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271: Recs for Books Published Before 1950

Updated: Apr 17

Are you joining us for the 2024 Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge? For one of the categories, we're focusing on books that were published before 1950, so we wanted to share some recommendations for that category on today's episode. Listen in to hear us talk about Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God ( | and Jane Austen’s Persuasion ( | as well as other things we're reading and doing these days.

If you haven't joined us for the challenge yet, there is still time to participate this year! Check out the Reading Challenge page where you can see all of the categories and can download printables and images for social media.

Bookish Check-in

Ashley - Lynn Painter’s Happily Never After ( |

Jen - Lisa Unger’s The New Couple in 5B ( |

Our Recommendations for Books Published Before 1950

Ashley - Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God ( |

Jen - Jane Austen’s Persuasion ( |


Listen in to hear what Jen and Ashley each share in the Spotlight segment!

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:33] Jen: Hey, everyone, and welcome to episode 271. Today we are talking about recommendations for books published before 1950. This is a topic inspired by our reading challenge for this year. If you haven't joined our reading challenge yet, there is still time. You can find out more at our website, unabridgedpod.

[00:00:53] com. All right, before we get started with our bookish check in, I just want to remind everybody about Patreon. In exchange for your monetary support of our podcast, we are always looking for ways to cover our costs. Every month, you get an extra episode of unabridged and you also get a text resource of some sort.

[00:01:12] So that might be book recommendations or just fun lists to consider. There's all kinds of stuff over there. So check us out at and you can help support us and get a nice little gift in exchange. All right, we're going to start with our book is check in. Ashley, what are you reading?

[00:01:30] Ashley: So, one of the books I started recently is Lynn Painter's Happily Never After. Jen, have you read this?

[00:01:36] Jen: I have not, but I have it as an ALC and I have come to love Lynn Painter.

[00:01:41] Ashley: Oh, so I knew you liked hers, so, yeah, we read The Do Over, as one of our buddy reads, and it was awesome. That's the only one I've read by Lynn Painter so far. And, so, I actually can't remember how I stumbled across this, but anyway, oh, maybe,

[00:01:56] Jen: It's an ALC.

[00:01:57] Ashley: Yes, I was going to say, maybe Libro. fm, I should be thanking for this because I did listen on audio.

[00:02:02] Yeah, so I think I saw her name and I thought, Oh, this looks great. And I was on a road trip. So I started it just, I've only listened to a little bit so far. But anyway, it centers Sophie, who at the beginning is, it's her wedding day. And she has realized that her fiance has cheated on her yet again. It was like two days before that she saw the texting with his current affair.

[00:02:30] And so she is just like, I am out. Like, I forgave him for the other, you know, indiscretion. And then here we are again, and this is going to go on forever. But her father works for his father. Dad or something like this so because of that like she can't just like call it off. So there's this like complexity that makes it where of course she should be able to get out of this, but she feels like she can't well her Matron of Honor, or Maid of Honor, Matron of Honor, who, knows the whole situation, finds out that there's somebody that they can hire, Max, and he is The Objector.

[00:03:07] So, they hire him and he waits for this moment for them to say, does anyone have any reasons why they should not wed. And at that moment, The Objector has been hired to say, I do. And to say this horrible, you know, secret that has come to light. A while passes and Max and Sophie's paths cross again, and he starts trying to recruit her because there is another situation where the person very much needs to get out of the marriage.

[00:03:44] It's very much a situation where if he, this time it's the groom, if the groom cancels on his own right, is going to have all these social ramifications that he cannot endure. And so he really needs a woman to do the objecting this time. And so that's the premise, is just this, I mean there's a lot of shenanigans involved, but, I mean basically, It is people who, for very earnest reasons, have situations where they're trying to get out of a marriage before the marriage happens, so that then they don't have to deal with an annulment or all these other legal complexities later on.

