BookerTalk

Sunday Salon: my future is the past

I very rarely plan my reading far in advance. Maybe because I spend so much time at work having to think ahead and plan,that when it comes to reading, I prefer to take the serendipitous approach. The only times I know what will come next are when I’m reading for the next book club meeting or if a book I’ve had on order at the library for some time, suddenly becomes available. Beyond that it’s really a case of looking at the bookcase and the overspill pile on the floor next to it and picking whatever suits my mood.

But that’s going to change for the next couple of months. Because not only do I know what I’ll be reading next, I know the one after that and the one after that. In fact I know the next six books that will have my attention between now and December. And it’s all in the historical genre fiction.

Eleanor Hibbert aka the author Jean Plaidy

Now this is a genre that was one of my first loves as a young reader. In my early teens I couldn’t get enough of Jean Plaidy’s Tudor and Stuart sagas. Even though she was a prolific author she couldn’t produce enough to keep up with my voracious appetite so I turned to other authors like Philippa Carr and Victoria Holt completely unaware that these were pen names for Jean Plaidy herself (or that her real name was Eleanor Hibbert). Through them I learned that history was not just a boring litany of facts but an enthralling human story.

Over the years as my tastes changed I read less and less historical fiction. But now, through the phenomena of Massive Open Online Courses (known as MOOCs) I am rekindling that interest. This week saw me start a free online course on the origins, characteristics and development of historical fiction over the centuries. Plagues, Witches and War is delivered via Coursera but the course content all comes from the University of Virginia.

As part of the course we get to ‘meet’ five living, breathing historical fiction writers to talk about their books. So here’s what I’ll be reading:

Jane Alison, The Love-Artist 

Katherine Howe: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Geraldine Brooks: Year of Wonders

Mary Beth Keane: Fever

Yangsze Choo: The Ghost Bride

Actually that’s just the tip of the iceberg though because the course also dips into chapters from a multitude of other books from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and William Faulkner’s William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!. I counted about 40 different novelists that are mentioned within the course materials plus some of the academic articles to which we have been directed refer to some other authors and texts which sound interesting. All of which has greatly added to my book wishlist and will no doubt greatly increase the size of my TBR mountain.

And the sixth book on my reading horizons? The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is the choice for November’s book club meeting and is by coincidence a work of historical fiction since it chronicles the changes in Sicilian life in the nineteenth century. Published in 1958 it became the top-selling novel in Italian history and is considered one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature.

All of this should keep me pretty busy for a while. But not too busy to hear if you have recommendations for other landmark works of historical fiction I should look at?

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