Thursday Thoughts – Why don’t I like historical fiction?

Thursday Thoughts on Caught Read Handed

Let’s talk about historical fiction, okay? I don’t like it. BUT let me explain.

I can read fantasies from ALL the time periods – hundreds of years ago, the last couple of decades, contemporaries, and in the future. Fantasies set during a renaissance-type era (like in The Young Elites) or some made up land of beasts and monsters and all that (most recently, Beastkeeper). Fantasies set during our own era (Wolves of Mercy Falls, anyone) or at a school of magic (Harry Potter, obviously).

But I can’t stand historical fiction. If it’s set during World War II or a romance taking place during the turn of the century, take it awaaayyy! Sometimes I can’t even read a book set a couple of decades ago. I was scrolling through Goodreads the other day and saw an interesting cover. I clicked on it to read the summary and saw something along the lines of “Set during the blah blah blah in 1973…” and I immediately clicked off. That’s not even that long ago! I don’t really know why I do this. Maybe because I was reading a contemporary at the time, so it put me off?

I’m looking at my shelves right now and other than some fantasies, I honestly can’t find a book that has all human characters and is set more than ten years ago. I think it may in part have to do with the fact that I’m always thinking of the present or what I have to do next. Do I not like historical fiction because I don’t like thinking of the past? I want to keep moving forward? I wasn’t a big history class fan in high school. I LOVE going to see history (a trip to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, museums, etc.) but reading about it? No thanks.

Mostly I’m writing this because as I skipped reading that book’s summary on Goodreads, I sat here for a second wondering why? Why isn’t historical fiction something I like?

Do any of you avoid historical fiction? Do you know why? Or if you love historical fiction, tell me why! Maybe you’ll convince me to try one.

40 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts – Why don’t I like historical fiction?

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  4. I adore it, but I’m a huge history freak… I’m sure I was born in the wrong century. I’m practically living and breathing WWI literature right now for uni.
    What I hate is historical fiction done REALLY badly- and unfortunately there’s a lot of that. I tend to pick up on anachronisms, language and societal mistakes really fast and it throws me off really badly. I end up getting really frustrated, even if the story itself is good.
    I can’t stand books set in space usually!! I don’t know why… they just weird me out.

  5. Hm, when it comes to historical fiction, I like it when it doesn’t include large figures, like Kings nobles, or famous scientists or writers. What I like about historical fiction is the setting that it provides, a kind of background that humanity is already familiar with. And maybe that’s just it with you—you want a setting that’s not already been explored by history.

  6. Historical fiction is actually one of my favorite genres! I think it is really hard to write and to do well, so I’m really picky about it though. I enjoy it because it is totally about world building and development to transport the reader back to another time period. One of my favorites is Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman, which is set in pre-WW2 period. I really like that one because it is entirely historical with just a few fictional notes thrown in to spice it up a little bit.

  7. I don’t avoid it. It’s actually my favorite genre 😀 Especially books set during the regency era 😀 What I personally avoid are books set in the future.

  8. Historical Fiction really puts me off too so I tend to avoid it. But I’ve recently read a book called “Elijah’s Mermaid” by Essie Fox which is set in London in the 19th century and I really enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful and the story was engaging. So maybe I’ll try reading some more historical fiction now…

  9. I tend to live more in the past (and love historical fiction) and the future (and love futuristic sci-fi/specific). I WISH I lived more in the present moment! It’s a skill I’m trying to cultivate. 🙂

    I think I like history in my novels when it’s done well (a la Connie Willis). If it’s just kind of there, though… Meh.

  10. I used to avoid historical fiction (and TV shows) like the plague, thinking they’d be dated, use stuffy language and not be relevant. And I have to say not ALL historical fiction works for me at all, BUT when I find a good one, I squeeee! I became obsessed with the War of the Roses and the Tudors by watching the BBC series of The White Queen and then The Tudors, and ended up reading the 6 book series The White Queen was based on (called The Cousins’ War series) by Philippa Gregory, and I LOVED it. It has fantastical elements (hints of witchcraft from the time period) and it is quite historically factual, but more than that Gregory turns history into an entertaining novel. Another time period I usually enjoy reading about is WW2 – Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller was fabulous, and is told in alternate chapters of the past v the present, so that might help as there is a mix of time periods and how they relate to one another? Another WW novel (1&2) is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This has a sci-fi/fantasy element in that the protagonist dies and is reborn continuously to relive her life, which changes depending on the choices she makes, so that was an interesting twist! I guess a lot of the historical fiction I read have a twist in there somewhere and they aren’t just straight up history lessons, so maybe some of these will be interesting to you? I never would have pegged myself as a historical fiction reader, and like you when I see a synopsis with a date set in the past (particularly pre-1900’s for some reason) it’s a bit of a turn off unless I hear good things about it. There was also a novel about the Irish famine I read when I was younger that I remember enjoying A LOT… Under The Hawthorne Tree I think it was called. These are my recs anyways!! 😀

    • I’ve actually really wanted to read Life After Life for a long time! We have it at my library and I keep eyeing it but haven’t taken it home. Yet. But I will soon, I think. I think having a different twist on it might help draw me in, like you said!

