Monday, March 6, 2017

The Historical Novel Done Right


Go Book Yourself published a list of 9 books inspired by art. I would add a tenth: Lust for Life by Irving Stone. I am not a visual person, but my wife was an Art History major and docent, so I spend a lot of time in museums. When I look at a painting on my own, I usually stifle a yawn, but with her by my side, the art and artist become intriguing. It reminds me of NASCAR racing. If you know nothing about the sport, it's boring. Just a bunch of left turns at high speed in heavy traffic. But once you learn about the teams, drivers, cars, and rules, the sport becomes fascinating, as well as thrilling. Like my wife, Irving Stone had a knack for making something interesting that might otherwise be dull. Ever since reading Lust for Life, Vincent van Gogh has been my favorite artist.

Tempest at Dawn
Irving Stone
James D. Best

Irving Stone is also one of my favorite authors. He popularized the biographical novel by turning the lives of great people into great stories. You can read his New York Times obituary here. The obituary quotes Stone as saying, ''My books are based 98 percent on documentary evidence. I spend several years trying to get inside the brain and heart of my subjects, listening to the interior monologues in their letters, and when I have to bridge the chasms between the factual evidence, I try to make an intuitive leap through the eyes and motivation of the person I'm writing about.''

The reason I feel an emotional connection to Irving Stone and Lust for Life is that this novel was the inspiration for Tempest at Dawn. I believed the Constitutional Convention was a spellbinding story. Dozens of history books had already been written, and I had read many of them, but there was a nail-biting story filled with enigmatic characters that somehow eluded these academic examinations. Like Stone, I felt the novel form would bring the story and people to life. I may not have reached the literary heights of Stone, but I enjoyed the writing immensely and most readers have been highly positive in their reviews and ratings. (469 Goodreads ratings for 3.9 stars and 156 Amazon reviews for 4.4 stars..) 

Try either book. If you enjoy history, you may find the novel a great form for gaining additional insight.


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