Learning history through fiction

15 Mar
My husband is not a great reader, but when he does read, it’s always non-fiction. Sometimes he asks me why I read fiction; his view is that you can learn so much from non-fiction, so why mess around with made-up stories? I honestly have a hard time answering him with something more than a shocked stare – I’m just so close to fiction that it’s hard for me to articulate why it is important, only that I know that it very much is. I think one of the most rewarding parts of reading fiction is the ability to experience something through another’s eyes, whether that be the author or the characters. I love exploring the gray area between black and white, and nowhere can I do that better than through fiction. And you can learn SO MUCH from fiction. (Lest you think he is not supportive of my reading, he completely is – he will hold my purse for me in bookstores, will wait patiently while I peruse library shelves, and once sat in the magazine section of Powell’s for FOUR hours so that I could browse at leisure.) For instance, I’ve learned a ton of history through reading my books and time traveling to another time and place to experience what the character is. I’ve recently been thinking of adding to my knowledge base through some new-to-me book series. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles or House of Niccolo series – I’ve heard of both these series of Dunnett’s, and from what I gather, she’s an impeccable historical writer. I did try one of her books when I was in, oh, eighth grade or so but it bored me silly then. I don’t think I was quite ready to really dig into such weighty material then, but I can certainly manage it now, no? The Lymond Chronicles follows the life of a Scottish nobleman through sixteenth century Europe, while The House of Niccolo focuses on political intrigue during the Renaissance. I don’t know why, but I’m leaning toward The House of Niccolo series.

Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series – my dad is a firm follower of O’Brian’s and I believe has read every book in this prolific series (20 volumes). They take place during the Napoleonic Wars and follow the lives of Captain Jack Aubrey and surgeon Stephen Maturin. I’ve had some experience with this time period, as I just finished His Majesty’s Dragon, and one of my favorite books ever, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, takes place during an alternate history of the Napoleonic Wars.

Those two are the few I’ve come up with so far, but I know there’s oodles of historical fiction I have yet to discover. I’m on a Japanese kick lately too, and since I adored Shogun, maybe I’ll try to find something along that line as well.

2 Responses to “Learning history through fiction”

  1. Rebecca March 16, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    I think the closest I’ve come to reading about history through fiction was Diana Gabaldon’s series and maybe Jacqueline Carey’s series. I adore Carey (which is definitely alternate history, but so, so good), but I could only get through the first four or five of Gabaldon’s series. I can only guess at the veracity of the historical romances I was hooked on as a teen. Of course, most of those had characters who were the most wealthy, most privileged, so there wasn’t much “fact” there.

  2. Amanda March 16, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Oh yes, Outlander! I could not have loved those books more as a teenager if I had tried. I think the first three are the best of the bunch. You’re right, most historical romance can give you a “taste” of the history, but it definitely get me interested enough to look into it more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: