When I formulated the list for my historical fiction reading challenge, I wanted an equal balance of men and women writers, diverse temporal settings, and myriad styles/ genres. I felt I had (largely) achieved that, but I knew that some of my choices might not be friendly to my taste.
And I was right about that.
The Luminaries is the second novel by Eleanor Catton. It has been highly praised. It won the freaking Man Booker Prize. That is why I chose it for the historical fiction reading challenge. And I didn’t even make it eight pages.
You would think a novel about gold mining turned mystery in Victorian New Zealand would be interesting. But there is only one mystery that needed to be solved.
Where the hell was the editor?
I didn’t read enough of the novel to give even a decent review. Rather, how much of a chance should I give a novel? Ten pages? Fifty? I’ll know when I read it?
This is a very malleable subject. I don’t have a hard and fast rule. I just come to a point and have no interest in continuing. The novel just doesn’t capture my attention. Do I owe it to the author to continue on if I have no interest?
Some would argue yes. I have a duty to finish a text. But, I argue back, there are so many other books on my reading list that I shouldn’t be bound to finishing a book that bores me or (worse) pisses me off.
So far in my historical fiction reading challenge, I am 1-1-1. How would I rate The Luminaries? A definite loss: 1-1-2.
Next time on the historical fiction reading challenge: Wellville by T.C. Boyle.
Gentlemen of the Road is the third novel in my historical fiction reading challenge. And honestly, I don’t know how I feel about it.
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon tells the tale of how two Jewish bandits, the Frankish Zelikman and the Abyssinian Amram, become tangled in the internal politics of the Khazars after they are caught out during a scam.
On the whole, the novel is a wonderfully written historical yarn. It is, perhaps, an example of what all historical adventure novels aspire to be. As a Michael Chabon novel, however, Gentlemen of the Road leaves much to be desired.
While the characterization of Amram and Zelikman are well executed, one is hard pressed to see how, exactly, they are unique. Isn’t it almost a given that all protagonists in this genre are rogues and bandits with similar characteristics? And isn’t this type of plot not uncommon?
(In fact, I’m glad I’m not reading T.C. Boyle’s Water Music for this challenge because, honestly, I remember that book having a very similar feel. The plots are completely different, but still. . .)
The novel is great and enjoyable. But I can’t help finding the novel dull and boring at the same time. Being a Michael Chabon novel, I expect something more.
I have some familiarity with Michael Chabon’s work. I have read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and enjoyed both books immensely. They have a depth and power that, honestly, Gentlemen of the Road simply lacks.
It is almost as if Chabon ticked off the genre requirements without adding anything really new or deep to the mix.
Which is a shame even if the novel is highly readable.
So, where does this leave me on my historical fiction challenge score sheet? Three books in, I’ll have to say things are 1-1-1.
Next time, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.
With much thought, and after extensively searching my local library’s catalog, I’ve decided on twenty books for my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. I had originally wanted to limit myself to ten books that I could easily find at my local library. But, unfortunately, I only received three recommendations, so I’m going to go with quantity and hope for enough quality to change my apathetic opinion of historical fiction.
Here is the list:
The Tale of Genji
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
A Spoke in the Wheel by Amita Kanekar
The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson
Hild by Nicola Griffith
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
(the later three books are recommendations from Michal of One Last Sketch. And the first five books will have to be ILLed.)
The Persian Boy by Mary Renault
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Luminaries by Elizabeth Catton
Texas by James Michener
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory
The Road to Wellville (or) Water Music by T.C. Boyle
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Rags to Glory by Stuart Cloete
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Palace Walk by Najib Mahfouz
Silence by Endo Shusaku
What a list! When I decided to embark on this project, I decided that I wanted an equal balance of male and female authors. I also wanted as diverse a breadth of history and regions as I could get. I’m pleased that I struck a balance in regards to the author ratio. But I’m not as happy with the breadth and diversity of my selections. Of the twenty, only seven are people of color. I need to do better than that.
Given that there are twice as many books, I’m going to be harsher when it comes to reading. If I don’t like a novel, even if it is within the first chapter or two, I’m going to drop it. I will attempt to explain why I didn’t like said book, even if I barely passed a chapter.
I’m actually looking forward to this challenge, despite my apathy. What books will I enjoy and which will I regret sparing even a few minutes of my time? And what does this reveal about me and my tastes?
And, finally, what do you think about my list?
I have no burning desire to read historical fiction. It is just a genre I have no interest in. This apathy revealed itself when I wrote my blog post entitled “A Rant of Hot and Cold” and its recent followup. But maybe, just maybe, I should take the time to actually read some historical fiction.
This is where you come in. I need recommendations. I could go to the historical fiction page on Wikipedia and randomly select authors and titles, but there is the horrifying possibility I could select a slew of books I cannot stand.
So any recommendations I receive will be greatly appreciated. (And hopefully, my local library have them on the shelves).
There are a few books I already have my eyes on. The Tale of Genji and The Romance of the Three Kingdoms are newly ILLed (so it will take them awhile). I’m also eyeing Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and (maybe) Queen Margot.
Here’s what I’m looking for: global coverage. I’ve got East Asia, France, and Hellenistic Greece/ Asia Minor/ Central Asia covered. The rest of the world needs some attention. I also want a balance of men and women authors. I’m thinking ten authors. I’ve got four down, so I need six more.
I was intending on reading The Persian Boy and The Three Musketeers in the past (and coming) few weeks. But I’m in the middle of a comic book/ manga binge right now. (I did read a bit from The Three Musketeers and didn’t like it. But I’m hoping I may revise my opinion on a second take.)
Despite my lack of interest, I am looking forward to this. Will my opinion of historical fiction change, or will I continue to lack interest in the genre? Time and reading will tell.