Book Club for Life
February 26, 2011 2:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm 30. Each year until I'm 60 I want to read a masterpiece by an author the same age as I am when s/he wrote it. Help compile my list.

This is for a sort of lifetime book club I'm planning with a dear friend who lives halfway across the world.

We don't mind cheating a little bit; even if the author wasn't exactly our age when the book was first published, it's fine as long as s/he attained that age in the year of publication. (So The Mysteries of Udolpho would be an acceptable choice for this year, for example, even though it was published in May 1794 and Ann Radcliffe didn't turn 30 until July of that year.)

No limitations on genre, and we'll consider works of poetry and music if they're epic enough to sustain a year of contemplation and conversation.
posted by grrarrgh00 to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 269 users marked this as a favorite
32 -- Charlotte Bronte publishes Jane Eyre
36 -- Gustave Flaubert publishes Madame Bovary
38 -- Ralph Ellison publishes Invisible Man
45 -- Haruki Murakami publishes The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
56 -- Italo Calvino publishes If on a winter's night a traveller...
59 -- Miguel de Cervantes publishes Don Quixote
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:48 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Joyce was 32 when he published Dubliners. Jane Austen was 36 when she published Sense and Sensibility. Margaret Mitchell was also 36 when Gone with the Wind was published.
posted by quodlibet at 2:50 PM on February 26, 2011

47 -- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
37 -- Joseph Heller Catch 22 (he was 38 by the time it was published, but Sidhedevil already gave you a 38)
48 -- Umberto Eco Name Of the Rose

This is an awesome idea, btw. I hope you follow up with the final list.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:55 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

41 -- Leo Tolstoi publishes War and Peace
50 or 52 (the novel was issued in two parts) -- Robert Musil publishes The Man Without Qualities
42 (when she wrote it, though it was published posthumously) -- Jane Austen completes Persuasion (or you could do Sense and Sensibility, which she published at 38, and then do Invisible Man at 35, when Ellison first published selections from it)
39 -- Sigrid Undset publishes the middle volume of Kristin Lavransdatter (the first published at age 38, the third published at age 40)
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:56 PM on February 26, 2011

39 -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez One Hundred Years of Solitude
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:56 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

30 - Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
33 - Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451; Faulkner, As I lay dying
34 - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
38 - Joseph Heller, Catch 22
46 - Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes were watching god
48 - Chopin, The Awakening
posted by quodlibet at 2:58 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

39 -- Gabriel García Márquez publishes A Hundred Years of Solitude
60 -- Anthony Trollope publishes The Way We Live Now
46 or 47 -- Naguib Mahfouz publishes The Cairo Trilogy
37 or 38 -- Charles Dickens publishes David Copperfield
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:01 PM on February 26, 2011

32 - Herman Melville, Moby Dick
35 - Lewis Sinclair, Main Street
37 - John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath
posted by quodlibet at 3:02 PM on February 26, 2011

This might help you, Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age. I randomly put in 51 and got "The Marquis de Sade, imprisoned for much of his life, wrote the novel Justine." Not every age is represented, but I'm sure there's a couple in there that will help you out. For 63, "Clergyman and writer Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal, possibly the best satire ever written in English."
posted by illenion at 3:05 PM on February 26, 2011 [15 favorites]

Oops sorry, forgot that your cutoff is 63. Sorry Jonathan Swift.
posted by illenion at 3:06 PM on February 26, 2011

32 or 33 or 34 -- James Joyce publishes Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Sometime in his thirties, nobody really knows when, so you can fill in any blank year here -- Cao Xueqin publishes Dream of the Red Chamber

It's interesting how many great novels by women were published pre-age-30 (My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, frex) or after age 60 (History, by Elsa Morante, frex).
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:08 PM on February 26, 2011

55 - Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
posted by illenion at 3:10 PM on February 26, 2011

32 or 33 - (two parts) Haldor Laxness, Independent People
37 - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
38 - F. Sionil José - The Pretenders (first of
a five-novel series so later ages work too)
50 - Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
53 - Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country
posted by ecourbanist at 3:11 PM on February 26, 2011

Some prose:

