In attempting to declutter, I am culling my book collection. Parting with beloved tomes is one of the hardest parts of decluttering for me since I enjoy books so much! I’m keeping copies of all the books I’ve written and the many I have had the honor of representing. Because I tend to buy nearly every book that interests me, I have a massive stack to review.
Re-reading bestsellers from the past has made me think of writers and researching. By “bestsellers,” I am not necessarily referring to books that students are assigned to read in school as the best of the best in literature, although, of course, those are always good choices. Instead, I refer to books meant for entertainment and leisure for the audiences of that time. Books that accompanied readers to the beach, or whose primary purpose was to make readers forget their worries so they could become absorbed in the concerns of characters making bad choices, being victimized, and fighting for their lives. Plots in which good may or may not overcome evil because no character is so exemplary that a reader can root for her without reservation. Regrettably, unlike in Christian fiction, characters’ relationships with God tends to be none, not addressed, or set aside. This realization caused me to appreciate Christian fiction anew, by the way.
Reading an era’s bestsellers brings you to its sensibilities. For example, young people today see Nazis as frail and on their way to prison to live out perhaps five remaining years of life. Only a few decades ago, a Nazi could be a forty-year-old posing as a WASP, partying with the wealthy, indulging in cigarettes and champagne. And yes, most characters in secular novels back then smoked. These are just a couple of details a reader today may find jarring.
Some debates from decades ago still rage. Sexism and abortion were tied together in one memorable instance. The author rightly looked askance at people who use religion as a mask and for control. When his married employee impregnated a secretary, the religious employer gave the man a $1,000 bonus to pay for the abortion, transferred the man to another branch with a promotion, and fired the secretary. He paid for the abortion over the objections of an assistant who protested that she thinks abortion is murder. Will the debates over abortion and sexism ever be resolved? Not soon, according to popular fiction.
Reading popular novels will give you a sense and understanding of the era you choose. Enjoy the journey, and learn from it.
What era are you researching now? What books are you reading from that era?
What is the most surprising discovery you have made about your chosen era?
What eras are you interested in writing about in the future? Why?