be really self-centered but grows over the course of the novel.
  2. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850): This is my favorite of Dicken’s books.  Copperfield feels like a more fully formed character than many of Dickens other characters, probably because he’s writing about himself.
  3. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871): I love the breadth and complexity of this novel and its characters. This is a huge novel, but nothing about it felt like it had been done before. 
  4. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878): I have a soft spot for this book, which I discovered in a high school literature class where I hated nearly every other book I was assigned.  Eustacia Vye isn’t nice or good, but she’s my favorite literary character and I never read this book without liking her more. 
  5. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905): There are plenty of classic novels written about “the fallen woman” but I found this one the most nuanced and Lily Bart more sympathetic (and maybe that’s because most of the others are written by men).  
  6. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945): I read this book as a teenager and I’ve never forgotten it, especially the image at the end. Like 1984, I feel like you see shades of it everywhere you look. This “simple” book about a revolution by animals on a farm feels very, very real.  
  7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953): I read this book later in life but it was no less impactful.  Bradbury does a masterful job writing about the importance of reading and thinking – and the harm that censorship and media can do. 
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960): I expected this novel to be amazing, but was surprised at how beautifully written it was. Enough said.
  9. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963): This book really made an impact when I read it in college, and I’ve read it a few times since. Now that I’m older it feels different but still meaningful.
  10. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965): There are quite a few things that got me interested in law when I was young, and this was one of them. It’s still one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read. It’s a compelling look at murder in a small town and capital punishment, and a reminder that even murderers are human beings.

I would have liked this list to be more diverse but I haven’t read that many classics by authors of color written before I was born (I stopped at 1970, in case you were wondering). Other books that almost made this list include The Count of Monte Cristo, East of Eden, A Raisin in the Sun, The Good Earth, and Testament of Youth. I also didn’t include children’s literature, but if I had I would have certainly included The Secret Garden, A Wrinkle in Time, and the Oz series.

Thanks to Top Ten Tuesday for a good topic this week! What are some of your favorite classics?

  22 comments for “Favorite Books Written Before I Was Born

  1. lydiaschoch
    February 2, 2021 at 6:12 pm

    The Bell Jar was such a good read.

    My post.

  2. February 2, 2021 at 10:57 pm

    Fahrenheit 451 is a favorite of mine, and I really enjoyed Animal Farm as well. You’re certainly right about the thoughts and feelings it leaves behind! I didn’t care much for To Kill a Mockingbird when I had to read it for class, but I haven’t ever tried rereading it. I own In Cold Blood, but I never ended up reading it, as the class I bought it for allowed options during that unit and I read another book instead.

    • February 3, 2021 at 11:19 am

      I didn’t see Mockingbird on a lot of lists which surprised me. I wonder if it doesn’t hold up as well today? In Cold Blood is one I read many years ago but I found it unforgettable.

      • February 3, 2021 at 4:44 pm

        I’m not sure… I know in my case, it was required reading in middle school, so we were about 13-14. I know some people enjoy school reading (I have several myself I loved), but the vast majority of a classroom of students who have no interest in reading assigned books likely aren’t going to fall in love with the story, especially not when testing and in-depth analysis are involved. I think if I had of read it at an older age, or outside of school, I would have been more likely to enjoy it.

  3. February 3, 2021 at 12:57 am

    Those would qualify in my case, as well 😉
    But I probably wouldn’t read them. Partly because of genre, partly because it would feel more like work (in the case of Orwell). Sorry, not my cup of tea!

  4. February 3, 2021 at 2:55 am

    This is an excellent list with some of my favourite books – Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm and In Cold Blood, for example. I’m reading Middlemarch at the minute and I must admit I’m finding it a bit of a slog. I’m not a big fan of the classics but I try to read a couple every year because I think it’s good to read things that are outside of your comfort zone. Emma and David Copperfield are both on the list for later this year.

    • February 3, 2021 at 11:17 am

      I’m sure Middlemarch is not for everyone! I was surprised how relatable the characters were. I would like to be reading more classics than I have been lately. If you read Emma and David Copperfield, I hope you enjoy them!

  5. February 3, 2021 at 3:19 am

    I switched this topic to books published the year I was born, because there simply were so many amazing ones! I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Left Hand of Darkness are two that I reviewed (the latter is not my favorite Le Guin, but it’s certainly an important book). The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one I remember from my British Lit class in school, in which I also read The Return of the Native for the first time. And the list goes on … including some children’s classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This was a fun list to do!

    • February 3, 2021 at 11:15 am

      It was really hard to pick ten books from such a wide time span, so I love your idea of picking the year you were born. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is an excellent pick and one I should have thought of for my list.

  6. February 3, 2021 at 6:06 am

    I’m so glad I suggested this. I’m finding out a lot about bloggers through these posts!

    • February 3, 2021 at 9:34 am

      This was a great topic suggestion! Though it was very hard to pick ten from centuries of literature. I enjoyed seeing the other lists too.

  7. February 3, 2021 at 8:56 am
  8. February 3, 2021 at 9:48 am

    Excellent list … I’ve read and enjoyed almost all of them! I’m planning to start a reread of Middlemarch later this month.

    • February 3, 2021 at 11:13 am

      Thanks, I hope you enjoy your re-read of Middlemarch!

  9. February 3, 2021 at 11:30 am

    Awesome list! I just read Middlemarch for the first time a couple of years ago, and was so happy that I did. Emma is always a favorite — I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. 🙂

  10. February 3, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    I haven’t read any of Dickens’ books but glad to hear about the ones you enjoyed!

  11. February 4, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    Emma, Middlemarch and House of Mirth are three of my favorites! They all have such great female protagonists. Great list. 🙂

  12. February 8, 2021 at 8:44 pm

    The House of Mirth is fabulous — I read it for an independent study in one of my high school classes…80% because I wanted to watch the movie version w/ Gillian Anderson, true, but I ended up being really captivated by the story. I haven’t seen Edith Wharton mentioned on any lists yet despite how many people have done classics, so it’s great to see her highlighted on yours. My mom is a big fan of her books as well.
    –RS

    • February 9, 2021 at 4:23 pm

      I really want to read more by Wharton. Thanks for sharing. Do you or your mom have other Wharton recommendations?

  13. February 13, 2021 at 5:23 pm

    Your top 3 are definitely in my top favorites as well. Also, To Kill a Mockingbird is also a lifelong favorite. I found The Bell Jar too oppressive to love, but agree it is a powerful book.

    I love reading lists like this–some of those school reading lists did introduce us to wonderful books we can appreciate throughout our lives.

  14. February 24, 2021 at 1:30 pm

    I love every book on your list. I will be reading The Return of the Native after I finished with The Mayor of Casterbridge which I am currently reading and already know it is going to be very good. I am happy to hear it is your favourite!

    • February 24, 2021 at 6:44 pm

      I hope you love Return of the Native! I don’t know if it’s his best book but I had a very emotional reaction to it. Far From the Madding Crowd is another really good one.

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