41 -- Simone de Beauvoir publishes The Second Sex
39, or 44, or 48, or 49 -- Edward Gibbon publishes The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
47 -- Michel de Montaigne publishes Essais
36 -- Frantz Fanon publishes The Wretched of the Earth
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:13 PM on February 26, 2011

39 or 40 - James Joyce, Ulysses (It was published when he was 40, but he actually finished it at 39 right before his self-imposed deadline of his birthday).
posted by scody at 3:13 PM on February 26, 2011

50 - Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
posted by illenion at 3:15 PM on February 26, 2011

You said music too so this one could keep you talking for a year:

61 - Richard Wagner, The Ring Cycle
posted by ecourbanist at 3:15 PM on February 26, 2011

Not necessarily reading, but this book can certainly keep someone busy for a year:
49 - Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
posted by illenion at 3:16 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

45 -- Jose Luis Borges publishes Ficciones
50 -- Jose Luis Borges publishes The Aleph
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:16 PM on February 26, 2011

35 - Jack Kerouac, On the Road
posted by dayspteh at 3:17 PM on February 26, 2011

56 - Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
posted by Flunkie at 3:21 PM on February 26, 2011

30--Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man Is Hard To Find (short stories)
34--David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
35--Jack Kerouac, On The Road (this one's sort of cheating, as it was written when he was 29, and only published 6 years later)
36--Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
40--J.M. Coetzee, Waiting For The Barbarians
43--Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
44--Tennessee Williams, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (using the date of the theatre premiere as "publication")
46--Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
57--Gabriel García Márquez, Love In The Time Of Cholera
posted by kagredon at 3:34 PM on February 26, 2011

Possibly Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes? Looks like Stevenson was 29 the year of publication, so maybe it doesn't work.
posted by DarkForest at 3:37 PM on February 26, 2011

Oh, and if you need to get some Shakespeare on your list, here are some estimated age ranges for when he wrote some of his key works:

33-34: Henry IV, parts 1 & 2
35: Henry V
35-36: Hamlet
39: Othello
39-42: King Lear, Macbeth
47: The Tempest
posted by scody at 6:26 PM on February 26, 2011

I thought I'd compile a list of what's been listed to make it clear which ages are accounted for. At this point only 52, 54, and 58 don't have anything.

I basically took everyone at their word about the ages on this except when there were discrepancies. Alternate ages for publishing are listed in parentheses before the author.

Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre
James Joyce - Dubliners
Herman Melville - Moby Dick
(33, 34) James Joyce - Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
(33) Haldor Laxness - Independent People

Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
(34) William Shakespeare - Henry IV parts 1 & 2 (estimated)

Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
David Foster Wallace - Infinite Jest

Lewis Sinclair - Main Street
Jack Kerouac - On the Road
William Shakespeare - Henry V (estimated)
(36) William Shakespeare - Hamlet (estimated)

Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary
Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility
Margaret Mitchell - Gone with the Wind
Frantz Fanon - The Wretched of the Earth
Thomas Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow

(38) Charles Dickens - David Copperfield
John Steinbeck - The Grapes of Wrath

Ralph Ellison - Invisible Man
Joseph Heller - Catch 22
F. Sionil José - The Pretenders

Sigrid Undset - Kristin Lavransdatter
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude
(44, 48, 49)Edward Gibbons - The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
(40) James Joyce - Ulysses
William Shakespeare - Othello
(40, 41, 42) William Shakespeare - King Lear, Macbeth (estimated)

J.M. Coetzee - Waiting for the Barbarians

Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace
Simone de Beauvoir - The Second Sex

Jane Austen - Persuasion

Virginia Woolf - Mrs. Dalloway

Tennessee Williams - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Haruki Murakami - The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Jorge Luis Borges - Ficciones

Zora Neale Hurston - Their Eyes Were Watching God
(47) Naguib Mahfouz - The Cairo Trilogy
Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale

Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse 5
Miche de Montaigne - Essais
William Shakespeare - The Tempest (estimated)

Umberto Eco - Name of the Rose
Chopin - The Awakening

Julia Child - Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Mark Train - Huckleberry Finn
(52) Robert Musil - The Man Without Qualities
Herman Hesse - Steppenwolf
Jorge Luis Borges - The Aleph

Marquis de Sade - Justine


Yasunari Kawabata - Snow Country


Rachel Carson - Silent Spring

Italo Calvino - If on a winter's night a traveller…
Vladimir Nabokov - Lolita

Gabriel García Márquez - Love in the Time of Cholera


Miguel de Cervantes - Don Quixote

Anthony Trollope - The Way We Live Now

Richard Wagner - The Ring Cycle

J.R.R. Tolkein - The Lord of the Rings
posted by mindless progress at 8:23 AM on February 27, 2011 [14 favorites]

Ugh, sorry for the reading comprehension fail. Somehow I got it into my head that the range was 32-62.
posted by mindless progress at 8:25 AM on February 27, 2011

To avoid reposting that whole thing, here's what I excluded my first go round.

