Friday, April 07, 2006

Books That Make Me Go Hmmmm...

Charles Taylor of the Newark Star-Ledger has come up with a list of books he would rather avoid. They include the following:

  • Any new autobiography by someone you assumed was dead.
  • Any collection of essays, criticism or collected journalism that follows hard on the heels of an author's large, acclaimed novel.
  • Anything described as "a novel of ideas."

I saw this courtesy of Sarah Weinman's blog, and thought I'd continue this thread as it relates to historical fiction. If a historical novel fits one of these categories, while I might still read it (because authors don't write their jacket copy, after all), it will likely cause some eye-rolling on my part.

  • Anything described as a "historical fiction novel"
  • Anything described as "written in the tradition of Cold Mountain" (this claim is so overused, it's meaningless)
  • Any work that insults its readers by describing itself as "more than just a historical novel"
  • Similarly, any historical novel in which the author proudly proclaims that s/he does not write historical fiction, s/he writes "profound meditations on the human condition" or some such
  • "Concept novels" that make you remove little notes out of envelopes and read them in order to follow the story
  • Anything describing the heroine as a "saucy wench" or one of its variations
  • Any coming-of-age story about a naive young man going off to fight in WWI or WWII
  • Anything dealing with the secret illegitimate child of any British monarch and the struggle to prove his/her so-called "inheritance"
  • Any historical novel based on the author's history PhD dissertation
  • Any novel whose cover looks like a Rorschach Test for idiots, though I may change my mind if the British cover is more attractive
  • Any novel that claims it won a literary prize that neither you nor Google has ever heard of

I am sure there are more.


  1. Any historical novel where the jacket copy's first mention of the heroine begins with the word "beautiful" as in "Beautiful Maria Greenwood, fresh from boarding school . . ." I know that the author isn't the one writing the jacket copy, but if the most interesting thing the copywriter can find to say about the heroine is that she's beautiful, it doesn't bode well.

  2. Oh, and I saw a Pamela Kaufman novel at the flea market the other day where the heroine was described in the jacket copy as "nubile." That was enough in itself to keep my dollar safely in my wallet.

  3. "Nubile" is not a word one should use on a book jacket, especially if the primary audience is women (such as with the Kaufman novel).

  4. Hmm, pretty much all of yours apply to me. The historical fiction novel just kills me.

    Only thing is, I do use what I learned from my MA thesis in my FR book - David gets a mention or two *g*. But I'm NOT writing only about him and his role as an artist/politician *vbg*.

  5. Anonymous11:51 AM

    Excellent list!

  6. Hi, Sarah Park! Thanks, and nice to see you visiting the blog!

  7. Anonymous11:12 PM

    I have a hard time with the "rebellious" heroine. It's usually short-hand for "I want to stick a modern character in a historic setting because it's too much work making her true to her times."

  8. The word "feisty" has the same effect on me. Subtract two points if she's described as feisty and has red hair.