TTT: Books Written Before I Was Born

This week’s That Artsy Reader Girl topic is so much fun!  There’s a lot of open interpretation around the topic, too, so I’m going to do books that I’ve read & enjoyed that were written before I was born because why not talk about some old favorites!  They’re going to span the gamut, too, from a totally expected read from the 50s to much, much older.  This is also probably going to be very telling of my schooling.

Starting with the oldest of the bunch, written somewhere between 800-700 BCE, Homer’s The Odyssey is one of my favorite old epic poems. I studied a lot of ancient European texts in college, and most of my extracurriculars skewed that way because I just cannot stand American literature, and I hadn’t yet fallen in love with the classics of the more modern era. The Odyssey is such a classic tale, though, and we see bits and pieces of it pulled into literally every piece of literature that’s published today. I haven’t read it in ages, but as I begin to embark on a probably never-ending tale with an ancient Greek vampire, it’s definitely one I’m going to be tapping back into.

If I had to pick a top five from the oldest books I’ve read, Beowulf by Anonymous, which has a lot of speculation around its writing since much of it was lost, but is somewhere in the 700-1000 AD range–it would definitely be in the top five. It’s easily one of my favorite books, and though it doesn’t appear on almost any list I’ve written that talks about favorite books, it’s one that I hold near and dear to my heart. I’ve read it several times, written countless papers–some about nothing more than a single kenning–and would gladly dive back into it at any given moment.

My brain tells me that I’ve talked about Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, written in 1472, a lot lately, but I may be confusing that with the fact that I’ve written about it a lot in my latest book, so it’s possible TDC being so prominent in my mind right now is not because I’ve inundated all of you with how much I adore it, and that’s a shame because you deserve to experience the glory that is one of the gayest epics ever. Sure, Homer’s definitely got a ton of homoerotic subtext, but the way that Virgil & Dante interact in Inferno is utterly absurd, and I’m hoping to write a dissertation post that actually peels it apart in more than just a quick paragraph review. Anyway, I’d like to be buried with Inferno, please.

Yes, Hamlet is a play, not a book, but I wanted to pick a specific William Shakespeare to talk about, and my favorite, first premiered in 1609, is always going to be this melodramatic asshole. One of my favorite literary moments in college was that I had the same professor for two classes in back-to-back semesters. The first semester, I really didn’t say all that much because I’m not a talkative person around people I don’t know. The second semester, however, I was taking a Shakespeare elective because um hello? An entire class devoted to my favorite playwright? Sign me the heck up! The first play we read was Hamlet, and he asked for volunteers to read out loud, and my hand just shot straight up into the air. He stared at me for a second before he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard your voice before?” Suffice to say, he heard it a lot that year. He also let me write a paper comparing Cleopatra to Lucifer, and it was badass.

I only recently got into Jane Austen, and though I’ve still got two of her books outstanding, there’s no chance that her 1815 novel, Emma, is not going to retain its spot as my favorite. It’s just so damn good. And that adaptation! I know we’re talking about old books here, but the 2020 film adaptation was out of this world. It was so perfect for the story, which is wacky and ridiculous and just so over the top. Emma is, hands down, my favorite of Austen’s protagonists (followed shortly by Catherine Morland), her romance with Knightley kills me, and Miss NAME’s monologues?? I CANNOT, I love her so much.

Again, we’re here with a play! It’s a little bit more cheating this time, too, because Oscar Wilde has written books, but the amount of times that I’ve read The Importance of Being Earnest, first premiered in 1895, is almost as absurd as the notion of Bunburying. Gosh, and the amount of times I’ve referenced this play in my writing? Also ridiculous. There’s an entire coffee shop in my faery novel called Bunbury & Bagels because I will not be stopped. My love for Wilde knows no bounds, and this play is remarkable.

This is the last time I’m cheating, I swear! And it’s not even cheating because Rainer Marie Rilke was a poet, but because I’m picking very specific poems out of one of his books, but if I’ve only got ten things to talk about, one of them is going to be The Voices, written in 1905. They’re from his beloved book The Book of Hours, and they once inspired an entire short story that was vague and weird and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that did involve some very questionable murder, and I’d like to revisit it someday. Rilke is definitely in my top five poets (oh, now there’s a post to write), and though I discovered him through Maggie Stiefvater, he’ll stay with me long after.

I grew up on Frances Hodgson Burnett, but I only just recently read her 1911 novel, The Secret Garden. I cannot actually tell you how many times I’ve watched the film adaptations for both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, just that Sarah screaming Papa! is never not going to make me absolutely bawl my eyes out. I read young readers version of both books growing up, but it was only last year, I think, that I finally decided to dive into the original classics, and wow. I somehow did not think that I could possibly love Burnett’s writing more, and she completely blew me out of the water.

If anyone is surprised by The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, published in 1954, showing up on this list, this has got to be your first post here because I think it’s gotten to a point where I now talk about Tolkien in every single post, even if there’s no coherent reason for him to be there. A post about my favorite romance tropes? You betcha Sauron & Morgoth are there! Look, I’ve got issues, and they’re definitely multiplying, and I will die happily with all my useless Middle-earth knowledge.

It seems fitting that To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, published in 1960, should round out this list. It’s been, for much of my life, one of my favorite books in the whole world. It was transformational for me in high school, and I continue to look back on it with fondness and wonder. It’s such a powerful, beautiful story, and I’m never going to stop loving it as much as I do right now, which is somehow way more than I did when I first read it.

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