Read On…Historical Fiction: Reading Lists For Every Taste, by Brad Hooper
One can give the author credit for trying to provide a thoughtful reading list for every taste in the genre of historical fiction. Looking at this book, I was struck by how many of the books I had read prior to my days as a prolific book reviewer, and how few I had read since then because of the immense size of many worthwhile historical fiction works. In terms of my own familiarity with the genre, this book includes the books behind familiar film adaptations of works, as well as the writings of Jakes, Mitchner, and Clavell. To be sure, there are plenty of historical fiction writers that are not included–there are no references, for example, to the excellent Brother Cadfael series of novels or to some of the other well-regarded historical fiction I am familiar with , and it is clear that this author has a bias towards literary fiction, especially that which conforms to contemporary social mores, but at least it can be said that this author tries to represent every taste within historical fiction. Even so, he cannot leave his judgmental tendencies about reading behind, saying, for example, that no one can consider themselves a fan of the historical fiction genre unless they have read Death Comes to the Archbiship, the classic from Willa Cather (9), which is at least somewhat of an exaggeration. After all, who is this author to tell anyone what genres they can or cannot be a fan of?
The author aims, within tolerable bounds, for completeness in covering the scope of historical fiction. The book is divided into several sections where historical fiction works are spotlighted for their attention to setting, character, story, language, and mood and atmosphere over the course of less than 150 pages. There are a variety of reasons why people choose to read certain works of historical fiction, and the author manages to hit upon most of these, at the cost of breaking up some series into several different categories, while lumping other novels in a series together. The author clearly thinks about historical fiction in a very highbrow literary theory way, encouraging readers to enjoy the obscure writings of Nobel Prize winners as well as more decadent contemporary fare, and more than a few classic works of the genre and even a few popular efforts thrown in for good measure. Lamentably, the author’s tone at times can be more than a little bit snobbish and that diminishes from the appeal of this work, which is clearly designed for those who consider themselves to be fans of reading in this genre with the aim of encouraging more works in the genre to be published because of their popularity.
That said, much of this book is enjoyable to read if one likes reading books about books, and reading lists that encourage future reading. While many readers, myself included, have far different tastes than the author himself, this book will provide readers with something that they will enjoy even if the author as a whole thinks himself far too much of an authority in a genre, and even if his condescension for works of popular historical fiction and history-lite is all too evident. If one can get over his tone, though, there is a lot to be enjoyed in these pages. It is, for example, very clear that the author is very fond of literary historical fiction and those readers who share these tastes will enjoy the author. Those who fancy themselves to be as cultured and sophisticated as the author may not even be bothered by the author’s tone and may enjoy the book even more than I did. The book, though, lives up to its modest ambitions and makes for a solid contributor to what is likely an enjoyable collection.
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