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While interviewing for colleges, a group of prospective students were asked by the college staff, “What is the oldest book you have read this year?”  My niece, who is an honor student, was among the group and answered, “Homer’s Odyssey—in Greek.”

The staff was suitably impressed.

So was I.

The staff’s question, and my niece’s answer, sent me on a search to discover the oldest book I had recently read. What was on my shelves that passed the “Homer test of age?” Since I typically read a lot of mass market fiction and know there is very little on my bookshelves older than 20 years, I went to my Kindle to see what classics I’d downloaded.  The classics are usually free on Kindle, and free is good.

I found a copy of :

  • Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart  published in 1909
  • The Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt , published in 1899
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, published in 1909 but started by Franklin in 1771
  • Jane Eyre, by  Charlotte Bronte, originally published in 1847
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, originally published in 1813
  • The Oregon Trail: sketches of prairie and Rocky Mountain life, by Francis Parkman and Frederic Remington, published in 1892
  • Steep Trail California, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, the Grand Canyon, by John Muir,  published in 1918
  • People of the Mist, by H. Rider Haggard, published in 1894

Every book but the one by John Muir had bookmarks in it, but the only one I had completed was People of the Mist, which was the very first free book I downloaded onto my Kindle. Nothing earlier than 1771 was in my e-book library.

Feeling a bit challenged by my niece’s reading zeal, I turned my eye to the bookshelves searching for anything earlier than 1800s. There I found:

  • Richard Carvel, by Winston Churchill published in 1899
  • The Sheik, by Edith Maude Hull, published in 1919

I had read both of these books many years ago, but neither of them stood up to the “Homer” test, so I kept searching. Then I came upon:

  • The Complete Works of Josephus, written somewhere around 70 A.D. by Josephus Flavius, Biblical historian, and translated by William Whiston, A.M., published in 1998

I own The Complete Works of Josephus, but have never read it. Finally, I discovered the book that passed the “Homer” test. Tucked in a cubby on my computer desk lay The Holy Bible—the oldest book I’ve read recently.

It isn’t ancient mythology. It isn’t written by Homer, and my translation isn’t in Greek. Parts of the book, however, the five books of the Old Testament which comprise the Jewish Torah, are about 3,300 years old.  Homer aside, I’d say that was pretty good company.

What’s the oldest book you’ve read and the oldest book, besides the Bible, on your bookshelves—paper or e-book?

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