Friday, March 30, 2007

Happy blogiversary to me, and other news

I should have noted this on my last post, but Reading the Past effectively went "live" on March 25, 2006. Now, about 22, 000 visitors later, we're at 187 posts and I don't know how many comments. Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone.

Penguin's fall catalogs for 2007 just went online, and sometime this weekend I'll be updating the usual forthcoming books page with all the juicy details. There are a number of historicals of note, such as Robin Maxwell's latest, at left, appearing from NAL in November. Maxwell's an expert on the Tudor period, and she seems to have mined the one part of Anne Boleyn's life not yet overdone in fiction: her youth (and sexual awakening) at the French court. This sounds like it could be a unique take, but apart from this, I admit to feeling Tudored-out, and I haven't even gotten to The Boleyn Inheritance yet. And with Alison Weir (per and Margaret George both working on novels about Elizabeth I - though different aspects of her life, to be sure - I'm wondering whether there'll be anything new to read about there, either.

Other upcoming historicals: Ken Follett's World Without End, a sequel to his The Pillars of the Earth (October); S. Thomas Russell's Under Enemy Colors, "a sweeping novel of maritime mutiny" set against the backdrop of the French Revolution (September); Lian Hearn's Heaven's Net is Wide (August), a prequel to her Otori novels set in an alternate feudal Japan (I love this series); and Jennifer Ashley's The Queen's Handmaiden (October), the story of Kat Ashley's niece,who becomes a confidante to the young Elizabeth Tudor. It does look interesting, which makes me feel conflicted about my comments earlier, but if we have to have more Tudors - and it looks like we will - I'd rather read about people on the periphery of the court.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Things I can't read at the reference desk

... because I find these literature- and history-related pieces very funny. It can be embarrassing to sit and laugh at your computer screen when you're in a room full of people trying to study.

Sometimes I make my coworkers read these articles, just so it looks like there's more than one of us in on the joke.

Who reads what and why, from Car Talk.

What would happen if ancient Rome had the Internet.

John Bloom on book reviews, from the National Review back in May '02. I've been known to enjoy certain works of literary fiction, but this article about book reviewers' pet phrases is priceless.

I'd hoped to post more last week, but things like work and editing kept getting in the way. In the meanwhile, hope you enjoy these.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Older Anya Seton covers

These are all Fawcett Crest paperbacks from the 1960s (not '70s as I'd thought). Unfortunately, I couldn't locate my copies of Green Darkness, My Theodosia, and The Turquoise. I'd purchased all of these copies from a hole-in-the-wall used bookstore called The Printer's Devil that used to be located in Meriden, Connecticut. It was run by a red-haired woman who was a mad soap-opera watcher, because that's what she'd be doing whenever my dad and I would stop by. I bought many older historical novels there when I was in high school, and it was a sad day when it went out of business.

Anyway, this is what the older paperback covers of Seton's look like. I think most of them aren't bad, though some are designed to appear like romances when, according to today's definition, they are not. How many authors these days set epic novels in places as diverse as colonial Connecticut, 10th century Iceland, 14th century England, 1720s England and Virginia? And how many publishers would be as accepting of authors' desire to change the historical setting with each new book, if the authors wanted to?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pretty covers

Over the past few years, Chicago Review Press has been issuing reprints of Anya Seton's best known historical novels, in addition to classic historicals from other authors. A galley for Devil Water, to be released in May, arrived in yesterday's mail, and the book is just gorgeous.

I'm seriously tempted to replace all of my 1970s mass-market paperbacks with these versions. All are trade paperbacks. Philippa Gregory has written new forewords to most (if not all) of them, introducing the novels' historical background and analyzing their impact on the historical fiction and romance genres. Gregory, unlike most authors asked to introduce novels, is quite honest about what she perceives as their flaws.

What do you think of these?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

People Who Don't Know They're Dead, and other notable books

From The Independent on March 9th comes this story about The Bookseller magazine's annual contest for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. The 2006 shortlist contains some mighty amusing choices. (This post's title was last year's winner.)

The historical fiction field, unfortunately, can't boast many unusual titles. They're all rather normal and comparatively sedate. Looking at the list of historical fiction I compiled for 2006, these seem like the only real contenders: Carl-Johan Vallgren's The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot, from HarperCollins last April, or maybe Gordon Dahlquist's The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, from Bantam US/Viking UK.

