The best historical fiction that is more hysterical than historical

Who am I?

I’m an old lawyer, a writer, and now I’ve stumbled into acting, but reading, just plain old sitting on the couch and reading, has always been my personal slice of heaven. I was a history major but not a history buff like those folks that can rattle off dates or win $287,000 on Jeopardy. These stories from history can be told realistically, romantically, impressionistically, philosophically, and lots of other ways. But satirically is how stories capture and move me the most. Nothing stirs me or grows goosebumps on me as effectively as a story of hard times and hard-hearted people who deserve a bit of exposure from some well-aimed wit.

I wrote...

A Cottonwood Stand: A Novel of Nebraska

By Chuck Redman,

Book cover of A Cottonwood Stand: A Novel of Nebraska

What is my book about?

Nebraska: not just a place on a map. It has a heart and it has a voice. It has a Then. It has a Now.

Lark, a young Sioux, rebels against traditions and crosses the plains to save her adopted sister from a bad marriage and return the girl to the Pawnee village where she was abducted in childhood. At the end of her journey, Lark finds herself the center of a mysterious Pawnee ritual that undermines her plan as well as her confidence. Janet is a small town editor crusading against a meatpacking plant that will destroy the fabric of the town along with its landmark stand of cottonwoods. Sounds like two stories but it’s not. Guess who winds them into one?

The books I picked & why

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Little Big Man

By Thomas Berger,

Book cover of Little Big Man

Why this book?

When I say “more hysterical than historical,” what I’m talking about is satire. Satire is the way I mostly see the world, including the history of the world. Little Big Man is one of the great American novels, and it’s funny and brilliant. It’s a grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-shake-you kind of Satire. Berger’s novel stitches a fictional tale onto the fabric of the Old West. It’s the story of Jack Crabb, a cranky 111-year-old adventurer, who narrates his long life in the colorful language of his time. Dustin Hoffman plays Jack in the movie, which you should see after you read the book!

A Tale of Two Cities

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of A Tale of Two Cities

Why this book?

Dickens’ classic novel of the French Revolution is, like all Dickens novels, a beautiful blending of satire and romance. I first read A Tale of Two Cities in college, and I was excited when my daughter brought it home as required reading in high school. I wanted to re-read it so she and I could discuss it, but we decided to actually read it together, aloud. It took a while, but it was such a wonderful father-daughter experience, something I won’t forget. Both my kids are amazing readers (and writers), and I’ve learned twice as much from them about books as they’ve learned from me!

Imperium in Imperio

By Sutton E. Griggs,

Book cover of Imperium in Imperio

Why this book?

I read Imperium in an Afro-American Literature course in college. The instructor was excellent. I was the only non-Afro-American male in the class. I sat in the back. As soon as I finished reading Imperium I said to myself “This would make a great movie.” About ten years later I adapted the book into a screenplay. I typed it myself on my old typewriter. There was gunk on some of the keys and they needed cleaning. I realized that around Scene Five. If you ever read my old manuscript, I apologize for the first twenty pages. You can tell Sutton Griggs I’m sorry, also.

A Cool Million

By Nathanael West,

Book cover of A Cool Million

Why this book?

A library is a treasure trove, in other words, a place where unknown gems of unestimated value can be discovered. The Los Angeles Central Library is one of the great treasure troves of the library world. If you start at “A” in the Fiction Department and keep going long enough, you might get to “W” and discover A Cool Million. Nathanael West died too young, he only wrote four slim novels. But fortunately, his absurdist satire about the ultimate schlemiel, who finds himself besieged and beset by every species of political shark, was one of them.

I miss that library. I haven’t been downtown in months. Years, even.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

By Mark Twain,

Book cover of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Why this book?

What can I say about A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court? Seriously, what can I say? I was just a young kid when I read it. I still have the book. But I don’t remember details or have anything insightful that I can say about it. But I do remember being highly entertained and digging the time travel idea. That plot device really caught my imagination and I just have this very vague memory of being transported back to those mythical days as if the book itself were a time portal.

I also remember feeling really at home with Twain’s tongue-in-cheek style of writing. He activated those little satire-loving circuits in my little juvenile brain.

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