Dipping Into History
When I select a novel for pleasure reading, I don’t often turn to historical novels. Admittedly as an editor, I don’t have a lot of time for pleasure reading, yet I do enjoy historicals from time to time and know they have a solid place in the overall fiction marketplace.
A few years ago, Sarah Johnson, Assistant Professor at Eastern Illinois University, said, “the popularity of historical fiction seems to be on the rise. A number of authors best known for their work in other fiction genres are turning to the historical past for inspiration. Included in this group are Michael Crichton (best known for his contemporary thrillers), John Grisham (famous for his courtroom thrillers), and Amy Tan (widely published in contemporary women’s fiction). Historical novels have also won some of the major literary awards of the past several years.”
For many years I read the historical fiction from Bodie Thoene. The writing and the characters of these books kept me turning pages late into the night. I was fascinated with the Zion Chronicles and Zion Covenant series and highly recommend these books. While I am a fan of Bodie Thoene’s work, I believe these novels are stronger than some of her recent titles. I’m always fascinated by what draws writers to putting together a historical. You learn a bit of my insight if you read my profile about the Thoenes.
In the April 10th issue of Publisher’s Weekly, historical novelist Ron Rash talked about his motivation for writing historicals saying, “Now that I have finished my novel, put in it everything I learned from decades of research, I know I will never know what my ancestor might have felt at Shelton Laurel. Nor will I ever fully understand what happened in Cambodia and Rwanda. But if I failed to achieve understanding, I gained awareness. That may be the best that any work of historical fiction has to offer—not just to its author, but, more importantly, to its readers—a chance to grapple with the mysteries and complexities of the past, in hopes of seeing the present a little clearer.” (Follow the link to read the entire article.)
Isn’t that the task of the historical novelist? To grapple with the past and shed light on the present events? It seems like this light shedding process happens for the writer and the reader. It’s something to think about as you begin reading your next historical novel and dip into history.