Saturday, July 30, 2011

More Historical Fiction

I honestly can not remember the first book I read in the historical fiction genre. I wish I could. I'm not sure about the title, but I can say my love of history is directly linked to two men, my father and Coach Z. My entire life, my father has worked on genealogy. Every family vacation I could remember growing up involved libraries, historical societies, research centers, and of course cemeteries (I'm sure a part of my love for mystery, suspense, and thrillers is derived from my many hours spent in various graveyards). It wasn't until after I married I discovered the joy of Disney World! As ironic as that may be that trip also included genealogy because my husband's grandfather was raised in Florida, in Orlando,so it was very appropriate that we visit the land of his birth, oh and the mouse of course. Even now at forty I find myself drawn to cemeteries. Everytime I see one I have to point it out. My husband recently said there was no denying I am my father's daughter. On a recent trip to Kansas, we made a detour to Winfield where my maternal grandfather is buried. As weird as it may be I also have paternal relatives buried in the same cemetery. As soon as we arrived I was the first out of the car because I always want to be the one to find the tombstone of the family member for which we are searching. I love walking around reading the headstones, wondering how each person died. I know it is morbid, but it is what I think about when calculating their age and reading their names. On this trip we also visited the historical society in Topeka. I don't remember the last time was given a name and date and told to find a birth announcement or death notice, but it felt like welcoming back an old friend to have the microfilm swish around the knobs as the pages of the newspaper swirled by in a flash. The thrill of discovery was rekindled in me. I wanted to find more. In fact I took it upon myself to search for my Mother's birth announcement, but sadly was not able to find one. I believe it might not have been in the paper because my grandmother was so very ill after my mother's birth. The doctors did not believe my grandmother would survive, and it was only with the miraculous care, hands, and prayers of her nurses that she did.

As I was saying at the beginning my love of history actually came from two men, my father and Coach Z. Coach Z was one of my history teachers in high school. I think my junior year. I remember how he would bring history alive for us. He would tell a story. It was not just dates and facts, he would make the events come alive and almost make you feel like you were there experiencing the events with the people of the past. He is one of the reasons I took so many college hours of history and ended up with a minor in history. What a wonderful gift of storytelling he had and I am so thankful to have experienced history through his class.

My favorite time period in history is actually the Revolutionary War. I also love reading about the Civil War. Through the many family vacations we have taken during my youth i have had the great fortune to visit many of the battlegrounds for both of these wars. It is amazing to me to read a story about the places you have seen and think about to the details of why happened on those same land we now walk without any real though to previous events. So many people never think about history. They don't wonder what happened on this spot on this day, at this hour one hundred years ago.

I have read a number of time travel books, and I guess my love of history has made genre one of my very favorites. I love the idea of traveling back in time to visit the different places and times I have only read about. To meet some of the great men and women of hiotry would be fascinating, although I believe it would also be very overwhelming. Yes, I am educated (two college degrees and aspirations of working on a doctorate someday) but to think of being in the same room as Abigail and John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin is terrifying. I would hate to think these great people of history would see me as a bumbling fool.

The Distant Hours
by Kate Morton
My intention when I started writing tonight was to give insight into my latest discovery, The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. This was one of those books that just fell into my lap. It wasn't the cover that caught my attention necessarily, but the blurb's description of the main character, Edie's "love of words and mystery." I found a number of quotes that I simply fell in love with while reading, including (from page 16), "I'm just not the type of person who accumulates friends or enjoys crowds. I'm good with words, but not the spoken kind; I've often thought what a marvelous thing it would be if I could only conduct relationships on paper. And I suppose in a sense, that's what I do, for I've hundreds of the other sort, the friends contained within bindings, page after page after glorious page of ink, stories that unfold the same way every time but never lose their joy, that take me by the hand and lead me through doorways into worlds of great terror and rapturous delight." I was also grabbed by this wonderful quote on page 25, "After all, it is the librarian's sworn purpose to bring books together with their one true reader." I tight I. It have been reading about myself when I came across, "It's natural in times of great perplexity, I think, to seek out the familiar, and the high shelves and long rows of neatly lined-up spines were immensely reassuring.amid the smell of ink and binding, the dusty motes in beams of strained sunlight, the embrace of warm tranquil air, I felt that I could breathe more easily. I was aware of my pulse slowing to it's regular pace and my thoughts drilling their fenders."

I have never claimed to be a writer. The only reason I write this blog is to help me remember and express my opinions of the books I have read, the adult books and not the children's picture books I read for my professional life. This is all about my enjoyment of the written word, like Edie's. That being said, I claim to be a reader.

I was completely enamored by the author's use of time. I love the way the book begins with the prologue of The True History of the Mud Man. As you read through the book, you find what an important role this book has on so many of the characters. Although the Mud Man is a fictional character I am so very glad Ms. Morton provided us the readers with the story so we could be privy to the emotion brought about by this book on all of the characters. We are then thrust into a kitchen in England where a letter is delivered 50 years late. Through the characters reading we find ourselves engrossed in their private letters and then transported back in time to relive their experiences. What begins as a summer reading on the history of this great castle ends with the discovery of a great mystery and deep secrets held in the walls of the fortress. Just as reading a letter or journal transitions into a new chapter where the writer is no longer writing but actually experiencing the events recorded on paper. The writing evolves into the story with such wonderful detail.  It is a beautiful, way to bring the reader closer to the characters in a unique manner. The way the story is woven together through letters, manuscripts, journals and books is one of the most enduring elements to me as a lifelong reader. I look forward to reading Ms. Morton's other books and simply want to say to her, Thank You. The Distant Hours did not make me a reader, like The True History of the Mud Man made Edie a reader, but I am grateful I found this book and this wonderful story.