If anyone has better suggestions for this award, from 2006 or prior years, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, March 12, 2007

If only it were this easy

Check out the cover of the University of Nebraska Press's spring/summer 2007 catalog (warning, large PDF file alert) for a really cute cartoon.

If you're on dialup, there's a smaller version posted at the main U of NE catalog page.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Ides of March, and an interesting dilemma

I haven't been blogging much lately for a couple reasons. First, I'm in the middle of deadline hell, with March 15th being the date in question. I have four reviews due that day, and one of the books is excellent, but slow-moving and only halfway read. It's also the deadline date for incoming reviews from May's HNR. Secondly, I've started making a concerted effort towards writing v.2 of my Historical Fiction series. I guess at this point it's fair to call it a series. (It won't be called a 2nd edition, because readers/libraries might be tempted to discard the first volume, believing the newer copy is meant to replace the older one - and it isn't.)

In working on the manuscript, I'm running into a familiar problem, one I also encountered while writing the first book. The books contain, basically, information and plot summaries/critiques of historical novels published over a given time period. The primary market is libraries in North America; secondly, general readers, researchers, prospective historical novelists, etc.

I mention this because it's not practical for me to include historical novels in my book unless a significant number of libraries own them. I use WorldCat to determine this (link goes to the public version, which is kind of neat to search). WorldCat, if you're not familiar with it, is an online catalog of library holdings worldwide. The overwhelming majority of libraries in North America have their holdings - or those of a shared library system they belong to - reflected in WorldCat. To me, a "significant" number of holding libraries is usually around 50... if fewer than 50-odd libraries for any novel are recorded in WorldCat, it's not worth including it, because library patrons will get frustrated that the book's hard for them to obtain.

(Yes, I know interlibrary loan exists, and it's a wonderful thing, but not all patrons want to wait - plus, my book's not meant to be a comprehensive guide to all historical novels ever published, only representative ones. Anyway.)

The frustrating part, though, is when I read/come across novels that are truly wonderful, but which only a very small number of libraries own. These are mostly small press titles, ones that have word-of-mouth popularity on Amazon and on blogs. I'm sure you know some of them. I'd love to include them in the book and help spread the word, but I can't. It's a Catch-22 of sorts, because they're often not in libraries simply because they're small-press titles and missed getting picked up for review by the major trade pubs like LJ, Booklist, PW, etc.

This has me thinking about a few different but related things. First, I wonder if many authors consider libraries as a market worth pursuing at all, because in some cases, these novels aren't even owned by libraries in the authors' home states/cities/towns. Many libraries will acquire novels by local authors even if there hasn't been significant (or any) review coverage. So why aren't those copies there?

On the other hand, because a lot of these smaller-press novels are word-of-mouth hits, I wonder if libraries need to make more determined efforts to acquire them, rather than simply relying on the traditional review venues. If you're a librarian reading this, do you ever purchase historical novels based on blog mentions, online reviews, Amazon recommendations, etc., or do you wait for a formal review to appear?

It seems to me there ought to be a way for these two solutions to meet in the middle. Not just for the very narrow purpose of my being able to include them in the book, of course, but so that these novels can be acquired by more libraries, and therefore reach more readers.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Four reviews in four days, and other news

The results of my four-day reading/reviewing marathon in early January are finally online:

Unfortunately I can't read this quickly all the time, but then I was still on holiday break over New Year's. Other news bits:

Read more about Prince Michael of Greece's new historical novel Le Rajah de Bourbon (yes, it's in French), which "traces the swashbuckling story of [Balthazar Napolean de] Bourbon's first royal ancestor in India." Bourbon, an Indian lawyer/part-time farmer, is supposedly a long-lost descendant of the Bourbon kings. Time to brush up on my French.

The Boston Globe reviews Alison Weir's Innocent Traitor, but not without bringing to the table some prejudices on historical fiction. "Bodice-ripper argot"?

Israeli novelist Eva Etzioni-Halevy, author of The Garden of Ruth, speaks about researching and writing biblical fiction.

What was so great about Catherine? An older piece (complete with, um, tacky photo) from about Virginia Rounding's Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power, which also discusses other "princess books" found on the display tables of your local bookstore.