A survivor’s guide to browning books

By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15

I read Lord of the Rings only in order to say that I survived the battle through the pages. There’s something about reading old books that is inherently clever, but often they are really hard to get through and it seems to take an hour to read a page.

But, for me, there’s something special about reading an aged, brown book. The thought of generations before me, turning pages with bated breath creates a community of readers.

So here are my top tips for surviving those books:

  • Keep going until you find an author you like. Very like modern authors, pre-millennia authors varied. Some books are far more dialogue driven than others and are written in different styles with different voices. Some you can’t stand reading. That doesn’t mean that all pre-millennia books are awful. I can’t stand Jane Austen, but love Thomas Hardy.
  • Don’t be put off by the beginning. Older books aren’t always easy to start. Normally it takes a couple of chapters to grow used to the writing style and language. Wuthering Heights, for instance, has dialogue in strong Yorkshire accents. After a while, your mind adapts to read it – beware, you may find yourself using old-fashioned words by accident and receive odd looks!
  • The dictionary is your friend. Dictionaries and footnotes are useful companions in the winding journey of an old novel. Language evolves and words came to change their meaning. I spent two hundred pages of a book, thinking a “valet” was a suitcase, so was very surprised when it started talking and turned out to be a gentleman’s manservant.
  • Find someone to read with you. Often the plots of the books are complicated and can seem over the top. Discussing books is the best way to delve deeper into an author’s meaning. Someone may pick up on something you haven’t.
  • Try not to watch the films first. When you watch a film and then read the book, you’ll hear the actor’s voice and see the actor’s face, which means that you’re not getting the full out of what the author has placed there. You may also be reading away, waiting for something to happen that was added into the screenplay.

Older books are worth reading. They’re a way of preserving the voice of a previous generation. Opening the cover is like delving into a time capsule, spelt out before you. Some offer very unsurprising views. Others give revelations of strong women, written and given a voice before feminism.

The books take you through the twists and turns of another life in another time, alongside a guide who has witnessed it. In many ways, it’s more accurate than a history book.


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