  11. I’m the same way, and I totally feel the guilt. I mean, occasionally I’ll read a book that is historical, and is fiction, and I’ll love it. but generally it’s *in spite* of it being historical fiction. Know what I mean? And I’ve often clicked away from a book that piqued my interest when I find out it’s set during the civil war or the 1800s etc. I think I find it difficult to get excited about the scene-setting, and the language and social context can be difficult. Perhaps it’s partly to do with being a woman and how difficult it is to read books set in historical periods when women had so few options and so little power (and let’s face it, that’s most of them). Maybe I’m just not taken with corsets and swooning. But whatever the reason, it’s a hard sell to get me to read old-timey fiction!

  12. I enjoy some good historical fiction now and again. What I don’t like, though, is when it incorporates real historical figures. I feel like if you’re going to have a real person, it should be all historically accurate, so when you throw in dialogue of things with no record, it just weirds me out. I don’t know why, as movies based on real life historical figures don’t bother me at all.

  13. I like reading historical fiction as long as it’s done well. I have a bachelor’s degree in history so there are times when a book is done so horribly that I just can’t do it. There are certain time periods that I will not read. I’m not a fan of anything set between 1900 and 1990 (with the exception of a few that take place during the Holocaust). In addition to that, there are certain places in the world I have no interest in reading historical fiction of, mostly Asia and the Middle East. I love historical fiction from Europe (especially Ireland, Scotland and England) and the US (colonial, Civil War, and pioneer/westward expansion). I’ve always loved history so having authors take certain time periods and create characters and stories that fit in properly kind of opens up that time period in a way that reading non-fiction can’t.

    • That makes a lot of sense! Fiction does go places that non-fiction can’t. I’ve actually read a few novels set in the Middle East or Asia in the 1960s (like The God of Small Things which I LOVED) and in Africa. I enjoyed those when I read them in college but I wouldn’t necessarily pick historical fiction. But I see why you like it!

  14. I’m not a fan of historical fiction either. I tend to think of it as being set at least a century or so ago and hadn’t even thought of WWII books as being historical. Showing my age since I was alive then, although not yet able to read. Recently I’ve enjoyed two books set in the 1960s. I think they resonated with me because it was fun to relive the years in which I was growing up and a young adult. I can’t really consider them “historical” works.

    • I don’t really consider stuff set in the last 50 years historical fiction either, though I put them in the same category of books. Does that make sense? I don’t tend to enjoy books set in the past (like in the 60s) though they aren’t the same kind of historical fiction as books set in the 1860s.

  15. That’s interesting. I’m guessing the reason you were okay with The Book Thief is because Death was the narrator? I can see where you’re coming from although I generally enjoy historical fiction. Unless it’s to do with the British Monarchy, that is. I get enough of that nonsense in our newspapers everyday, thank you. 🙂

    • Yeah, I liked The Book Thief so much because it was so unique. Rachel (Confessions of a Book Geek) mentioned she likes historical fiction that has some kind of a twist (a fantasy element or something), and I think that I’m the same way.

  16. THIS! Just one more thing we have in common. I have always always disliked Historical Fiction. I pretty much avoid it at all costs. It is only recently that I have tried it, and even enjoyed one book I read that was set in WWII. I will give the author all the credit because I have always enjoyed her books before and that is the ONLY reason I was willing to try this particular book (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah). It ended up being fantastic, and I’m glad I read it. But it was her way of writing that didn’t make me feel bored like I was reading Historical Fiction. I’ve also started reading and enjoying Sarah Jio books, where a lot of them go from historical times to present time. Normally I’d say hell no to books like that, but the first book of hers I read was so good, the historical part of it didn’t even bother me. Now I’m a huge fan and am trying to read all of her backlogged books on my list.

    What I guess I’m trying to say is it all depends on the author for me. I’ve read very little of this genre in my lifetime, but when it’s been the work of a beloved and trusted author, they haven’t let me down. I don’t seek out this genre EVER, but certain authors I’m okay with it, when I’m in the right mood for it.

    I hated History in school. I used to wish I COULD like it because I felt like maybe I was missing out on some great books. Now that I’m getting a taste of it once in awhile, it’s good enough for me.

    Outlander – that was a series I tried several times and just couldn’t get into it. It’s taking Historical Fiction to the extreme and it’s just way too much for me. I don’t like too many detail in books, which I feel like is a given in this genre. When it’s overkill on the details, it’s an instant turn off for me.

    Ha, look at that. I wrote you a book! LOL. GREAT topic. 🙂

    • Yes! That makes complete sense and I agree – if it’s an author I love, I will probably like it though I won’t seek out historical fiction by authors I’ve never heard of.

      Seriously, we have so much in common! “I used to wish I COULD like it because I felt like maybe I was missing out” – that’s me too! I actually almost said that in response to another comment.

      I tried Outlander too because I LOVE Scotland but I just couldn’t do it. I think it was a mix of the author’s writing and the fact that I just couldn’t deal with the historical aspect. SO MANY DETAILSSSS.

  17. Hmm, I don’t know that I read a lot of historical fiction – as in books written now but set in the past. I do read TONS of older books – Austen, Dickens, Christie, Doyle, etc. Would you include those in your list of books you don’t like?
    You liked Attachments! 😉

  18. I feel the exact same way about historical fiction! I do enjoy me some historical fantasy (Madman’s Daughter, His Fair Assassin series, etc), but anything realistic or set in a particularly important historical time period (i.e., fantasy in WWII or colonial times) just doesn’t interest me. In fact, I do the same thing on GR: I start reading a description and immediately stop when it mentions that it”s historical (Carnival at Bray, for example). This really limits my reading options, esp with award books, but I just can’t help it!

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