[00:04:22] They know they need out, but for, you know, X reason, that is not an option. So, I mean, I'm loving it so far. It's been super fun. The characters are great, and the premise, also, is amazing both hilarious and kind of high jinky, but also legitimate that there are lots of situations with weddings where you Realize there's a problem, but you can't always just solve the problem on your own.

[00:04:48] So, you know, it's It's been great. It's been really great so far. So again, that's Lynn Painter's Happily Never After.

[00:04:57] Jen: Yeah, I hope to get to that one soon because, you know, like I said, I had not read Lynne Painter for a long time and one of my bookstagram friends, Mary Chase Writes, had recommended her highly and yeah, I've loved every single book of hers I've read, so I'm sure that'll be a fun one.

[00:05:13] Ashley: Yeah so far, it's been really great. Jen, what about you? What are you reading?

[00:05:17] Jen: I am reading Lisa Unger's The New Couple in 5B.

[00:05:21] And this one works also for the challenge because this is a buddy read with someone new. Another bookstagram friend, Grounded in Reads, has buddy read group called Chapter Chat 2. And so yeah, I'm joining to read it with them and I am listening to this one on audio. So far, it's really good. So the premise is Rosie and Chad Lowen

[00:05:44] are this couple who have been married for a few years. She is an author and she had a lot of success with her first book, which was about a serial killer. And so true crime first book. Chad is an actor who is just on the cusp of making it big, but they do have financial struggles. They live in New York.

[00:06:06] Everything's very expensive. And for the past few months, they have been caring for Chad's uncle in his very ritzy apartment. He was dying. And so they were caring for him, which of course took a lot of time and attention and money as well because they were helping him out with some finances. So the uncle has a daughter and Rosie just assumes that the apartment will go to the daughter.

[00:06:33] And then the reading of the will happens and it turns out that he has left this apartment in a building called the Windermere to Rosie and Chad. And Rosie is blown away. She feels pretty guilty because even though Dana is his daughter's name, Dana and Ivan were estranged. She just feels like it should go to the daughter.

[00:06:57] Chad's perspective is we're the ones who took care of him. We reached out to Dana. She would do absolutely nothing for her dying father. So this makes sense. It soon turns out that Rosie finds out that Chad actually knew this was going to happen weeks before, and he was not surprised at the reading of the will. And this becomes one little, slightly off detail in a series of slightly off details that make Rosie unsettled, I think. In the meantime, her second book proposal focuses on the Windermere because there have been a lot of really dark occurrences over the years. And she has started investigating those and has turned in her book proposal to focus on the Windermere to her editor, Max, who is also her best friend.

[00:07:52] And they did have a brief fling that just didn't work out. It turns out that Max still has feelings for Rosie. And Chad does not love their relationship. He's okay with it, but he doesn't love it. So they move into the Windermere and I'm not going to spoil a lot, but I will just say there are some things that are very strange there.

[00:08:10] Well, first of all, there is an audio system set up in every apartment and the man at the desk, like the doorman, all you have to do is say his name and he responds over the intercom. And so Rosie does not have an Alexa, does not have a Fitbit because she's very anti being plugged into the system.

[00:08:31] And now she has this weird feeling that he could be listening all the time. So that's weird. And then she starts seeing weird things and unsettling things. And you learn that when she was a child, her parents were convinced that she was a seer and that, okay. And that, I think that's all I can say. But, and that's part of it cause I don't know anymore, but part of it, like I feel like one step further is too far. But yeah, so it's very interesting...

[00:08:57] Everything's through Rosie's eyes, so you don't know how reliable she is. There are these technologically strange things, and then there are these eerie, potentially supernatural things, and I'm not really sure which genre direction we're going to go, which I kind of love. I love it when you're not really certain of the book genre, so I don't know if there will be a logical explanation for everything or if it's going to turn out that, yeah, there really is something supernatural going on.

[00:09:21] So, it's compelling so far. That is Lisa Unger's The New Couple in 5B.

