History?

Recently I wrote about adaptations of books and rating them. I obviously have a lot of thoughts on both of these subjects. Today I’m talking about a sort of hybrid: historical novels. I think that they are adaptations of history and therefore, I’m going to rate them as such…

I recently read “Lost Roses” by Martha Hall Kelly, her new prequel to “Lilac Girls” (which I also read) I also recently read “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris. There may be spoilers ahead: I’m not sure how I want to pen my ideas.

Historical novels are books based on actual events yet are fictional. Hmmmm. Should we be doing this? Why would we do it? What could go wrong when we take an actual event and fictionalize it? Are you starting to see where I’m going with this?

I know both of these books are based on actual events. They speak of real people who did things in their lives. In one case, the author had actually spoken to the namesake tattooer. So these things really happened.

Mainly.

And there’s the problem. We take an actual person, an actual thing that they did, and then you build a fictional story around it. Fictional. As in, one thing was real, and maybe 80% is what the author dreamed up based on historical documents. Hmmmm.

As a fledgling writer I have been in classes where I have presented a story or chapter and have been met with choruses of “That would never happen in real life.” “That’s not believable.” Even published authors have received criticism that things aren’t realistic. (and we all know that sometimes what we write, even though labeled as fiction, is actually based on real events, so like it or not, things happen). So with actual fiction, every story, anecdote and happening must pass the believability test. It has to actually seem like it would happen. Not so much with historical fiction.

I think there is much more license to be creative when something is deemed historical and based on a true event. You have to believe it because this is a real character who had a real life and real things that led to this incident or time in history. You must believe all the words on a page because it “happened”. It’s based on a “true story”.

I call bullshit.

Here come the spoilers.

“Tattooist” is basically a love story. Boy meets girl as he is branding her with a tattoo in Auschwitz, a concentration camp run by the Nazi’s in World War II. All these things are fact. Real people, real places, real events. Truth. The author actually spoke to the tattooer before he died.

But the story…If this was the first Holocaust book that someone read, they would have a very poor understanding of what it was. This book was more reminiscent of summer camp, and boys and girls sneaking behind the cabin to have sex. Which is literally a scene in this book. Now I want to ask you logically: with what you know about concentration camps and Nazi’s, do you think that a male and female prisoner would be able to sneak behind a building to have sex (excuse me- make love) and long talks? Do you understand why I looked at the book and said “Bullshit”?

Now, in this case I’m not blaming the author. She actually interviewed the main character back in the early 2000’s. But honestly, I can’t imagine his memories were very real. First off, by then he was probably in his 90’s. I’m sorry, memory fades with age. Secondly, he is a Holocaust survivor: he is going to have the memories he chooses to have because he survived one the most horrific periods in history. Like anyone who has experienced a personal tragedy, they need to separate things in their mind- the survivor instinct lets you build a whole new reality. But to say “Based on a True Story”? I take offense to using those words with this book.

In “Lost Roses” I am totally blaming the author. She has chosen to write about women in a prominent New York society family during WWI. I don’t think she actually spoke to any of the women personally. These women were pioneers in helping those who could not help themselves, refugees and others. Commendable. Women like this should be recognized.

But…

To say that there were parts of this story that were ridiculous is an understatement. The coincidences and chances of fate that happen? You would not believe how many people happened to be walking down the street at the same time as their love from twenty years prior, especially as they are now in a completely different city. And the degrees of separation? every time they met someone new, that person knew all their friends and relatives. Amazing. Fate at its finest.

Bullshit.

How many acts of fate and coincidence am I supposed to believe because something is labeled “based on a true story.” In 1917 Russia, am I supposed to believe that a woman by herself was able to get a horse and a cart through the revolution and onto Paris? Really? In a country with no food and constant rioting because no one was really in charge, a beautiful woman was able to get out alive, feed herself and feed her horse, from St. Petersburg to Paris? Really?

Come. On.

But I guess it happened because it was based on a true story.

So yes, I’m throwing the entire historical fiction novel, especially those based on a true story, under the bus. Don’t get me started on revisionist history either- just because we wish something was so doesn’t mean it was. But that’s not even a blog- that’s a book…

So…

Historical fiction? Yay or nay?

 

 

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The Book Clubs- Part 2

A few weeks ago I discussed how I was going to counter empty nesthood: by joining two book clubs. One at my local Barnes and Noble which would be discussing new and noteworthy (aka hyped) books and one at an independent book store focusing on foreign books in translation.

Fine.

Except, all my IRL friends said that I was totally going to the Barnes and Noble one. And they added, there was no way I was going to the foreign book one.

Oh how well my friends know me.

