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Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Discussion: Historical Fiction

Tomorrow, I am giving a three hour training on working with patrons who enjoy Historical Fiction.  The talk covers basic RA skills and uses the research done by Sarah Johnson as a framework to consider the genre, its scope, and its best books.

As a result, I have spent the last week immersed in the fiction of the past.  It has made me think about what kind of historical fiction I most enjoy.

Here are some of the appeal factors I highlight in my talk:
  • Historical fiction is a fun way to learn history
  • The books may not move briskly but they are always compelling
  • Time and place considerations are paramount for many readers
  • There are plenty of details about the historical period
  • Historical fiction has protagonists you can root for
This is some of what you can generally expect in historical fiction.  This made me think of my personal reading.  What do I find most important in my historical fiction?  This is a great question to ask yourself for any and all books.  This becomes even more important for those of you who are helping leisure readers.

How can you know how to help others find their next good read unless you understand why you like to read what you like to read?  Once you can assess your personal reading, you have a better understanding of how to interview your patrons and get them to open up about what they like and why.  Click here for another post about this issue.

So, for me I have found that the pacing is not an issue I have with historical fiction; slow or fast I am okay.  I  know that a lot of hf does have romance subplots.  In general, for me, the less romance the better.

When I really think about it, time and place are the most important part of hf o me.  For example, I really enjoy books set during the Civil War era, but not the battlefield books.  So I prefer The March by Doctorow to Killer Angels by Shaara.  See I can be just as specific as our patrons.  Actually, as a former American Studies major, I really like any historical American setting from the Revolution to WWII.

This also works for dislikes.  I really do not like British monarch hf.  So no Tudors for me.  I know they are VERY popular, but I really don't care for the time period.  I do however like Middle Ages England and anything pre-modern.  I also enjoy Asian historical fiction from the Middle East through to Japan in just about any time period.

Finally, for me accurate details of the place, the customs, the flora and fauna, etc... are more important to me than characters I can root for.  In terms of characters, I just want them to be fully rounded and historically accurate.  Hating them is fine with me, as long as they are interesting.

Now it's your turn. For today's Monday Discussion, what do you look for in Historical Fiction?

Over the next few months, I will ask a similar question about more genres.  This will allow us all to think about our own reading interests.  Once we can dissect ourselves, we better understand the right questions to ask our patrons about their own reading preferences.

For the Monday Discussion Archive click here.


John BPL RA said...

Historical fiction is my favorite oxymoron and one I love very much when it is done with ACCURACY. You would think that this would be a given but sadly it isn't. Perhaps I'm a little more sensitive to this having been a history major in college, but sometimes books will really insult your intelligence. It bothers me most when military titles, formations, or numbers are used incorrectly. The misuse of place names is another mistake that makes me close the cover. I find that most readers of historical fiction favor specific time periods and I do also. I read either ancient history (mostly Egypt or Greece) or the Napoleonic period or French Revolution. My favorite of these is probably the series of Napoleonic novels by French author Patrick Rambaud. If I had to choose a favorite of all time it would be the Dumas masterpiece The Count of Monte Cristo.

Melanie said...

I look for people, places, and time periods that I don't know a lot about. I've read enough Tudor stuff and want something different. And, like John, I expect that it's accurate. I don't want contemporary words or phrases or situations in my historical novels.