This post was inspired by a friend who gave me a completely different blogging prompt. But hey, that’s what happens with writing! Not only do you get a million plot bunnies, but when you finally pick one, they also tend to run off on a rabbit trail. So long as you don’t end up down the rabbit hole…
Enough with Alice in Wonderland, though. This post is all about historical fiction! I’m here to talk about another one of my favorite genres, where fact meets fiction.
I’ve been on a historical fiction reading spree lately, particularly when it comes to WWII fiction. I read other historical novels as well, but this has been my latest preference, especially considering my recent travels in Europe. Here are just a couple of reasons I enjoy historical fiction:
1. It’s informative.
I get a better sense of place from historical fiction than from history books. While history books will tell you about dates, historical fiction will tell you what a city might have looked or smelled like and how people may have lived their day-to-day lives.
And let’s face it, reading or watching historical fiction makes us feel smarter. I know it does for me. Don’t deny it.
2. It’s easier to remember a story if I can empathize with the characters/people.
Need I say more? Fact: I can breeze through 300 pages of historical fiction, but it takes longer to get through 50 pages in a history book.
I’ve touched on this topic before when it comes to 7 Reasons I Enjoy Sci-Fi, but I’m here to tell you about it again. I like culture. Once you take the time to truly understand somebody and where they’re coming from, they’ll be more open to interaction. And there’s nothing like understanding that not everybody lives their lives the way you do. If you can’t travel to a place to understand a certain culture, you can at least read about it. That way, you might even spare yourself the culture shock.
4. Time travel.
Time machines don’t exist… yet. And let’s face it, time travel would be a bit freaky. There are so many different theories about what could possibly go wrong and how such travel would work at all, but of course, that’s for a post on science-fiction not historical fiction. (Problems with time travel: germs vs. antibodies; language differences; spatial differences; the space time continuum; etc.)
But when it comes to books, you can “safely” travel back in time and the most likely dangers you’ll encounter include papercuts, depleted bank accounts, and broken hearts. Okay, I never said you’d make it off easy. Reading is a dangerous game, my friend.
5. Actual travel.*
It’s fascinating to read about a place and then travel there. That’s the problem with fantasy. The closest I’ll ever come to Narnia is the wardrobe in my house or visiting Oxford, which, let’s face it, looks nothing like I imagine Narnia to be. And sure, you can “visit” Middle Earth, but do you get to see Minas Tirith or Lothlorien? Unfortunately, not. (But I still want to go!)
With historical fiction, you can visit actual sights. And while I’ve been to many, many places in my wanderings, I enjoy and understand a place even more if I’ve read a story about it before. I may even fangirl over a historical sight. I’ve visited Siena, the town where the Betarrini have been. (Okay, so the River of Time books are part fantasy, but they’re historical fiction too!) I’ve been to London, where many famous authors lived and kings and queens ruled.
If you’re into actual travel and fiction, be sure to check out my latest newsletter, River of Books, and subscribe for more below!
*I can tell when an author hasn’t visited the actual historical location or done their research. The setting tends to lack the personal touch that you can only get from visiting a place or talking to somebody who has.
6. Author’s notes.
Once I’ve engaged with a story, I thoroughly enjoy getting a bit more context. Maybe it’s the intellectual in me, but I like to learn the facts about something that’s already fascinating. Elizabeth Wein does a great job of this when it comes to her historical fiction novels. I would seriously like to see where more authors get their historical research from.
And not just historical novels either. I want to know more about the facts and fiction when it comes to stories about people with disabilities or mental illness. A lot of stories just end, and I’m left asking what was real and what was made up. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. Petition for YA authors to write more author’s notes. Seriously, people. I want to know more!
7. It’s sobering.
Historical fiction reminds us that the world does not revolve around us. There were hundreds of thousands, millions of people who lived before us. Reading historical fiction can help us come in contact with just a few of those lives through stories of actual people or places. It also points out many of the tragedies that have occurred throughout the years and helps teach us what it truly means to be human.
8. Bonus! (And because I can’t count): It helps me connect with my brother.
My older brother is obsessed with history. I often refer to him as a walking encyclopedia. And even though we were pretty close growing up, so much so that we were often mistaken for twins, college has seen us develop different opinions and interests. So I may not have as much in common with my brother as I like, but at least there’s still history.
Having watched BBC’s latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays, The Hollow Crown, has enabled me to talk with my brother about the War of the Roses. Reading novels that include battle strategy is another favorite of mine because my brother could go on and on about the pincer movement or guerilla warfare.
Enjoy historical fiction? If you related to this post, you might enjoy reading the following books: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (early 1900s, immigration, USA) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (WWII, France and Germany), Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (1975, immigration, Vietnam and USA), and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (WWII, pilots, France and England).
Similar posts: 7 Reasons I Enjoy Medieval Novels, 7 Reasons I Enjoy Fantasy Novels, and 7 Reasons I Enjoy Sci-Fi
Let’s chat! Did I miss any great points about historical fiction? What are some of your favorite genres? How often do you read historical fiction? What is your favorite era to read about?