Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top Ten Books I'd Give to Readers Who Have Never Read Literary Historical Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted every week by the Broke and the Bookish. This week's Top Ten list is the Top Ten Books I'd Give to Readers Who Have Never Read X, and the idea is that you can fill in the X with any genre or type of book that you like. I'm going to fill in the X with literary historical fiction.

Everybody probably has a sense of what historical fiction is, of course, but I'd define literary historical fiction as being those novels set in a different time period that, like literary fiction, are elegantly written. They are often marked by complex and nuanced character development and layers of meaning. A friend of mine once described literary historical fiction as "those depressing novels that make everyone cry!" Well, I admit, sometimes that's an accurate description ... but I don't think literary historical fiction is ALWAYS depressing! In fact, literary novels set in the past can be hopeful, enlightening, and even humorous.

Here is my list, then, for Ten Gateway Literary Historical Fiction Books:

1. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

2. Possession by A.S. Byatt

3. Roots by Alex Haley

4. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

5. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

6. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

7. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

8. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

9. Atonement by Ian McEwan

10. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

What other novels would you suggest to get a reader started in literary historical fiction?


  1. So many great choices! I've loved Cold Mountain, Atonement, The English Patient and Year of Wonders. Now I need to read the rest!

    1. It's that "so many books, so little time" problem again!

  2. These are excellent. And, I would add, a little-known but amazing book of hf is The World is Not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg.

    1. Oh wow, I just looked up The World is Not Enough--that looks interesting! I do love to sink into the Middle Ages now and then, but there aren't a lot of good historical novels set in that time period (historical romances, yes, but I don't tend to go for those). Maybe I'll need to give that a try!

  3. You just reminded me how many of these are on my TBR list. Especially Roots! I've been wanting to read that for the past couple years or so, but just looking at it makes me lazy. Great list!

    1. I bet you'd find Roots goes a lot quicker than you think... It looks like a crazy monster of a book, but it flies by because you get so involved!

  4. Great choices! Possession has been on my to read list for years, but something about it intimidates me...