[00:09:27] Ashley: Huh. That actually sounds very intriguing.

[00:09:31] Jen: Yeah, hopefully this feeling I'm having now will continue through the end because often my issue with books like this is they start with a great premise and then they kind of fade out by the end. So we'll see if it can maintain this level of interest for me, but so far it's great.

[00:09:46] Ashley: Nice.

[00:09:47] Jen: Yeah. All right.

[00:09:48] Well, we are going to move on to our main discussion. So each of us is going to recommend a book that was written before 1950 that we think would be a great pick for you for the Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge. Ashley, what are you recommending?

[00:10:02] Ashley: I am going back to a very, very, very favorite book of mine, and it's Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Jen also loves this one. So this is a book I know very well. I've read it many times, and I just think it is fantastic. It is one of my all time favorite books. However, I hadn't read it in quite a while, and this time I listened to the audio, thanks to Jen's recommendation.

[00:10:29] And Ruby Dee is the narrator, and it is fantastic. So I really enjoyed that, and I would recommend the audio experience, because Hurston, when people talk, everything is written in dialect. And that has never bothered me, but a lot of readers find it difficult to understand what the people are saying. And Ruby Dee just completely embodies exactly the way... I mean, the words are written the way that they're spoken, and she reads them.

[00:10:59] the way that they're spoken. And so then the dialogue is just so natural and so powerful. And her use of voice and her depiction of the different characters through the way that she uses her voice is just, I mean, enchanting. So I absolutely recommend that. Although I have always loved the print as well.

[00:11:18] Okay. So that's format. Now I should say something about the book. This follows Janie Crawford..And in the very beginning, Janie is coming back to her hometown, and she has been gone. The town has a lot to say about that. And she's coming back, and she's in her overalls with her long hair down in a braid, and everybody has a lot to say about that, too.

[00:11:43] And so, We see her largely from the perspective of the town to start with, but then Phoebe is her best friend and Phoebe comes to Talk to Janie and then Janie is basically like, well, let me tell you. And the whole book is her unpacking of her life story and what happened what happened after she left which again the town has a lot of speculation about but no one knows and then Phoebe How she wound up back there. And I think so much of the story is about Janie becoming a woman and Janie finding her true self, and she does that through a series of relationships, and she does it through, like, a physical journey also.

[00:12:33] So we really see her coming to understand herself in her, in her telling of the story to her best friend. But she just has this really rich, but hard life, and so much of her life is based on her relationship to men. So at 16, right at the beginning of her story, she one time lets a boy kiss her, and her grandmother, who takes care of her, sees that and immediately is like, Oh, my God.

[00:13:08] And she is like, You are going to be married off now and married her off to someone who she hopes will provide stability for Janie. But Janie has this whole vision of her life and what she wants for her life. And it has nothing to do with this, what she considers to be, an old man who is boring and has this farm.

[00:13:31] And so sure, he might have these stability factors that are very attractive to her grandmother, but that she sees as pretty worthless. And so, you know, she's really dissatisfied. We see her also trying to talk to people about that dissatisfaction and the way that no one values the happiness of women. And so then they're like, why are you even thinking about this?

[00:13:54] Like, what difference does it make how you feel about these things? Like, this is your life. You were so fortunate to have it and have that stability and you need to get over yourself is kind of the message that she's given. And so we see that happening and then, as you might suspect, that does not last long at all.

[00:14:13] And then she goes off on another adventure and then that opens some new doorways for her but she finds that that's still not what she's looking for. So I just think there's so much in this book about what we seek to find and how to find happiness and meaning. And then also it's just very much about self actualization and like, can she ever reach any kind of self actualization if there are men involved?

[00:14:41] And what does that look like? And so, you know, I just think it's such a richly told story. It is fantastic. The language is just so beautiful. I mean, it's so beautiful. Hurston has such a way with words. And so, you know, I, I just highly recommend it. I think it is really fantastic. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say that it's just really, Janie is a character who will stay with you.

