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Updated: Jul 13, 2021

Classics that will get you thinking about the past!

For this segment of the My Vintage Lifestyle blog, I want to familiarise you with some books (that aren't history books!) which will help you to better understand the good old days. It's funny in some ways, how, even though a novel might be more than a hundred years old, there are concepts and themes within that we as readers continue to relate to, and that are still relevant for us today. In other regards, there are aspects of literary pieces from the past that are almost impossible to grasp unless we do a little more research...

I believe an essential aspect of engaging in a vintage lifestyle is understanding how our forbears interacted with the world around them. Including how they used/perceived many of the items we might hold as collectibles today, and how those items impacted their everyday lives. There is so much we can learn about the past from novels and memoirs that we don't need to consult a textbook for. For example, how did people in the 1940's talk to each other? Something perhaps not as noticeable today, would have been how massive a gap existed between the way those in the working class communicated with each other as opposed to the upper class. Books have so much to tell us about how the rich lived, how the poor lived, what people did for fun, and how major ideologies and events, like communism & the world wars, affected peoples lives.

Another of my favourite genres in which to read about the past is travel literature. Hearing from people who travelled the world in the 1920s (as an example) can be incredibly eye opening. You can get a fresh new perspective on a place you've already been to, and have fun comparing the differences! Even more magical can be the places you've read about that have hardly changed at all since the author visited them almost a century ago.

With that, let me recommend a few books that can transport you back in time, some of which are bona fide classics you might have read (or were supposed to read!) in school, and some of which you might have never heard of! MVL presents the ultimate guide to vintage reads....

(NOTE: These are in no particular order. I will also be adding to this list as time goes on, and where possible I've included links for you to find these books to purchase if one catches your interest!)

A novel that follows two days in the life of a young rebel named Holden Caulfield, this one will take you back to New York city in the 1940s. An absolute must read.

Deals with: coming of age, class, teenage angst.

Odds are if you haven't read it, you've seen it, or at least heard of it. This is one of the most famous novels at all time. A romance that details the courtship of Elizabeth Bennett & Mr. Darcy, the book is also a satirical commentary of sorts on class & country life in England in the 18th century.

Deals with: country life, society, love.

"One of the classic travel books about Ireland by one of the century's best-selling writers. Shortly after the declaration of the Irish Free State, H. V. Morton goes in search of Ireland by motor-car and finds, amongst other things, a Norman village in Galway, lobster fishermen, a shy girl in need of an apron in Connemara, and a great many beds in which Michael Collins is said to have slept. Full of local stories and wayside conversations, Morton's witty and enticing travelogue recalls a way of life not quite disappeared even at the beginning of a new century. Anecdotal, leisurely, full of character and event, insight, and opinion, this is travel writing of the very highest order." -Amazon

Henry Morton is one of my favourite writers, and you can sit up all night reading his work and feel as if someone very close to you was recounting a story of their adventures in front of the family fireplace. Morton's In Search of series is a phenomenal way to experience the world as it once was from someone who was there.

The Secret Garden is a beloved piece of classical children's literature, but it is lauded by both the young & the old. You may be familiar with A Series of Unfortunate Events; The Secret Garden begins similarly, with a young Mary Lennox losing her parents whilst in India. She is promptly shipped off to England to live with an old hunchbacked uncle at the turn of the century. A glance at India, England, and the British Empire before the First World War.

Deals with: nature, abandonment, companionship.

An American classic, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel will whisk you back to the American south in the 1930s to tell a complex story through the eyes of a child. Another must read.

"Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos." -Amazon

Deals with: racial inequality, morality, childlike innocence.

Stoddard's Lectures

Stoddard's Lectures, vol. 1-10, c. 1897-1905

John Lawson Stoddard wrote some of the most famous and historically important travelogues of all time, which he eventually transformed into a series of lectures to be delivered across his native United States of America. At one time immensely popular, his published Lectures became a common feature in many turn of the century homes and now offer a fascinating glimpse into the world at the turn of the last century. Though occasionally still found in print, many older publications abound online and are available to purchase second hand.

If you haven't read Anne Frank's diary, you must. The journal of a young Jewish girl recounting the trials of life in hiding amidst the throes of World War Two and Nazi persecution.

"Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank's remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit." -Amazon

Deals with: coming of age, race, persecution, family.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but is designed to get anyone going on experiencing the past a little differently. Have a vintage read you absolutely adore and think should be on this list? Let us know!


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