The other day I stumbled upon an article called Twenty Books Worth Reading. It caught my eye, since I’m always looking for new vintage literature to read. I’m reproducing the list of twenty books worth reading here, along with links to online copies for each title.
As we close one year and start another (I write this at the end of December), it’s helpful to look forward to the new year. I don’t go as far as making a resolution, but I do think through the coming months. What do I want to accomplish? What do I want to learn? What new skill do I want to master this coming year?
One of those lists, of course, includes the list of books that I want to read. My To Be Read list is taller than I am, yet I can always find a new or old title worth delving into. With that in mind, I offer this list.
Twenty books worth reading
Some of these titles you will recognize. Most, however, you probably will not. I was unaware until writing this of a very popular Canadian author named Frederick Niven. He goes on my reading list for this year. I hope you will find at least one book to treasure from this list. Perhaps you will become reacquainted with an old friend.
The books include ten fiction books and ten nonfiction titles.
The fiction books
- Miss Lulu Bett. Zona Gale. A story of a modern Cinderella, this book became a play during the winter of 1920. Zona Gale won a Pulitzer for the play version of her story. Read it at Project Gutenberg: Miss Lulu Bett.
- Main Street. Sinclair Lewis. The story of Carol Kennicott and the town Gopher Prairie, Main Street became a best-selling commentary on small town life. You can Read Main Street at Google Books.
- Alice Adams. Booth Tarkington. Perhaps best known for his novels Penrod and The Magnificent Ambersons, this new book received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1922. Not only did Alice Adams receive a Pulitzer, but it was made into a movie. Twice. Read Alice Adams at Project Gutenberg.
- The Golden Answer. Sylvia Chatfield Bates. This started as a serial in the magazine Woman’s Home Companion. You can read The Golden Answer at Google Books.
- The Brimming Cup. Dorothy Canfield Fisher. An older married woman falls in love with another man. Known in juvenile reading circles for her novel Understood Betsy, Fisher was named by Eleanor Roosevelt as one of the ten most influential women of her time in the United States. Read The Brimming Cup at Project Gutenberg.
- Seed of the Sun. Wallace Irwin. This one is thinly veiled propaganda. You might want to read it with your blood pressure meds handy, if you have any. It seems to be a fictionalized tirade against Japanese immigrants on the West Coast of the United States. The original reviewer even used the term propaganda in his writeup. I couldn’t get through the first chapter. Read Seed of the Sun at your own risk, available at Google Books.
- The Mysterious Rider. Zane Grey. Ah, now we are back in familiar territory. A Zane Grey western tale. Take a ride down the trail with The Mysterious Rider at Project Gutenberg.
- Guns of the Gods. Talbot Mundy. This is a tale of India, the story of Princess Yasmini and her first love affair. Find Guns of the Gods at Project Gutenberg.
- How Many Cards?. Isabel Ostrander. This is a detective story. Ostrander wrote many detective stories. If you like this one, you may like the others as well. Read How Many Cards? at Google Books.
- A Tale That Is Told. Frederick Niven. This is a tale about the children of a Scottish minister, told by his son. Niven was a very popular Canadian writer, as I mentioned before. You can find A Tale That Is Told at the Internet Archive.
- Travels and Adventures of Raphael Pumpelly. Raphael Pumpelly, ed. by O.S. Rice. This is an abridged version of Pumpelly’s autobiography, reworked for teen and young adult readers. Pumpelly was a mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist, and explorer. Quite a bit to fit into one lifetime! Read it yourself at Google Books. Travels and Adventures of Raphael Pumpelly.
- Roads to Childhood. Annie Carroll Moore. This book, written by a New York City children’s librarian, discusses good books for children. You can get a copy of Roads to Childhood from Google Books.
- Health for the Growing Child. William R. P. Emerson, M.D. This is a book that discusses underweight and underfed children, a common enough problem in the early Twenties that Emerson wrote a book about it. Emerson was a pediatric specialist and faculty member of Dartmouth, and when he wrote this volume he was probably a faculty member at Tufts University. I could not find a copy of this book anywhere, but the next year Emerson published Nutrition and Growth in Children, which may be an expanded version of the earlier title. Find it at the Internet Archive. Nutrition and Growth in Children.
- The Autobiography of Margot Asquith. Margot Asquith was a wit, a countess, a British socialite, and married to the (then) current British Prime Minister. According to the reviewer, “she writes often in questionable taste, but seldom if ever is she insincere.” This one goes on my to-read stack. You can find it at Project Gutenberg, in a two-volumes-in-one compilation. The Autobiography of Margot Asquith.
- Margaret Fuller: A Psychological Biography. Katharine Anthony. Anthony was a college-level math teacher who was interested in both biography and psychology. She combined the two to write several “psychological biographies,” which were either celebrated or panned by the press. You can read Margaret Fuller: A Psychological Biography yourself at the Internet Archive.
- The Famous Mrs. Fair, and Other Plays. James Forbes. The other two plays in this compilation are The Chorus Lady and The Show Shop. The Famous Mrs. Fair saw stage time as well as a movie adaptation in 1923. Obtain The Famous Mrs. Fair from Google Books.
- The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism. Bertrand Russell. Russell was a British mathematician, philosopher, and pacifist. He wrote more than 60 books. In this one, he puts forth his thoughts about visiting Russia and seeing the beginning of Russian Communism. Read The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism at Project Gutenberg.
- The Evolution of Sinn Fein. Robert Mitchell Henry. Henry was a professor at Queen’s University, Belfast. The year of 1921 brought Ireland’s struggle for independence to the newspapers of the United States. Sinn Fein was (and is) a political party within Ireland. This book would find interest in those who had read about Ireland’s cause. You can read The Evolution of Sinn Fein at Google Books.
- San Cristóbal de la Habana. Joseph Hergesheimer. San Cristóbal de la Habana is the original name for Havana, Cuba. This book is a travelogue of Hergesheimer’s trip, filled with luscious descriptions of what he saw. Read San Cristóbal de la Habana from Project Gutenberg.
- Scenario Writing Today. Grace Lytton. Want to know how movie scripts were written in the Twenties? Look no further than Scenario Writing Today, a book about how to write scripts. Retrieve your copy of Scenario Writing Today from Google Books.
The books as a whole
I was surprised I located every one of these titles without much effort. If you would prefer a printed copy, I noticed that almost every one of them appeared available in reprints from Amazon or your favorite reprint seller. Some of them, though, may only be worth one read to you.
Of course, these are all books of their time. They may contain material we find offensive today. They may also have factual information which later proved incorrect. Such is the hazard of reading 100 year old books. Much of the content, however, should be excellent. After all, several of these books became movies, and two received Pulitzer prizes.
Overall, they give a good look at the literature and nonfiction scene of 1921. This not only tells you what people were reading in the early Twenties, but also how they thought about things.
If you would like to add a twenty-first book to your list of twenty books worth reading, I suggest Daddy Long-legs, by Jean Webster. Although it dates a bit earlier than 1921, readers were definitely reading this book in the early Twenties as well.
I wish you happy reading.