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This historical book list originally appeared in our historical fiction newsletter, Past Tense. Sign up here to receive historical fiction recordings straight to your inbox!
If there’s anything a bookworm loves more than books, it’s books about books. After all, we love talking about books and reading books, so why wouldn’t we want to read on books too? I’m charmed by books like The Cat Who Saved Books and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore set in bookstores. And few books have touched me closer than The Sentence, set in a fictionalized version of author Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, or The Book Thief, about a girl who saves books from being burned in Nazi Germany. . It probably has something to do with the fact that few things are closer to a bibliophile’s heart than books, so stories that delve into the sacred space books hold in our hearts will of course strike a chord. little stronger.
And these books focused on the subject of books, libraries, and bookstores aren’t limited to the world of fantasy, romance, or contemporary fiction, either. There are many historical fiction books that also explore the importance of words and literature. These four are just a few of my favorites.
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
Fake dictionary entries are hampering a digitization effort for the two employees of Swansby’s Encyclopedic Dictionary in what is now London. Between trying to sort out the wrong words, Mallory has to deal with threatening phone calls and bomb threats. Over a hundred years earlier, during Swansby’s heyday, a lexicographer named Peter Winceworth added words of his own invention to the dictionary, finding creative freedom and purpose in the Little Rebellion. Seeing the creation of the dictionary – and the false entries – alongside modern efforts to make it work makes this book particularly appealing.
A Useless Woman by Rabih Alameddine
Divorced, childless and without God, Aaliya Sohbi is simply tolerated by her family. She lives alone in a Beruit apartment, surrounded by books. But Aaliya has a secret: every year she translates a new favorite book into Arabic and stores it. No one else has ever read them. A useless woman is equal parts portrait of an aging, reclusive woman with incredible talent and a love letter to literature.
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
Esme, the only daughter of a lexicographer working on the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, grew up alongside words and definitions. She loves and cherishes them like other children might drop trinkets. And as she becomes a woman alongside the fight for women’s suffrage in England and during World War I, she begins to see the bias of a dictionary written by white, middle and upper class men. But Esme has collected and transcribed her own words – those deemed too crude or unimportant to the OED – and she knows they are just as worthy of documentation as any others.
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
In 1660s London, an immigrant from Amsterdam is allowed to write for a blind rabbi just before the plague overwhelms the city. In the present day, an ailing historian with a passion for Jewish history attempts to solve one final mystery: the identity of a mysterious scribe from a cache of newly discovered 17th-century Jewish documents. The lives of these two women with incredible intellects intertwine, despite hundreds of years apart.