[00:15:04] And it's her journey in the world. It also explores race, and class, and how those intersect, and how they don't. And, you know, we really get into all of those pieces, and what they look like. And then again, we see throughout the story, and throughout her life, the ways that other people judge her. Every choice she makes or choices she doesn't make for that matter and like how that does and doesn't impact her. And so I I mean, I just think it's really fantastic So that's why I wanted to recommend that one because I just think you can't go wrong. Such a great book and again, that is Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.

[00:15:44] Jen: Yes. I absolutely suck in that one. And it's such, I've taught this one for a few years now. I started teaching it because Ashley recommended it and I love watching students' reactions to it. And yeah, sometimes they do have trouble with the dialogue or dialect, but I always recommend that audiobook. And a lot of times they'll do the paired reading.

[00:16:03] They'll follow along in the text while they listen. And then they sort of, it teaches you to read the dialect on the page. And so by the end, some of them have chosen just to read the print or some continue with the audio because it is so good, but it's really worth putting some effort into if that's challenging for you.

[00:16:21] Ashley: Yeah. What is your recommendation, Jen?

[00:16:26] Jen: So I have a slight fear that people are going to be sick of me talking about Jane Austen. So maybe this will be, we'll put a cap on it maybe. But I couldn't resist recommending Jane Austen's Persuasion. So two years ago, again, probably two years ago. Most of you have heard this, but I'll just go ahead and say it,

[00:16:42] I led a buddy read of her six major novels. We spent two months on each one and there are some that I had read more than once. So Pride and Prejudice, I don't even know how many times I've read that one. Sense and Sensibility I'd read a few times, but I had never read Persuasion and that is the last novel Austin published.

[00:17:01] There's some idea that maybe it wasn't completely finished, that the ending she hadn't completely gotten it to the point that she wanted, but you don't feel that when you're reading, or at least I didn't. I absolutely love this book. You definitely feel as you're reading it that it is perhaps a more mature book than some of the others.

[00:17:21] The protagonist, Anne Elliot, is older. And some of that is because of the way the story has developed. So I think it's fun because Austin, a lot of the tropes that we now talk about with romance, Austin has those tropes. So Pride and Prejudice is enemies to lovers. Well, this one is second chance romance.

[00:17:40] And Elliot, when she was quite, quite young at the time when women of the day were getting married, had a beautiful relationship with this man named Frederick Wentworth. But Elliot's family, though they don't have a lot of money, and we'll get into that in just a minute, is in the upper tiers of British society.

[00:18:03] And Wentworth is in the military and really low in the military at that point. And her family looks down upon him and her mother, who was very concerned with Anne making a good marriage and Anne loves her dearly basically tells Anne you really shouldn't marry this guy. You just don't know. He's not a good prospect because his future is unpredictable, and so Anne, on the advice of her mother and based on pressure from her family, breaks it off with Wentworth. And then never really has another relationship.

[00:18:35] She just doesn't find anyone else. So she has moved on. Her mother has since died and Anne. lives with her father and her sister who are incredibly selfish and egotistical. Her father has squandered away the family fortune but is convinced that they should still be living the way that they have always lived.

[00:18:59] And so they have their estate or part of their estate that they haven't had to sell off and he wants to be living this high lifestyle, and they just don't have the money to fund it anymore. Anne's other sister is married, but she's not really able to contribute a lot to the maintenance of this household.

[00:19:16] And she has her own quirky issues, too. So in order to make some money, they are basically allowing someone to rent their home and to live there. And her dad is at first upset about that, but then it's okay because they seem like they're great people and somehow that makes him look better. Well, it turns out that they are related to Captain Frederick Wentworth, who of course reenters Anne's life.

