"Further Reading" Sections in Historical Novels?

I’m going out of town for a couple of days (work, not pleasure, but with pretty scenery, I hope). While I concentrate on lofty, airplane-encouraging thoughts, here’s a question for you: Do you like it when historical novelists include a “Further Reading” section in their books? Or do you find it pretentious and/or unnecessary? Do you look at it, or pass it by?

Personally, I like it when an author provides a “Further Reading” section, and I’ve put one in The Stolen Crown. If I’m not familiar with a period or a historical figure, it’s useful to have a list of resources so I can read further, and if I am familiar with the period or person in question, I can get a good idea of the slant an author’s going to take simply by looking at the books he or she thinks are worthy of being included in the section. I can also get a sense of how much research an author’s done: if a historical figure’s been the subject of recent, well-thought-of biographies but the “Further Reading” section in a new novel doesn’t include any of them, it’s a red flag, though not always an infallible one.

Some authors, however, don’t include a separate “Further Reading” section, but do take the opportunity in their author’s note to mention some of the works they’ve relied upon. Some novels, particularly older ones such as some of Jean Plaidy’s, contain a “Works Consulted” section but usually no author’s note. Some compile a suggested reading list for their websites, but leave it out of their novels.

If an author does include a “Further Reading” section, how extensive should it be? Books only? Books and articles? Books that can easily be obtained at a local library or a bookstore, or books that a reader might have to utilize a university library or inter-library loan to obtain? Most authors seem to confine themselves to books, as I did, because listing articles would have made for a very long list, more suited for an academic book than a novel.

So what do you prefer?

22 thoughts on “"Further Reading" Sections in Historical Novels?”

  1. Jen - Devourer of Books

    I actually prefer an author's note to further reading, although I do find it helpful if that note mentions some sources. Ideally I would want every historical fiction work I read to have both, but if I had to choose, then I would choose author's note.

  2. I love further reading sections! I do think that historical fiction authors should restrict themselves to books though. I feel like for non-academics or people who pay for research privileges at university libraries, articles are just too difficult to get. They can also be more obscure (in my experience) and expect the reader to know more about the subject. So I think books are the way to go. And, like you, I use these lists in subjects I know about to determine how much I'm willing to trust an author's research and see if they've fallen prey to persuasive historians. =)

  3. I like further reading sections especially if it's about subjects I am not very familiar with, or haven't studied. I like author's notes too, those have been very useful in most historical fiction books I've read.

  4. Further reading I love also. I enjoy it and don't find it unnecessary at all.
    I recently read a historical fiction book based on a true story, by Steven Lundin called, Shooting an Albatross

  5. I like them when they're there, but I don't miss them when they're not. Like Jen, if I have to choose I'd rather have an author's note.

    I think books, particularly books that are fairly easily accessible, are likely to be more use to more readers than scholarly articles. As Meghan says, articles tend to be more specialist and harder to obtain.

  6. I enjoy both authors' notes and suggestions for further reading, though I agree with Meghan that they should probably be limited to books.

  7. I love to see further reading sections. Helps me to add to my never ending quest of finding more books to read.

  8. I like to have a list avaliable somewhere. Sometimes publishers page count, binding costs and whatnot, but in that case, having one on the author's website may be an option.

  9. I appreciate a further reading section. If the novel was about an era I'm not familiar with, I often want to learn more.

    I also enjoy author's notes, especially if they explain any deviatons from historical fact and the reasons for them, or if they give a few facts about what really happened to the characters after the conclusion of the novel.

  10. Oops, something ate half of my sentence there. "publishers …. and whatnot prevent the author from adding one…."

  11. What CW Gortner did with his paperback of THE LAST QUEEN was awesome.
    When the story ended, I wanted more, and to be able to get the behind the scenes look from the Author's note was clarifying, and the suggested further reading was utilized to see what next books to ponder were.

    As far as Articles are concerned, especially if it is as extensive as you say, I would put that in a seperate section such as 'sources' as opposed to further reading.

    The 'further reading' term seems to imply those books that would be easier for the lay person to obtain for purchase at a store.
    That's my opinion, and I hope your trip goes well.

  12. I like both the notes and further reading because the notes give some insight into the author's thoughts and the book suggestions not only provide the reader with an indication of the kind of research the author had done, but also quick references for the reader to explore.

    I provided both in my book. However, my copy editor (who I paid for out of pocket) commented that fictional works usually don't have bibliographies. I hope this changes.

  13. I like both 'further reading' and 'author's note'. I like to see which sources, primary and secondary, the author has used. If you're very familair with the events, you just scan over them looking out for what you'd expect the author to have used, and if you're unfamiliar, it helps you if you want to find out more, obviously.

  14. I'd like to raise the point that it is often irritating when a historical writer switches to fiction, and then tries to persuade the reader his interpretation is correct because he has written an actual historical book about the subject – and I'm thinking of one male author in particlar.

  15. Barbara Martin

    Not only do I like further reading sections, but I like to learn how the author came about finding those references. Sometimes an extended Author's Note comes in handy for my own research.

  16. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, all! I hope there will be more authors who start to include these sections in their novels (along with the author's note). I enjoyed the one that C. W. Gortner has in The Last Queen, and Anne Easter Smith has them in her novels as well.

  17. I like Anne Easter Smith's notes quite a lot. I think her publisher insists she favor the "romantic" and "ladies-in-long-gowns" aspects of her novels, muting the history some what. In one talk she gave on her first, she said that she had to cut about two hundred pages from the novel and her agent suggested she focus on the romance more and the history less. For my taste,

    I would have preferred the historical balance, but it looks like her die has been cast by marketing forces. Maybe she would have focused on Perkin Warbeck in "Grace" if she'd had a freer hand.

  18. I think a further reading list is fine, as long as it's not too long or academic. But to be honest, a good author's note is, for me, preferable. Maybe combining the two would work. Oh, just for the record, I often find a family tree and the odd map useful too – if necessary 🙂

  19. bookreviewer117

    I think anything you used that you thought was especially helpful or interesting is fine, even if it is some long dry journal article. Though long and dry, I prefer journal articles to books simply because they're one step closer to primary sources, as they're usually the result of direct academic research, rather than a distilling of information into a neat package.

  20. I very much enjoy author’s notes at the end of a historical fiction. I find that they add quite a bit to my enjoyment of the book and sometimes read them prior to the book itself!

    1. Thanks, Susan, for visiting! Yes, I often read them first myself, especially when I’m trying to get a feel for the sort of research an author has done.

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