Awesome Historical Fiction Recs to Kickstart Your Reading in 2020

Neil Pasricha is the bestselling author of The Book of Awesome based on his immensely popular and uplifting blog 1000 Awesome Things as well as a renowned public speaker. His latest book is You are Awesome: How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live an Intentional Life, an awesome (I couldn’t resist) and motivational read, perfect for kicking those new year’s resolutions into high gear!

Neil also has been promoting books, reading, and literacy through articles on finding more time to read (put down your phone!), his Monthly Reading Club lists (sign up here), and his podcast 3 Books, where he’s on a mission to discover the three most formative books for inspiring people until he reaches 1000 books (in the year 2031!).

I asked Neil to compile his list of most awesome historical fiction recommendations, which I’m also counting as “classics” and a couple of non-fiction choices. Below are his recommendations, in no particular order and each with a capsule review from Neil, to get you started reading more in 2020.

  1. Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler. “Page by page Barney grows on you and this fictional “righting of wrongs” memoir reveals all kinds of hidden storylines, quiet love, and almost unbelievably beautiful writing as he shares his life story in three sections dedicated to his three wives.”
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. “Long, fast-paced, biographical type narration with three dimensional characters all twisting and tying together over generations with giant themes of fatalism versus free will sitting on top.”
  3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. “Perfect for: fans of historical fiction, people who liked A Thousand Splendid Suns, and those who enjoy epic stories of triumph over adversity…”
  4. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. “It’s a hypnotic autobiographical description of growing up in rural Wisconsin in the late 1800s. From shooting panthers to smoking meat in hollow tree trunks to playing catch with pig bladders.”
  5. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger. “The voice was so magnetic that I felt myself drawn to the book as it sat on my bedside table. I kept walking over to it and reading a few more pages. Then I’d walk away and walk back again. Then I’d walk away and walk back again. I couldn’t stop hanging out with this guy. He felt like an old friend. He trusted me. I trusted him. I felt a deep connection.”
  6. Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. “This is a non-fiction book that feels like a fairytale…. a memoir of her childhood of joining a completely unconventional school near Tokyo during World War II.”
  7. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Caroll: “My whole life I thought Alice was a children’s book and … it’s not! The twisted references, complex mind games, and crazy absurdism are deliciously adult but baked into simplistic prose. But just because something looks like vanilla pudding doesn’t mean it’s not crème brûlée, you know what I mean?”
  8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. “Ultimately this is a story of US race relations through much of the twentieth century. Alex Haley interviewed Malcolm X regularly for years (years!) to put this together. Malcolm X was sadly assassinated just before it was published.”
  9. The Art of Living by Epictetus. “What book would you include in your hotel chain’s bedside table? Me, pretty sure I’d go with The Art of Living by Epictetus…. I’ve found great joy paging through this two thousand year old book of simple philosophical notes written by a slave born on the edges of the Roman Empire in 55 AD. Perfect to flip through to wind your brain down before bed or to gently wake it up in the morning rather than looking at your cell phone.”
  10. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. “It tells the story of a young black girl growing up in rural Mississippi in the 1930s and serves as a deeply immersive vitamin for growing empathy. Characters pop, dialogue crackles, and it reads like an action movie with the constant acceleration to the finish.”

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Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon

Raphael@500 Update: A new Raphael exhibit has opened up at the Gemaeldegalerie Museum in Berlin, Germany. Six Raphael Madonnas are being shown, including the London National Gallery’s The Madonna of the Pinks. The centerpiece is the Terranuova Madonna, painted on a round canvas. The show runs December 13, 2019 to April 26, 2020.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the city will place roses on Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon every day in 2020, while the Scuderie del Quirinale will hold a blockbuster Raphael exhibit from March 2 through June 2, 2020.

Meanwhile, oddly given the timing, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London on January 27 will close the Raphael Court that holds the Renaissance master’s cartoons.

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BEST ROADSIDE SIGN/PLAQUE:

Recently spotted in Manhattan – Raphael’s cherubs from the Sistine Madonna at 62 Street and 1st Avenue.

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