If you were to glance at my reading list for this year, you might think I was a student of history. So far this year I’ve read 23 books, and 10 of them were “historical novels.” My trusty reading chair has become a virtual time machine, letting me explore England during the time periods of both World Wars, an artist’s atelier in late 18th century Paris, and midwifery in Appalachia during the 1950’s. Even my contemporary fiction choices have not brought me into the present day, but pushed me back into the late 20th century, with novels set in the 1960’s and 1990’s.
This all has me thinking - why am I gravitating toward the past?
Reading is more than my favorite pastime. Sometimes I think it’s almost like therapy...I read to learn about people, and how they conduct their lives and relationships. The characters in the novels I love most are those I can identify with, who are struggling with some of the same issues as I do as we go about our lives in general. Just this morning, I read the following paragraph in Jennifer Robson’s novel, After the War is Over that reminded me of similar sentiments which show up in my journal pages and on my blog:
“When had she ever spent an entire day having fun? She was thirty-three, and in the course of her adult life, she now realized she had never, not ever, allowed herself an entire day of fun without being overcome by guilt or anxiety or the rear that there were worthier things to do. Having fun was for other people - people who earned the right to be carefree.”
I’ve sometimes felt as if I were born in the wrong era, as if I would have been happier growing up as my parents did in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Now that I’ve spent nearly six decades on earth, I begin to feel even more outside of time as the 21st century speeds past. I love my technology as much as the next person, but sometimes I get frightened at the way it seems to control our lives. I worry about a generation of children who depend on technology for entertainment, education, and interpersonal relationships.
No matter what era they’re set in, the historical novels I read remind me of times when entertainment was gentler and life was slower, when communication was much more personal, when people were more mindful of the natural world and it’s cycles.
This winter has been difficult for me. In addition to extreme cold and snow, I’ve been ill off and on all winter, and I’m still feeling fragile, as if I’m on a precipice and just one misstep from plunging over.
So I lose myself in these novels of other times and places to forget those things in modern life that seem threatening, but also to remind myself of the common ground we all share in this life in general, no matter what time period we’re living in.
These are the historical novels I’ve read since January:
Romancing Miss Bronte
The Paying Guests
In This House of Brede
The Secret Life of Violet Grant
The Midwife of Hope River
Secrets of A Charmed LIfe
After the War is Over