Readers all have a preferred genre. I'm going to make a case for my favorite, historical fiction. These are the books that keep me up late at night. They are the ones that have the most profound effect on me. Raised by a US History teacher, I think I appreciated the "other" side of history from a young age. Not the facts and the dates, but the human drive behind why people act the way they do. The complicated mess people found themselves in just trying to make it through life. History, in essence, is the story of us.
Why do people like me read historical fiction? The obvious. We want to be transported back in time and watch history come to life. We want to live through it, rather than just read about it in history books. Historical fiction masters the art of setting and world-building. The protagonist is usually in a high-stakes game for survival because let's face it, humans had it pretty tough in most parts of history. This makes for an exhilarating read.
Now for the not so obvious reasons. Why do these stories stick with me, long after I read them? How do some of them change me? (I'm talking The Nightingale and Memoirs of a Geisha, All the Light We Cannot See and The Power of One). The stories that hover over my heart for months or years after I read them. Great authors know how to take a historical setting and drop you in it so deeply that you are certain it's happening to you. The story sweeps you away in the pain and hopes of your characters.
Basically, these stories teach empathy. I recognize that I could just as easily have been born a Jewish girl in World War II Germany or into slavery in early America or into the extreme poverty of the Great Depression or born a diabetic before insulin was invented. But I wasn't. I was born in modern-day America as what I would call a privileged individual. Reading about those lives through the eyes of a masterful storyteller makes me look at my own life more clearly. It makes me see the world as a resilient place and reminds me of the power of humans to overcome things we cannot imagine.
That is the importance of books, I think. All books. They send us flying into another realm and when we land back at home, we are changed. My favorite flights are the ones that sweep me into something that contributed to who we are today. Because the themes of struggle and love and hope and loss transcend time.
I will be reviewing lots of historical fiction books in the upcoming year. If you're interested in hearing more, sign up for my newsletter. We can all take a trip back in time together!