Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Historical Periods

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is a rewind–we’re supposed to pick a past topic that we wanted to do but couldn’t (or from a time when we weren’t yet blogging). A while back there was a topic about historical periods you like to read about. I’ve picked five of my favorite eras and a couple books set in each one (or written in them), one I have read and one I haven’t. These are in no particular, and certainly not chronological, order.

All book links will take you to Goodreads.

WWII

I think I’ve made my interest in this period pretty clear with blog posts like this one about my recommended books set in this time. I’m not as interested in the movement of armies as in the lives of civilians and of course the atrocities of the Holocaust. As despairing as this period can be, the amazing hope and courage displayed by extraordinary individuals can be uplifting not in spite of but because of the circumstances.

read: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr–I think I’ve said previously that this book lives up to all the hype surrounding it. It’s totally immersive and the characters are so engaging.

want to read: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky–This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while. It was written on the eve of French occupation by a Jewish woman who later died in Auschwitz.

The Victorian Era

If I had been required to specialize in a particular era in college, it would have been this one. I find the Victorians, who were at an unprecedented moment in history in terms of the awakening of science, industry, and social movements to be completely fascinating. I love the books and plays written in and about this era.

read: To Marry an English Lord: Or How Anglomania Really Got Started by Gail MacColl and Alice Wallace–All about the American heiresses who crossed an ocean for titles and prestige (and the mothers who pushed them to go), this nonfiction book was really fun.

want to read: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The French Revolution

Combined with the period leading up to it, the French Revolution captivates me. Another unprecedented time in history, it’s a story about excess, philosophy, and the power of the mob. It’s also a time that produced some really interesting personalities from Marie Antoinette to Ben Franklin across the ocean.

read: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber–If you’re interested in fashion, you’ll love this book, otherwise there are many other great nonfiction books about this time period.

want to read: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser–This book has been on my TBR for years, but one day I will finally read it.

The Regency Period

Maybe it’s all due to Jane Austen, but I love this period right after the French revolution when people wore high-waisted gowns and cared about who was dancing with whom.

read (and currently rereading): Emma by Jane Austen–I don’t think this book needs much introduction, but it’s my favorite Austen novel, so it needed to be here.

want to read: Belgravia by Julian Fellowes–I’m not sure if this book should be here or in the Victorian era, since it’s technically set in both, but it starts in the regency so we’re gonna go with it. It’s also here because Julian Fellowes wrote Downton Abbey (which is a show I love but I have not seen the final season so don’t say anything–I just don’t want it to end yet), and because I never have new books on here and this one was recently published.

The Renaissance

Here I’m specifically referring to the Italian Renaissance, which occurred earlier than the English one (though that one is also in my top ten). I love the romance, mystery, and magic of this time period.

read: The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie–This book gets a lot of flack, either for not being similar enough to Rushdie’s other works or for having rather flat depictions of women, but both times I read it I was swept up by the power of storytelling.

want to read: The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen–Renaissance? Check. Art? Check. Female protagonist? Check.

 

Do you have a book you enjoyed (or want to read) from one of these time periods? Did I miss your favorite historical era? Let me know in the comments.

 

Women Writers Reading Challenge #45: Joan of Arc by Helen Castor

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I do not advise trying to read this book early in the morning before you’re fully awake because if you’re anything like me (i.e. you don’t speak French) the sheer amount of French names/places in this book will make your head spin. However, once you’re fully awake, if you’re interested in the history of this very special person, this book is definitely worth the read. What Helen Castor’s amazingly well-researched novel does particularly well is put the events of Joan’s tumultuous life into context. She starts the book, not with Joan’s appearance at court, but 15 years earlier, and by doing so she tries to show how Joan as a phenomenon–her epic rise and fall–was not only possible but plausible. As Castor says, the really interesting thing about Joan of Arc is her broad appeal–everyone can find something that appeals in her story. Castor attempts to rescue the woman out of the legend and the result is a portrait of a strong-willed, determined, and powerful woman. A good choice for anyone interested in European history.

2015 Women Writer’s Reading Challenge Book #12: She-Wolves by Helen Castor

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Normally I have a really hard time with history books because they focus a lot on things I don’t really care that much about: male power struggles over land and resources. I don’t deny that such things are worthy of study–I just don’t want to be the one who does it. I’m far more interested in history that delves into social and cultural aspects, and especially history that deals with women. Basically, I’m more interested in what people ate, read, wore, looked at, and who they loved then over political struggles.

This book was a welcome relief for me. It still talks about a lot of war/power struggling for context, but it still manages to keep my interest. Well-researched and presented in an interesting, readable format, Helen Castor’s book details the lives and struggles for power of four (well, seven really) women in times where men had the express right to rule. I really appreciate how complex Castor’s women are. Despite the lacking historical records, she manages to give her subjects depth. She is sympathetic, but is able to look at them for what they are, to stunning results. If you’re interested in English history, but wish it was a little more woman-centric, this is the book for you.