Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Brunch

Location: Barnes & Noble café

Food: House coffee and a cinnamon scone

Book at table: Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty by Lacey Baldwin Smith (non-fiction, psychological portrait of the later days of Henry VIII, written in the 80s and found in a haphazard stack of used books at an indie bookstore, and I’m loving it)

Sunday mornings are often my favorite moments during the week. It’s just before you have to get started working on things for the coming week, and most people are not yet awake, so there is a quiet freshness to the day. My family often gets together to catch up and relax. And of course, I love coffee almost as much as I love books, so what better way to run a Sunday salon than with plenty of coffee, history geek chatter, and books to review?

Having just begun this blog, I have been reminiscing a lot lately about how I got into historical fiction and realized it was my favorite genre, so I thought I might talk about that today.

The summer before my sophomore year in high school I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The interesting thing about this cinder block book is that to modern readers it is historical by virtue of having been written during the late Victorian era, but at the time of its writing it was already historical fiction, since it covers the early Victorian era in revolutionary France. Hugo used history because he could play with more fictional or fantastical elements of a story and thus develop his Romantic style of writing. He wrote about the infinite capabilities and possibilities of humans and individuals, and how those capabilities played out in various societies. In Les Miz, the idealistic university students get quashed by the monarchy. In Notre Dame de Paris (or The Hunchback of Notre Dame in most English translations), the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda is destroyed by the failings of the medieval justice system. So, yes, they’re kind of depressing books, but after reading Les Miz I was entirely intrigued by the vast world of our own history. I had never read much about fictional characters in real worlds and events beyond the Dear America diaries when I was a kid.

I also read Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl that year. Of course, being a teenager, I was swept away by the romance of the Tudor era. Beyond classics (like Les Miz, and Tom Sawyer, and The Catcher in the Rye), it was the first adult book I had ever read. The Tudor era is still one of my favorites to read about, and as you can see above, I am slowly amassing my own, non-fiction Tudor library.

I signed up for the Advanced Placement history classes at my school because, beyond the wonderful worlds of historical fiction, I wanted to know what had really happened. I wanted to know the politics, and the thinking, and what it was like to live in older worlds. I have been taking history classes, reading history books, and learning about the past ever since.

So, today’s Sunday Brunch Question is: How did you first fall in love with historical fiction? Can you remember the first historical fiction novel that you read?


  1. My first dip in the historical fiction pool was The Other Boleyn Girl. I read it in one sitting and was hooked! At this point in my life there were a lot of changes I was dealing with and when I finally got settled again, I picked up a Margaret George book. Mary, Queen of Scots and the Isles was the beginning of the obsession and I haven't looked back!

    A shamless plug here since you said you're a coffee person. My aunt has a coffee company and I thought you'd like to check it out -


  2. Gotta love Philippa Gregory; it's just such an engrossing novel. And I'll definitely have to check out the coffee, too!