[00:19:43] And at first, it is as chilly as you would think it would be for him coming back into the realm of the girl who broke his heart and basically spurned him because he didn't have enough money. But eventually they sort of resolved to be cordial acquaintances, maybe friends, and Anne is still in love with him, but doesn't really have any hope that anything can rekindle.

[00:20:09] She watches him courting this other very young girl who is a friend of the family and has just sort of resigned herself to being alone for the rest of her life, and to caring for her selfish father and selfish sister and trying to find ways in her own life and through some other friendships to be happy.

[00:20:31] And so I think it's just so powerful in the way that You see Anne trying to be a woman who is satisfied outside of a a romantic relationship. And of course, knowing Jane Austen's history, Jane Austen never married. So I think there's a lot of reflection. It doesn't really matter if it's autobiographical or not, but I do feel like there's a depth to it that feels very meaningful.

[00:20:59] And it's just beautiful. I will say I did make a mistake. I'll tell you why in a minute, but in the book it's actually her mother's best friend who tells her she needs to end the relationship. I made that mistake because I just read a great retelling of this book, and it's the mother. And that is another sign to me.

[00:21:13] I think Austin's books constantly amaze me because they hold up so well. In their commentary on society even when they're set in modern days and other situations. So we read E. B. Zoboi's Pride on the podcast a few years ago and that is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It's a YA book. It's set in modern day New York.

[00:21:36] It's dealing with race and with class. And it still is incredibly relevant. And this retelling is called Once Persuaded, Twice Shy. And it is a brilliant retelling of Persuasion. And you see the ways that these class conflicts and these expectations that women be exactly what their families need them to be,

[00:21:58] while of course different now, are still there for a lot of women. And it's not like it was in Austin's time, but that expectation is still there. And the ways that her father and sister are selfish are updated, but I still felt the rage at the unfairness of the fact that because they're her family, Anne has to suppress herself in service of them. And you see her struggling in this new retelling with work life balance. And so it's just because I read this brilliant retelling, it almost reinforced for me how beautiful the original text is and the way the best retellings do. So yeah, and it's, I will say it's also the shortest of Austin's books.

[00:22:41] So if you haven't read Austin, but you want to just kind of dip your toe in, that might be a nice place to start because it is quite short. And there are other subplots that come to the forefront that I really think that's central. Anne understanding who she is and who she wants to be, and then there's also the romance element, I just think it makes it a powerful book.

[00:23:01] So that may be the last time I mention Austin on the podcast We'll see but I would recommend Jane Austen's Persuasion for this this category, and even if you're not doing the challenge It's just a great book

[00:23:13] Ashley: That sounds great, Jen, and I am more intrigued by that one, both because I like that trope and also because it's short, so yay.

[00:23:23] Jen: There's something to be said for a short book.

[00:23:25] Ashley: There, that's absolutely right.

[00:23:27] Jen: I'll also put a plug in. Later this month, we are discussing Passing by Nella Larson, which is also a short book written before 1950. So if you're continuing to look for recommendations for this category, we've got another good one coming your way.

[00:23:39] Ashley: And that one is also brilliant and short. So.

[00:23:43] Jen: Brilliant and short. And There Eyes Were Watching God, also short.

[00:23:46] Ashley: I was thinking that one's pretty short too, right? I

[00:23:48] Jen: We're taking care of you all. I did think briefly about recommending Middlemarch, which I also love, but that one's almost a thousand pages, so.

[00:23:54] Ashley: Uh huh, and I just want to tell you all that I started another book that I'm not going to say that is a classic and has great prestige. And I stopped because it was almost a thousand pages. And I thought, this is very hard work and maybe not for... It was written in serial form. We talked about this a little bit with Little Women.

[00:24:13] So it was written over a span of two or three years. And you can tell that when it is all put together into one composite work. So, yes, similarly, I was like, this is not the right thing to recommend.

[00:24:26] Jen: Mm hmm. All right. Well, if you have any recommendations, we would love to hear them. Before we close, we're going to do our spotlight. Ashley, what would you like to highlight today?

