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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Joining Memoirs On The Back Burner

As a genre, what is frequently labeled "historical fiction" used to give me much more enjoyment. Has my patience for this type of book worn thin? Have I not yet been exposed to the best practitioners? Has the genre deteriorated in quality over my reading life? What was your most recent memorable experience with a historical novel? Your most recent dispiriting experience with this same kind of book?

Fortunately, my most recent dispiriting experience had an upside. Before returning to the library the novel I'd abandoned - a book club selection for early next year - I copied the titles of four non-fiction books the author cited as sources. The subject of the novel - if not the treatment - was of interest to me. And despite the somber subject, soon after beginning the first of those books ("The Baby Thief" (2007) by Barbara Bisantz Raymond), I was pleased how this turned out. Thanks to the novelist's research, the horrifying story of Georgia Tann's mid-century reign at the Tennessee Children's Home Society is no longer unknown to me. I suspect the novelization of this sickening tale made it a bit easier to read. I wanted the story told to me straight.

Still, my growing disinterest in historical fiction aside, the authors of these books clearly deserve credit for shining a light on little-told episodes. And when either the plots they construct to make the episodes more compelling for readers, or, the prose they use to tell those plots don't work for me, there are other options. Also, many first-rate non-fiction authors - Jon Krakauer, Erik Larsen, Simon Winchester - weave compelling narrative lines using historical detail alone. I seem to be moving steadily in that direction. Notable exceptions: Got a few more novels by EL Doctorow to still get through and any posse-recommended historical novel could also find its way into my queue. Never say never, right?  



  1. I liked Nancy Horan's two books: Under the Wide and Starry Sky and Loving Frank....

    1. Ines; Didn't read Loving Frank but ... Under the Wide and Starry Sky is among the historical novels I was thinking of when I wrote this post about giving up on this genre for a while; different strokes, right?