Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summertime = Reading for Pleasure

As a child and teen, I always looked forward to summer as a time to read for pleasure (as opposed to assigned reading). Once a week, I rode the CTA bus to my local branch of the Chicago Public library to check out as many books as I could. Yet now, when students at school visits ask me my favorite books as a child, I draw a blank. Rather than specific books, I remember the genres.

For example, I recall being obsessed with mysteries in fifth grade. I read every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book at my library branch. Unlike Mary Ann, it never occurred to me to reread them. (Maybe if I had, I'd be able to remember some specific titles now) Reading mysteries was an adventure in puzzle-solving. Once I knew the solution, there was no motivation to read the story again. So after I finished all the mysteries in the children's section, I went upstairs to the adult section and checked out the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I devoured those books so quickly that they, too, form a blur in my memory.

Some time in junior high, my interest shifted to fantasy. My favorite series was J. R. R. Tolkien's Hobbit/Lord of the Rings. I was fascinated not only by the story, but also by the amazing world Tolkien created His were the first books I ever re-read, and they were just as fascinating the second (and later, third) time around. While I read lots of books during my "fantasy stage," the only others I recall are those in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. (Of course, Harry Potter hadn't been published yet.)

From fantasy I progressed to science fiction. Again, I read voraciously within the genre, but the ones that stand out are Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and Robert Heinlein's novels.

When I took a high school class in British literature, I became a fan of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It, like Tolkien's books, is one I've read multiple times. In turn, my interest in British literature led to a "Charles Dickens stage." My favorites were Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities. I have no idea what other teenagers were reading at the time, but I knew my friends would tease me mercilessly if they found out I read Dickens "for fun." So I kept my passion a secret. I didn't tell them about reading Tolstoy's War and Peace either.

Lately, I've been thinking about how historical fiction has a great deal in common with fantasy and science fiction. All three genres transport readers to unfamiliar worlds with very different rules from our own. Of course, the worlds Austen, Dickens, and Tolstoy created were based on the society they lived in. I, on the other hand, am attempting to write a historical young-adult novel set in Europe over 200 years ago. The research is sometimes daunting, but always fascinating.

To help with that work, I attended the Historical Novel Society Conference in Schaumburg, Illinois last weekend. I neglected to bring my camera, but thanks to my friend and fellow young-adult author Sarah Barthel, I do have some pictures to share. Here, I'm seated with Julie Phend, another young-adult author, at Saturday's Banquet, which featured a historical costume fashion show. And below, is a photograph of the show participants.

The conference was a great experience--I was inspired by the talented speakers, and I learned some helpful research tips.

This summer, I'm combining research with fun by reading as much historical fiction I can find that is set in the world I'm trying to re-create. And now I use JacketFlap to keep track of all the books I read, so I won't forget the titles. If you'd like to see what I've been reading, check out my bookshelf on my JacketFlap page.

By the way, if you can recommend any good books set in 18th-century Europe, do let me know!


eugene said...

as per your request on fiction taking place in 18th century Europe, please check out the debut work by Eugene Kachmarsky, called Let Slip the Dogs of Love. it contains a lengthy story that takes place , through time travel, between present day and late 18th century Eastern Europe. think the cruelties of de sade and retribution for.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the tip. I just finished THE QUEEN'S SOPRANO by Carol Dines and thought it was quite good.