[00:24:37] Ashley: I think I'd like to talk about state parks, or national parks would be a good choice, too. But we did recently, we're still pretty new in South Carolina, and we just got our annual state park license. And, or whatever it's called, the CARD. Membership, I guess. And, They give you this little book that you can collect a stamp at each location. And so our family is very completionist oriented, and that is very satisfying.

[00:25:06] So I think we will probably be working our way through that book and visiting all the state parks and checking out, you know, each one of them and and so yeah, I think just thinking about how to spend more time outside, and sometimes it's hard to know where to go. So you know, I think, things like that give people a guide that it's like, Oh yeah, we could visit these ones that are, you know, within an hour drive or stuff like that.

[00:25:32] So yeah, just a shout out to the park systems and the programs that they have available. Another thing that's really cool, my daughter's in fourth grade and the national parks, they provide a free pass for the whole family for every fourth grader in America. So yeah. So if you are not familiar with that, that is an effort to, it's called like Get Outside or something.

[00:25:53] And it is an effort to make parks more reachable for all families. And so if you're not familiar with that program, if you just Google fourth grade and national parks, you definitely could find out about it. But that's a really cool thing that the park system does to try to make parks more accessible.

[00:26:08] And in general, I would say like, you know, there are prices they're trying to keep, they do their best to keep those costs where people can access it. So that's cool. So yeah. What about you, Jen, what's your spotlight?

[00:26:24] Jen: I have decided as I often do to highlight a movie. So my older son and I just went to see Dune part two yesterday. So on Friday we rewatched Dune Part One, and my husband and younger son watched it for the first time and neither of them was interested in seeing part two, but my older son and I absolutely loved it.

[00:26:46] And I think... so the first movie is just great epic fantasy kind of sci fi sort of storytelling and it's building this brilliant world, and it's setting up these political and situations and setting up, there's a group called the Fremen who live on the planet where they are, who represent the indigenous peoples of that land and the way they've been taken advantage of because of colonization, etc.

[00:27:13] The second, or the second film just is so much more complex because all of that world has been established and now you see the main character Paul, who is played by Timothée Chalamet, wrestling with what his role is in helping this group of people. There's a group in place who has spread news of this prophecy that there will be a savior who comes to save them all.

[00:27:40] And Paul is white and they are not. And he is very aware that he does not want to step into this white savior role. And yet there's a group of the Fremen who very much want him to be that white savior and are invested in him taking this role. And there's a lot, anyway, I just think. It's so smart, and his acting is so good, and you see him becoming swept up in the politics and of knowing what the right thing to do is, which seems to be simple, but it's not so simple.

[00:28:15] And his mother is really this interesting character. Yeah. It's just, it's brilliant. The acting is amazing. So if you'd like sci fi or fantasy at all, I highly recommend it. It's not for everybody. Again, my husband and younger son did not go see Part Two with us. It is long. It's almost three hours. So you got to settle in.

[00:28:33] Yeah. Get a small drink. My son got a large Dr. Pepper and regretted that. But, yeah, it was really, really good. I do think it's one that benefits from being seen in the theater. So, Dune Part One was amazing on the big screen. It's still great on the small screen, but there, it is beautiful cinematically.

[00:28:52] And there's some really interesting cinematography going on that I highly recommend. So,

[00:28:59] Ashley: Cool, there you go. We haven't done part one yet, but it is on our radar.

[00:29:03] Jen: Yeah, it's really good. Really, really good. Really asking some big questions. I've only read the first book and the two parts cover the first book. So I don't know where the story goes from here.

[00:29:12] There is space built in for there to be another film. I don't know that it's been resolved yet, whether they are going to continue the series or not, but I would watch it. All right, everyone. Well, thank you so much for listening and let us know how you're doing with the challenge. If you have any books you would recommend for pre-1950 book category, and we'll talk to you soon.


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