September 30, 2022

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Travel Finishes First

Read historical novels to travel through time

2 min read


People read for many reasons…entertainment, information, escape, engagement…just to name a few. I love a good story and interesting characters and their relationships, but I also want to learn about times, places and topics that are unfamiliar to me. So, as you can easily guess, historical fiction is my “number one go-to.”

Through historical novels, I have learned about ancient and not-so-ancient times, long ago accomplishments (like the creation of the first Oxford dictionary), pathfinders of all sorts, and even the history of my grandparents’ hometown in New Jersey! Authors who write good historical fiction immerse themselves in research, then spin a compelling tale that weaves fact and fiction together.

Three recent and satisfying reads for me are: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See, Book of Colours, by Robyn Cadwallader, and Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah.



The Island of the Sea Women is about Korean women called “Haenyo” who dive and harvest the “fruits of the sea” to feed and economically support their families. The historical backdrop is the Japanese occupation of Korea. The work is dangerous and the times are extraordinarily tough, but so are the Haenyo. The author uses a dual storyline format with a contemporary thread to help the reader learn the impact of long-ago events and choices made by the main characters.

Book of Colours takes place in 1320s England…both in London and the countryside. Some of the characters are illuminators (the artists who embellish manuscripts after they have been hand-scribed). The reader learns a lot about the tedious and exacting work of mixing and applying paints, but also how illuminators create unique and intentional volumes for their benefactors. The art is meant to tell its own story. Times are fraught with flooding, starvation, disease, displacement, political rivalries and conflicts of class…a bleak backdrop juxtaposed the beautiful work of the illuminators.



Four Winds takes place during the dustbowl and is a story of “true grit” (literally and figuratively). The main character is faced with numerous challenges as she tries to overcome self-doubt and secure a better life for her children and herself. Her desperation leads her to take the risk of going to California, where she finds anything BUT the “land of opportunity” she had hoped for. The reader learns about the dustbowl, farmworker camp and conditions, and the politics of the times, while witnessing the characters and their complex relationships evolve.

These are examples of my preference for “armchair time travel”. I am happy to curl up and be transported to another time and place by a good read.

My last recommendation is to join a book club. As much as I like reading books, discussing them with others ALWAYS enriches my takeaway. GCLD currently has five book clubs being offered throughout Grand County. To find out more about enriching experiences, stop by your local library or visit http://www.gcld.org. Select the “Programs” tab and search “book club” to display dates and locations.