After attempting and setting aside four novels in rapid succession, I've come to the conclusion that the problem is neither the novels, nor the authors' skills - it's me. Yikes. This is the first time in maybe 7-8 years that I haven't had a novel on the coffeetable, nightstand, etc., waiting to be picked up and read. I have several thousand sitting on my bookshelves, but they don't appeal at the moment. It's a weird feeling.
Basically, I think I need to read something besides fiction for a short time (if I read anything at all). Fiction in general, that is, not just historical fiction - as one of the four was a contemporary chick lit/mystery that I read 3/4 of the way through before skimming to the end. (As an aside, the one novel that managed to hold my attention within the last week and a half was Megan Abbott's excellent Die a Little, a crime/noir set in 1950s LA. I'll write up a summary of that one for my next NoveList column.)
What have I been reading instead, you ask. The answer is - linguistics essays. This may seem like the most boring topic in the world to you, but au contraire, they're fascinating reading for anyone interested in how language works, and is used. Back when I was in grad school, I bought a book of essays by Geoffrey K. Pullum called The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language. I read a few of them back then, but am reading the rest of them now.
The essays are hilarious, if you enjoy dry humor as well as the author's successful attempts at making fun of stuffy people. (Linguists are not snobs.) For the title essay, Pullum explains why the myth of Eskimos having countless (200? 400? how many really?) words for snow is completely false. And why writers should stop using that cliché in trying to describe quantities that are, quite simply, indescribable.
Pullum's also a contributor to the lively and popular Language Log, a collaborative blog hosted at the University of Pennsylvania. (One of my former profs is another contributor, but I won't name drop... too much.) If you enjoy writing, or words in general, it's worth checking out and bookmarking.
But bringing the topic back to historical fiction and other writerly stuff: here are some entries from the Language Log that may appeal.
Novelist Frank Delaney (the multi-period epic Ireland) says that the Irish language has no word for sex. The linguists prove him wrong.
The bane of the author's life, copy editors, and their false claims about what is and isn't grammatical.
Dorothy Dunnett has been cleared of anachronism. Ditto for Patrick O'Brian. (Not surprising.)
Ever try to analyze Dan Brown's writing style? They've done it for you, and it's not pretty.
TGIF and all that. I'm going to read another of those essays now. (BTW, the Cookson and Lewis novels - that wasn't just me. I don't think.)