Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reading About Everyday Life

I love books that paint the characters' everyday lives down to fine, minute detail. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking about The Red Tent (Anita Diamant), The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck), and Pope Joan (Donna Woolfolk Cross). These are just a few historical fiction novels that I've read through the years that really did daily lives justice.

In The Red Tent the details about food, living conditions, and the women's menstrual rituals blew me away. In The Good Earth I was satisfied to visit life in rural China--the backbreaking work, sparse living, and then a richer lifestyle when Wang Lung and O-Lan hit it big. Finally, Pope Joan, a lesser known novel these days but a big book club pick in the early 2000s, is about a rumored female pope in the 9th century. Donna Woolfolk Cross does a great job illustrating how people lived during this time period, and how a woman could've disguised herself to rise to the papal throne. Hygiene, religion, and the pursuit of education played a big part in this novel.

After my last disappointing read, I picked up By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan. When I saw this one reviewed over at Caribousmom, I knew I had to try it, and the author was kind enough to seek me out and offer a copy. It's rare that I get a craving for a very specific kind of book. Most of the time I'm a random reader. I just snatch whatever looks tasty off the shelves and take a taste. For some reason, though, I've been feeling a definite need to be swept into a different time period where I can fall into someone else's everyday life. I'm sure it's a combination of end-of-term stress at work, a very full home life, and other factors.

I'm not far enough in to do this one justice, but so far it looks like it's going to stick. It revolves around the Spanish Inquisition, and I know embarrassingly little about this particular time period, so it's something of a learning experience. I do have a base knowledge. I was prompted to do a little research after I read Alice Hoffman's YA novel of the inquisition, Incantation, which I really loved. I even loved it in the middle of the night during a Read-a-Thon, so it HAD to be good to keep me awake.

So now I need your recommendations for future reference. What are some of your favorite historical novels that have plunked you down in the middle of another time and let you take a peek into the details of how people lived?

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