This past Monday I did indeed skip the independent bookstore club (I mean- I didn’t read the book, so, you know…) and on Tuesday I went to the B&N one.

First off- great success to the B&N club. It was run by two young enthusiastic readers who came prepared with great questions and the ability to keep the group in line. There were probably about fifteen of us in all, fourteen women and one lone man. Why do men not like book clubs? The majority of the women were older than me, but there one or two younger. In all, it was a lively group filled with varied opinions and ideas and thoughts. The conversation solidly revolved around the book for the hour. I will definitely be going again next month.

Here’s the thing about me and reading and book clubs. I love to discuss books. I love discussing how the author moved the plot forward, or what devices were used. I love questioning why something was done in a certain way. But sometimes I wonder if I read books differently than others.

The book we discussed was “Lost Roses” by Martha Hall Kelly, the prequel to “Lilac Girls” (which I read and disliked as well) I made a point about a part of the book I thought was preposterous, and no one else had picked up on it. After I said it, a few people opened there mouths and said – “Oh wow- I didn’t think of that. that’s right.” But some people just stared at me. I made another point about how a character acted in a particular scene and I said I lost all sympathy for her after that scene, and people again said they hadn’t thought of it like that. So I can’t help but wonder: am I odd? Do I read into things differently than others? Do I look for oddities?

When you read a book, how do you read it? I know we all know how to read, and as bloggers and blog readers, we’re actually pretty good at it. But how carefully and critically do you look at novels that you’re reading? (and don’t talk to me about grammar because we all know that I don’t do grammar and will not fault anyone for incorrect grammar) When it comes to characters, do you actively look for the subtle moments when they change? Do you notice inconsistencies in plot line?

I know numerical inconsistencies drive me crazy. The only time I ever emailed an author had to do with ages of her characters- she changed the age of several characters several times (and it wasn’t a self published book!!!)

So, what makes you question a book? What makes you decide you like, or don’t like a book? Inquiring minds want to know.

 

The Bookclubs

As you may know, I belong to two book clubs: one in my building that meets monthly, and one with my tea club that meets five times a year. You also know that I set a yearly reading goal of fifty books, so my aim is to finish one book a week. We can assume that I love to read, and I love to discuss books that I’ve read

Recently I found out that two lower Manhattan book stores hold book clubs once a month.

Can you see the lightbulb flashing?

I’m considering joining these two book clubs.

One of them meets at my local Barnes and Noble and reads new and hyped books. The May selection is “Lost Roses” by the same woman who wrote “Lilac Girls”. What do I think about the book? Well, that’s a secret I’m going to share at my first book club meeting…

The other book club is at an smaller more eclectic book shop. They focus on literature in translation, and the first book is a biography about some French person. I’m fifty/fifty as to whether I start out with this book this month.

Why am I considering joining two new book clubs?

Well, that’s easy: I know I need to fill up some of my evenings. Empty nest=empty evenings. And while I do chill to a certain extent, in the beginning it will be hard to adjust to not having my daughter in the apartment. I’ve gotten used to be asked to review an essay or quiz her on something- this has been my life for twelve years- assistant to the student. At 11, I usually sit in her room with her for a few minutes. We both sip tea and discuss our day that just passed, or out day coming up. This has become our ritual. And I know come August 23, it will abruptly end. Many of my rituals will end.

The thought of not having a routine is unsettling.

I am the Queen of routine. I have routines and patterns and spreadsheets for literally everything. I need to start integrating my new routine into place before she leaves…I need to integrate in many new routines.

Can you feel me hyperventilating?

Breath. Focus. Logic.

The problem with my book clubs is that they happen to meet on consecutive evenings: first Monday of the month for one, the first Tuesday of the month for the other. Do I want to have book clubs back to back? Can I walk into one of them and ask them to change the date? No? Yeah- I guess that’s taking control to a whole new level…

The other problem is that I don’t love certain genres. I’m OK with the club that reads the hyped books: I’m probably reading them on my own anyway. But the other? I have no idea if it’s going to be a bunch on non fiction. I don’t love discussing non fiction books in book club. I mean, what do you say? She shouldn’t have done that with her life? What can you actually discuss about a biography other than reiterate what the author said in the book…And again, I can’t dictate what this club should read…

And finally- if I belong to all these book clubs, will I have time to read the books that I just want to read for my pleasure? I realize that I will have more time, but… Do I want to make my yearly reading goal 75 books?

Now I get that book clubs are just a way to hide behind the loneliness that I will experience, but we all need something to hide behind for a little while, until we get out feet back on the ground. And a book club is relatively inexpensive, and not exactly bad for you. I’m already addicted to books as it is. What’s a few more?