30 March 2021

Reading old books

March 21 is commemorated as Human Rights Day in South Africa, and it also commemorates the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960. Yet a survey showed that very few young people know what the Sharpeville massacre was.

A similar question was asked a few years ago about how many books people have read that were published before they were born. It's similar not in that it has to do with knowledge of a specific historical event, but rather enables one to realise that the past is another country, a different world, with a different culture. Reading books published at different times can be almost as broadening as travelling to different countries, perhaps even more so.

Since then I have tried to keep a record of the books I have read that were published before I was born, and here's my list over the last five years. How many of them have you read, and which others have you read that were published before you were born?

  • Ballantyne, R.M. . 1966 [1857] The Coral Island.
  • Conrad, Joseph. 1955 [1904] Nostromo.
  • Dickens, Charles. 1981. Bleak House.
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor. 1959 [1880] The brothers Karamazov.
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor. 2009. Devils.
  • Eliot, George. s.a. Adam Bede.
  • Greene, Graham. 1974 [1936] A gun for sale.
  • Haggard, H. Rider. 1965 [1910] Queen Sheba's ring.
  • Haggard, H. Rider. 1972. Jess.
  • Haggard, H. Rider. 1979. King Solomon's mines.
  • Huxley, Aldous. 1994 [1926] Jesting Pilate: the diary of a journey.
  • Kingsley, Charles. s.a. The Heroes.
  • Kipling, Rudyard. 1994. Puck of Pook's Hill.
  • Montgomery, L.M. 1994 [1908] Anne of Green Gables.
  • Nesbit, E. 1978. Five children and It.
  • Nesbit, E. 1978. The Phoenix and the Carpet.
  • Nesbit, E. 1986 [1899] The story of the treasure seekers.
  • Sayers, Dorothy. 1970 [1931] The Five Red Herrings.
  • Steinbeck, John. 1967 [1939] Cannery Row.
  • Sterne, Lawrence. 1948. Tristram Shandy.
  • Tolstoy, Leo. 1926 [1899] Resurrection.
  • Turgenev, Ivan. 1967. On the Eve.
  • Turgenev, Ivan. 2015 [1862] Fathers and sons.

I've also been reading books about writing, and find it interesting to see the contradictory advice given to writers on what they should be reading to imporve their writing. One said that one should only read books published in the last couple of years, because that way you will know what kind of books are currently popular and will sell well. 

Others, as I said, point out that your own writing will have greater depth and greater human sympathy if you read books published before you were born. 

Want to give it a try?

Read this:

Read a book published before you were born this year

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