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Historical Fiction

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Historical Fiction: 03/21/09

There are two ways to go back in time with a book: read old contemporary fiction (books written in the time that they portray) and to read historical fiction (books that portray a time before the book was written). Of the two options, I tend to go for the old contemporary fiction. If you were to look at my personal library, most of the 2,800 books are published before I was born. I'm not against new fiction but old books are cheaper and harder to find in libraries or to borrow from friends. I have also ended up adopting (for lack of a better word) old books from people who can no longer keep their collections for one reason or another.

Five years ago I adopted a collection of about one hundred books from a man who had been reading and collecting books from his favorite authors over the course of his life time but was now moving into a retirement home that didn't have the room for his books. He introduced me to a number of "new to me" authors including: Clarence Budington Kelland (who created Mr. Deeds among many many many other characters), Joseph Crosby Lincoln, Peter B. Kyne and others. I have been reading and reviewing the books as I have time on my blog.

Clarence Budington Kelland wrote contemporary fiction starting in the 1910s, all the way through the 1950s. If you want to see what life and culture was like in the United States and see it change over time, you must read his books. If you are a movie buff, you've probably seen adaptations of his books. His most recent adaptation was the Adam Sandler version of Mr. Deeds. It's from a short story called "The Opera Hat" and has been filmed twice.

My reviews of Kelland's books include:

Joseph C. Lincoln wrote novels set in fictional towns up and down Cape Cod. For the most part, the books have a heavy nautical setting, are often a mystery and some could even be classified by the modern genre of "paranormal romances."

My reviews of Lincoln's books include:

Peter B. Kyne is another American novelist with a long career. He wrote from 1904 to 1940 and had 110 films adapted from his novels. He was born and lived his life in San Francisco. Tracy High School's football field is named for him. A number of his novels are available online at Project Gutenberg. I haven't reviewed any of his books yet but I plan to later in the year.

But What About Historical Fiction?

When it comes to historical novels, I don't have a favorite era or a favorite genre. With that in mind, I'll list the ones that came immediately to mind.

  • Immortal by Traci Slatton is set in various cities in Italy over the course of a couple hundred years. While the set up is pure fantasy, the historical setting is convincingly Italy in the years before, during and just after the plague.
  • City of Light by Lauren Belfer does a really good job of capturing Buffalo New York at the time that it was getting electricity run throughout the city. As a study of that piece of the city's history it's fascinating. As a romantic thriller, it falls short for me.
  • Keeping Hannah Waiting by Dave Clarke is both a contemporary novel and a historical fiction. The historical fiction part focuses on Marc Chagall and his relationship with a young woman who would later die in a concentration camp.

Comments (12)

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Comment #1: Saturday, March, 21, 2009 at 18:00:44


Wow, this is an excellent post, and certainly educating! I've never even heard of Kelland, Lincoln, nor Kyne before. Seriously, it's overwhelming how there are so many, many more books I've left unread.

Comment #2: Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 21:25:44


It's a shame that such popular authors have fallen out of print. Kyne's works are available now in a variety of formats. I am hoping that the same will someday be true of Kelland and Lincoln's books too.

Comment #3: Saturday, March, 21, 2009 at 21:59:56


What a wonderful post! You've introduced me to some authors I've never heard of.

Comment #4: Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 21:30:05


You're welcome. I hope you get a chance to read them sometime.

Comment #5: Saturday, March, 21, 2009 at 22:31:25


Unfortunately sometimes the contemporary books can be a bit dated can't they? I have been using Project Gutenberg to access books too

Comment #6: Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 21:34:52


I don't mind the dated feeling. All works of art are products of their time. I find mistakes in historical fiction often times more jarring than the dated references in old contemporary fiction. But's just me.

Comment #7: Sunday, March, 22, 2009 at 13:23:39


First time I've seen your Site.. great work!.. Thank you for reviewing Kelland. I am an amature Kelland historian, and appreciate your comments about his books portraying the time that they were written. Please visit the CBK Web site at

May I enter a link to this site on the Kelland Books page?


Comment #8: Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 21:43:33


Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and the blog. Feel free to link to to this post or to any of the reviews. I have more reviews planned as time permits. I own an almost complete set of Kelland's novels and am slowly reading through them.

Comment #9: Tuesday, March, 24, 2009 at 22:49:25


What a great post. I love that you made the question work for you by going off on a slight tangent--it didn't occur to me to include books written in the past.

Comment #10: Wednesday, March 24, 2009 at 21:43:52


Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed my slightly off topic answer. I just know more about out of print fiction than I do about current historical fiction.

Comment #11: Wednesday, March, 25, 2009 at 17:08:24


Great post. How nice of you to adopt book collections.

Comment #12: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 21:47:42


It's a good way to get books but it can make for storage problems.

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