Hornblower : Beat to Quarters

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Ask a Book Question: The 43rd in a Series (Finding Historical Fiction)

Katie writes in with this question:When I was in Rome I read I, Claudius [by Robert Graves] and loved it. Now I’m looking for other historical fiction, of any period or nationality, that does a comparable job of bringing a time and place to life and maintaining some literary credibility. Any suggestions?According to Wikipedia, not the definitive source in this realm but a decent enough place to start, a work of historical fiction can be defined as one in which “the story is set among historical events, or more generally, in which the time of the action predates the lifetime of the author.” This is a bit broad for my taste, but I think it’s a good place to start. Going by this definition, a lot of books that we think of first as fiction could also qualify as historical fiction. Some of my favorite books by contemporary authors fall into this category. T.C. Boyle’s Water Music is about a Scottish explorer in Africa in the late 18th century, and Edward P. Jones’ book The Known World is about black slave owners in Virginia in the 1840s. Another example of a book like these is Charles Frazier’s Civil War novel, Cold Mountain.But these books aren’t really historical fiction in the same way that I, Claudius is historical fiction. Traditionally, in historical fiction, the history is like another character in the novel, and the action is more likely to be ripped from the history books, as it were, placing the reader in a novelized version of true historical events. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell about Atlanta during the Civil War is a famous example. Another is James Clavell’s Shogun about the 16th century exploration of Asia. Of the few historical novels I’ve read, my favorite would have to be Leon Uris’ Trinity, a powerful epic about the Irish struggle for independence at the turn of the 20th century.There is also historical fiction that hews closely to a particular niche, like the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian and C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series, both of which take place during the time when tall-masted ships ruled the high seas. The there’s Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series, which is prehistoric, historical fiction. I know, crazy.I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who have historical fiction to recommend, so please share in the comments, and thanks, Katie, for your question.Update: Jenny exposes my unfamiliarity with historical fiction by suggesting many, many fantastic-sounding books in the comments. Check it out, and leave some more suggestions if you’ve get them.

Holiday links

We’ve been back from our holiday travels for a few days, and I’ve finally had some time to catch up with some online reading. Here are some articles and links that caught my eye. (Several of these come from Arts and Letters Daily)From Scientific American, a look at last year’s tsunami and how scientists have used this real life event to validate and augment various previously untested theories about these rare, cataclysmic events.The 2005 Dubious Data Awards: the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University highlights several examples of overhyped news stories based on dubious numbers.From Wired: Will the impending bird-flu pandemic be a global version of “the boy who cried wolf?” Scientists are trying to assess the real danger using supercomputers to play out fantastically complicated simulations that remind me of SimCity.In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley “reconsiders” C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower saga. He suggests Beat to Quarters as the best in the series.I’ve definitely become very interested in the business of newspapers in the last few years. Mike Hughlett’s article in the Chicago Tribune is a little “inside baseball,” but it lays out how important classified ads are to newspapers, and explains why newspapers aren’t as imperiled in the in online classified arena as some might suggest.Another tough business is opening a coffee shop. Michael Idov shares the harrowing details of his experience at Slate.A no-frills list of the bestselling books from 1900 to 1998, year by year.

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