Sunday, November 21, 2010

Five best historical novels

Vanora Bennett is the author of two works of nonfiction, Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya and The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar, and the novels Portrait of an Unknown Woman, Figures in Silk, and The Queen's Lover.

She discussed five favorite historical novels with Erin Yardley at FiveBooks, including:
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I read this a few years ago and it was one of those books you always remember because it creates a whole new way of thinking. I had no idea at the time that the medieval mindset was any different to the modern one. It is about the adventure of a Franciscan friar and his novice in medieval Italy and it is part murder mystery, part game with semiotics and medieval knowledge. At university I read lots of French books referring to this medieval period where all knowledge was supposed to be classified, and re-classified and super-classified, and it became sort of idiotic, this academic approach that these monks had. Yet there was something amazing about this belief that you could classify knowledge. It’s also very good storytelling, but the part I remember was the sort of library filled with knowledge and these games, which teased you with knowing things and not knowing things. It’s just this very complex mindset that’s really different from our own and because I knew nothing about it, it was just terribly exciting to be taken off into this world.

This book seems to appeal to a very wide variety of people from mathematicians and science-fiction enthusiasts to linguists and literature professors…

I must say that I have tried to read a couple of other books by Umberto Eco and found them quite difficult, so I think he was reaching out to the world of fiction. There was an interesting book that I read recently by him about art and beauty in the Middle Ages, but it was so much more an academic book. I think The Name of the Rose crosses boundaries in a way that others don’t.
Read about the other books on Bennett's list.

Learn more about the author and her work at Vanora Bennett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Figures in Silk.

The Page 69 Test: The Queen's Lover.

--Marshal Zeringue