Category: musings

The Trouble With Historical Fiction

March 3rd, 2015 — 12:57pm

When I was in school, my two favorite subjects were history and English. I love learning about people and societies, both real or imagined. When I discovered historical fiction, it was like Christmas every day.

Little House on the Prairie was my gateway drug. Once I discovered Laura Ingalls and her family, I was hooked. I read all of the books, then the spinoff series about her husband, then the books about her daughter. I forced my younger brother and neighbors to play pioneers in the back yard, in which we pretended to hunt and forage for food in my parents’ garden.

Then I discovered the American Girl series and was astounded to find books about girls in so many other time periods. Each girl was an introduction to a different historical period that held new and exciting cultures and experiences, but my love was for Molly McIntire, the feisty WWII era girl who grew a Victory Garden and went to summer camp — which, at ten, was pretty much the dream of my life. Molly’s books opened me up to the world of WWII historical fiction, which led to the ultimate coming of age experience of discovering the Holocaust and the stories that lie within that terrible time in history.

As I got older, I ventured into other genres, but historical fiction always remained near and dear to my heart.

Which leads me to the trouble with historical fiction: the research.

Some authors, I have noticed, have a terrible problem with research — particularly when the plot of the book starts to resemble an introductory history lecture. Historical fiction is like a dance, a lovely waltz when it’s done right and an offbeat two step when it’s not.

Case in point: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. She sucked me in with the first book, I’ll give that to her. It had everything I love about historical fiction — well-developed characters, lushly described landscapes, interesting historical period, intriguing plot lines (not to mention a nice hunk of man in the character of Jamie Fraser). However, as the series went on, Gabaldon became more bogged down with the research.

Unnecessary intricacies were described in detail — making clothes, making a meal, farming, preparing for war, fighting a battle, cleaning and caring for wounds and ailments. The result is a plot that moves at a snail’s pace, plodding along among the murky waters of historical accuracy and research.

The first book in the series was 640 pages, which in itself is daunting. The largest of the currently eight book series is a ridiculous 1008 pages. That is some 400 extra pages of History 101 fodder. Not every day of life in colonial America needs to be drawn out in detail — this is a book, not the recreation of historic Jamestown.

When it comes to historical fiction, the fiction is sometimes better than the history.

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Banned Books Week

September 23rd, 2010 — 11:08pm

Next week, September 25 — October 2, is Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is a week to celebrate the importance of the First Amendment and to draw attention to the dangers of censorship.

A large majority of the books on the Modern Library’s list of 100 best books, as well as any other list of great books, contains banned books. The ALA has a list of frequently challenged classics. Wikipedia has another list of the most commonly challenged books in the US. If you have some spare time next week, pick up one of these books and enjoy the fact that you can read them. And know that when you read a banned book, you’re being rebellious and sticking it to the man. And that is sexy.

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What DO you do with a BA in English?

February 18th, 2010 — 4:46pm

When college has prepared you for a life of analyzing books and producing papers on the subtext, what jobs can you achieve?

Not much, as it turns out.

What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.

I can’t pay the bills yet,
‘Cause I have no skills yet,
The world is a big scary place.

But somehow I can’t shake,
The feeling I might make,
A difference,
To the human race.

-Avenue Q

I graduated from college two years ago and have found that my particular set of skills prepared me for nothing but trying to find opportunities to use the word “juxtaposition” in conversation. Try as I might, the classified section has yet to produce any advertisements for “professional reader.” What is a girl to do?

Start a blog about reading, of course.

Though I doubt it will make a difference to the human race, it will at least make the payment of my student loans seem worthwhile.

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