I had been planning to re-blog some reading related posts from an a-z a few years ago. so the random question from Musing Monday this week has resulted in this. Some of my childhood books. All these would have been read during the 1950s when I was between child and what is called YA today. These are only the historical favourites, I read many other genres. They are a mixture of those written for youngsters and those such as Buck, Weyman or Hornblower written for adults. I ranged between the two quite happily.
I wonder now which was the first historical novel I ever read, The Children of the New Forest? The Eagle of the Ninth? The Silver Sword or maybe A Moor of Spain? They all meld into one period of my life. These would have been those I could read to myself. What of those which were read to me, how young was I when someone first read Gulliver’s Travels to me, I seem to have memories of that tale stretching way back. Or Treasure Island? I remember listening to The Black Arrow on the small radio set high on the walls of the fourth form at my primary school, I would have been ten years then.
Many books I considered historical when a child of course were no such thing. I had assumed it because they were written in the past, whereas in reality they had been contemporary to the author. Kipling wrote of a time and place that was a reality to him in the same way as Austen did. The Black Arrow by R.L.Stevenson was certainly an historical novel as it was written in 1813 and set in the time of the War of the Roses, an exciting blood thirsty time if ever there was:) but a book written in 1813 does seem to a child to be historical already.
Lines blur often in reading:)
That we were listening to the Black Arrow at Primary School, seems to indicate the powers to be considered it more historical than romance! There is more line blurring there.
I like my historical tales to inform me, the action is important but action on it’s own is never enough. Romance? well that never has been my thing. No, historical must fill me with a feeling I have walked the dusty/smelly streets, know the why? what and how? of a time long passed.Know that people were the same as us just wrapped in different coloured banners. Historical must cause a heart pounding fear/pleasure/excitement as I read. Historical must leave me battered by the experience.
A Moor of Spain by Richard Parker set in the time of Christopher Columbus and written in 1953, this was my first introduction to the Inquisition and showed me a startling fact of history. The Moors had at one time a great deal of control over Spain, I never knew. It led me to explore a little more of Spain’s history as well as that of North Africa. The beauty of books ? those diverse side paths they can lead you down.
The Children of the New Forest also served up to us on the school radio, set this time during the English Civil War but printed in 1847. From that one I discovered much; that the Civil War was not just about plumed hats and round helmets, that Cromwellian were not always the enemy. Learnt in fact that history is many sided. It was an interesting discovery and one which appealed to my sense of fair play. Look at both sides of an argument/dispute/is a lesson well learnt.
I mustn’t forget The Eagle of the Ninth, that wonderful adventure in Roman Britain written by R.Sutcliffe and published in 1954.The Romans, beloved of our primary school teachers. Such misty times, especially in the 50s, much more is known now of life around Hadrian’s Wall and of the remains of Roman rule. Because of this book I developed an interest in ‘really long ago times’ and I have followed with interest the discoveries being unearthed from the ground. Marvelling as I do, how history refuses sometimes to remain buried.
The Silver Sword also, is deemed historical, being published 10 years after the Second World War, but how far from the period being written about does an historical novel need to be set – The Silver Sword never felt like an historical story to me, the Second World War and it’s horrors were everyday fare, as more was discovered of the atrocities of war, in the years following, when children on still played on bomb sites, it felt like everyday life. – this was a contemporary story for me. On that criteria as soon as any book is published it becomes after all historical.
Lines blurring again.
One of my favourite historical authors was Stanley Weyman, and on a recent re-read 60 years later I found he stood up reasonable well. Again with this sense of blurring, was he romance or historical adventure or. . .
I read him for the adventure and history, be it Elizabethan history or 16th & 17th century French. The romance part was barely there for me. There was much to learn from his pages of the grander sweep of history than was ever found in the dry history of school text books.
I read Gone with the Wind very early, because it was one of my mother’s favourite books. Scarcely veiled rape scenes passed me by on the first reading but my entire view of the American Civil War was first introduced and then fixed by this book. Scarlett was my kind of girl, she did – whatever she had to – from spoilt brat to woman in control. With forces of such universal power against her – I say, didn’t she do well?
The descriptions of hospitals full of the wounded the burning of Atlanta , birthing dying – Life as I hadn’t experienced – the romance was neither here nor there for me. Not the lovey dovey stupidity of Ashley or the looser attitude of Brett – why didn’t the one move on and the other give her a good hiding. No, but the romance (old fashioned definition here) of the whole the grand sweep of history – great.
Another firm favourite were the Hornblower books. Set during the Napoleonic wars and set, what’s more on the sea. Discovered by me because they were my father’s favourite books (he of the navy) action, history and life in olden times, what’s not to enjoy. The descriptions of life at sea, of the storms, battles, life below decks so good I was seasick reading them:(
I latched onto Pearl S Buck for years – staple reading for me from the mid 50s onward. Not only set in days of yore but in such a different culture it was almost shocking. China was a closed book to most of us westerners, but within those closed covers lay a magical land of mystery, I knew that. Pearl Buck delivered.She delivered well. My only regret, that not more of them have been turned into audio books.
History is never just the history of one country, every nation interlinked to others in strange and divers ways. Reading these grand sweeping global extravagances shows how one tiny event on a small rocky island can be influenced by and influence many greater worlds.
Musing Mondays is a weekly meme that asks you to choose one of the following prompts to answer:
- I’m currently reading…
- Up next I think I’ll read…
- I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
- I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
- I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
- I can’t wait to get a copy of…
- I wish I could read ___, but…
- I blogged about ____ this past week…
THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: What would you say is the best children’s book you’ve ever read?
That is so difficult – it was so long ago, so many thousands of books past. When is childhood defined. What age are we discussing. As a very small child I liked the Orlando books, about a ginger cat and his family, complete with pictures in lurid colour! I was very small then, I could just spell out the words. I have some still upstairs.
Later ? well I suppose a great book is one that is remembered over 60+ years, re-read a few times and still in the bookcase. so I would have to include The Wind in the Willows, the Jungle Books, Aesops Fables, The Just So Stories, The Borrowers, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
Early teenage books? Teenagers hadn’t really been invented then! again so many and mixed by then with adult books but The Silver Sword, A Moor in Spain, The Children of New Forest and the Eagle of the Ninth. Aall written for children.
Mid teens It was all adult books , Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, Harper Lee. I was into detective and science fiction, 1984, Brave New World and stuff like that. Late teens I guess The Group, One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest and Catch 22 would be among the top contenders.
I’ll stop here because it was mainly books written for adults I was reading from about 13 onward.