Ernest Hemingway - A Farewell to Arms
Flannery O'Connor - A Good Man Is Hard To Find (short stories)
posted by mindless progress at 8:45 AM on February 27, 2011

Response by poster: Brilliant, mindless progress, thank you! This is a wonderful list so far. Thanks to every one of you. 39 will be especially hard to choose.

When we've finalized our list, I promise to post it.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 9:29 AM on February 27, 2011

Would it be out of line for me to ask everyone to extend the list down to 25?
posted by Midnight Rambler at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2011

Or, you know, 22.
posted by skyl1n3 at 10:08 AM on February 27, 2011

Well, I consider The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon a masterpiece, and he was 37 when that was published.
posted by vito90 at 10:28 AM on February 27, 2011

52. The Old Man and the Sea by E. Hemmingway (though not published until he was 53).
posted by SarahbytheSea at 10:34 AM on February 27, 2011

The youngest ones I can think of off the top of my head:

25: Broom of the System

23-24: The Red Badge of Courage

22-23: Woyzeck (a play, though it wasn't performed until about a century after it was written)

21: The Rock Garden (another short play)

If you're in your 20's you have a bit of waiting to do, the fact is that most people, even geniuses, can't really write worth a damn until they're at least 30.

Two I like:

45: Crime and Punishment

50 or 60: Paradise Lost (Milton wrote it ten years before he published it, 50 is writing year, 60 is publication year)
posted by Ndwright at 11:05 AM on February 27, 2011

52 -- Gene Wolfe finished the last book of The Book of the New Sun

52 -- Richard Adams Watership Down

I know we already have some good choice for 32, but might I submit Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth for your consideration?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:37 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

They have complicated publication years, but these books are their authors' self-portraits at the ages of 35 and 40, respectively:

Dante's Inferno (Ciardi translation) opens, "Midway in the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood, / for the straight way was lost."

Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra opens, "When Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake of his home, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and solitude, and for ten years did not weary of it."
posted by miffed at 10:05 PM on February 27, 2011

Nothing to add. I'm also 30 and I will be stealing your idea.
Thanks a lot for this question.

(let's compare note when we turn 60, eh?)
posted by jstarlee at 12:07 PM on February 28, 2011

I third Man Without Qualities. If you're looking for a book of ideas, that's it.

Also heartily recommend Everything Matters. It's contemporary literary fiction and is really engaging. Would be a great piece to break up some more rigorous or vintage reading. After receiving it as a gift several years ago, I've since given it to like 5 people.
posted by LaurenMusil at 3:34 AM on March 2, 2011

Consider a similar (but separate) list of music composed since 1945.

Getting to know great works in this way is such a fantastic idea -- and could be made even better (or at least different?) by limiting the options to history that is closest to your own.

Also -- once you spent several months becoming familiar with the sound/feel/historical context of a particular musical work, you might learn to play it and even travel to a live performance...
posted by Dr. Fetish at 10:41 AM on March 6, 2011

And, of course, you could write a blog about the experience. And then get in on the blog book deal, although one book a year means you won't be publishing a book until after you're sixty! ; )
posted by misha at 10:09 PM on March 6, 2011

Although I know the year's been taken, this is a *really* good book, and it's a family saga, so appropriate to this kind of project:

50 - East of Eden, John Steinbeck

And then some of the empty or slim slots:

28 - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
33 - I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
42/43 - What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (stories) - Raymond Carver
posted by cheshirecat718 at 3:40 PM on March 28, 2011

This list in a publicly editable spreadsheet, collated by a non-mefite friend of mine.
posted by squishles at 4:30 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

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