For me, there is one clear sign that I’m reading a good book, especially if that books is classed as ‘historical fiction’ – a genre that I read a lot of. The sign is when I find myself googling and otherwise researching something I read in the fiction book. It goes with my loose life philosophy that, if you aren’t learning something, life is hardly worth living. So, while fiction is meant for relaxation and enjoyment, it never hurts to learn too.
For example, I’m currently reading Black Cross by Greg Iles – a complicated web of three interwoven stories set toward the end of World War II. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about World War II and the things that went on during that time, but I have found myself hurrying to find out some fact more times than I can count. It isn’t that I don’t trust Iles to stick to history when he writes fiction, I just want to know more.
To illustrate my point, I knew that Hitler used gas on concentration camp inmates but when the characters in Iles’ book starting talking about Sarin gas being developed under Hitler, I had to know more. In fact, it was discovered accidentally by a Nazi scientist trying to find a better pesiticide. The irony in that is a topic for another time.
Also, the Bonus Army was mentioned by one of the main characters as part of his motivation for doing what he was doing. I knew that the Bonus Army was made up of World War I veterans who marched on Washington, D.C. when Hoover was president to demand that they be paid the bonuses they’d been promised. But Iles’ character is a pacifist, and I wanted to know why the Bonus Army would lead to his pacifism. As it turns out, General Douglas MacArthur – a key general during World War II – led the standing army against the Bonus Army in direct conflict with Hoover’s orders because he was worried that the veterans would become Communists. I knew that, for the most part. What I did not know was that MacArthur’s top aide was Dwight Eisenhower, who become the key general of World War II. And General George S. Patton led the cavalry against the veterans.
It was an incredibly dark moment in American history, but an excellent moment of research for me.
Were it not for Black Cross, I don’t know if I would have put all that together and I am happy that I did.
I love a book that makes you want to have a scrap of paper close by to take notes of things to look up later.
What about you?