In my fourth Historical Musings post back in July, I asked about favourite time periods in historical fiction. This month’s post is on a similar theme: when you read historical fiction, do you stick to one or two periods or are you happy to try anything and everything?
I am genuinely interested in most historical periods (I’ve always been less drawn to Ancient history, although that may be starting to change) and I feel that I read about a wide range of them. Looking back at the historical fiction I’ve read so far this year, I have read novels set during both World Wars, the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the fall of Constantinople. I have read books set in Renaissance Italy, medieval England, 16th century Scotland and 19th century China – and too many others to list here.
I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on any of the historical periods or subjects that I like to read about, but there are some that I find myself reading more often than others – particularly the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses. To take the latter as an example, according to the list I have compiled here, I have read and reviewed 22 books on the Wars of the Roses since I started blogging in 2009 (19 fiction and 3 non-fiction). However, when I read other people’s reviews of the same books, I am often amazed and impressed by other readers’ depth of knowledge and their ability to spot minor historical errors that I hadn’t even noticed. This leads me to wonder whether some people (assuming they are not actually historians or students of the period) are simply better at retaining and remembering information than I am, or whether they have been focusing their reading on that one particular period to a greater extent than I have.
I can see the advantages of reading with a ‘narrow’ focus – gaining different perspectives on the same subjects, seeing how different authors portray the same characters, and adding to and expanding on existing knowledge. But while I do enjoy – and will continue to search out – books on the Wars of the Roses and my other favourite periods, I would get bored if I read about them all the time. I also love to discover new times and places about which I previously knew little or nothing. Some of my favourite new discoveries in 2015 have been the First Opium War (Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy), the reigns of the 7th century kings of Northumbria (Edoardo Albert’s Northumbrian Thrones Trilogy), 18th century Portugal (The Devil on her Tongue by Linda Holeman) and the life of Cicero (Imperium and Lustrum by Robert Harris).
If some readers like to read ‘narrowly’, as I have described it here, I’m sure there are others who prefer to read very ‘broadly’ as far as historical fiction is concerned – and once they have read one or two novels with a particular setting, are happy with the knowledge they’ve gained and are ready to move on to something else. For me, though, neither reading narrowly nor broadly is enough: I like to do a mixture of both, which is probably why I always feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day!
What about you? Do you like to read as much as possible on one historical period or topic – or do you prefer to read about as many different ones as you can?