Tuesday, 13 March 2012

History without history books

I've always been pretty useless at history.  I don't know whether the subject just bored me or if it was because my history teachers were boring.

I'm not stupid but I didn't really take advantage of my education when I had the chance.  I was one of only 5 pupils to pass the 11 plus out of a total of 85 who sat the exam in our local schools at the time, and ended up at grammar school, which should have been a great opportunity.

It wasn't.  I felt out of place.   My parents, having boasted to all the neighbours about their daughter going to grammar school, showed no further interest in my education.  They never attended one parents' evening or ever encouraged me to do my homework.

As a result, I just floated along with very little interest in anything other than English Literature and Art.   I left school at 15 years old, a year before I was due to take GCEs, and got a job as an office junior.  From then on I had many jobs, and was eager to take on any task thrown at me.  This was the way I learned.  I taught myself to type, operate printing machines, tackle bookkeeping...you name it, I did it.   Every time I went for an interview for another job, I bluffed my way through it.  In those days you could get jobs very easily based on experience and not just on qualifications.

Much later, when my children were small, I did some Open University courses.  I also did voluntary work and that's how I entered the social work field.  From then on I managed to become qualified with funding from my employers.

One of my biggest regrets is being pretty ignorant when it comes to history and politics.  I do pick up snippets here and there, on the internet, which sparks my interest and then I'll google and learn a little more.

But I have realised over the years that it's not possible for me to absorb historical facts from history books.  My eyes glaze over.  However, occasionally I read a novel or a biography which apart from telling a story of certain individuals, actually includes history and because I am enjoying the story so much, the history falls into place.   One such example is Birds without Wings by Louis de Berniere.  A hauntingly beautiful and sad story, which gave me a better understanding of the Ottoman Empire.

I have just started to read the book I recently won in a draw...and which had quite a journey getting here!  It's Ataturk by Andrew Mango.  Ataturk has always interested me.  I had to read up on him when Mr A and I were living and working in Side, Antalya, because I spent time as a tour guide on two-day coach trips and had to find something interesting, other than the scenery, to talk to the passengers about.

The facts I learned by heart about this fascinating man, just whetted my appetite for more, but until now I hadn't managed to find a book that was easy to read.

Andrew Mango's book is a long one, and I'm only a little way into it but am enjoying it immensely.  One fact I gleaned today was that Ataturk was strongly influenced by the French Revolution and according to his French biographer, Alexandre Jevakhoff, it was his "supreme point of reference throughout his life".

I know very little about the French Revolution, so I need someone to recommend a good novel set in those times, that will keep me enthralled with a personal story,  but will teach me the historical facts without boring me.

I have decided it's never too late to learn about history, but I would prefer to do it without history books.

All recommendations will be most welcome.

21 comments:

  1. I haven't read this...apart from 'look inside' on Amazon... but Annette Vallon by James Tipton might be suitable.
    Have a look at the reviews and see what you think.

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    1. Fly, I had a feeling you would be just the person to come up with something suitable. I've just had a look at the reviews on Amazon and I think this book might well be just the one for me. Thankyou xx

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  2. Oh Ayak, I get so depressed when I hear of people's miserable history experiences at school. If ever a subject should be inspiring, it should be history, and I am so grateful for the excellent history teachers that I had at school. I also hope that I was at least able to keep my students' interest when I was teaching history ( many years ago ).
    As for a book on the French Revolution..... I haven't read it yet, but it is on my pile, ready to start, sometime in the next couple of months I hope... Hilary Mantel's "A Place of Greater Safety". It is huge, a real epic. I loved her book "Wolf Hall" which was about Thomas Cromwell in Henry VIII's reign. She is a novelist, not a historian, but researches incredibly well, and fills in the gaps of what is known historically. So her characters are all part of real families that you get to know, and although some of the tales she tells are probably not true, or evidenced historically, she doesn't make ridiculous things up.....just spins a very believable interpretaion about the lives of famous historical characters, within the context of what is historically true. If the French Revolution book is anywhere near as good as "Wolf Hall", I know I will love it. Perhaps it will give you what you are looking for. If I think of anything else, I'll get back to you.
    I am so sorry your history teachers were rubbish ! J.

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    1. Maybe they weren't rubbish Janice. It might well have been my reluctance to learn or the lack of encouragement that made me think that way...just to give them the benefit of the doubt! But my English teacher was wonderful and her encouragement has resulted in my lifelong love of books.
      I'll add Hilary Mantel to my list of authors to explore...thankyou x

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  3. I've read others by Hilary Mantel and she does write well...didn't know she had a French Revolution book, though...

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  4. My history teacher wasn't very good at secondary school either. But the tutor I had when studying part time for my history A level when my children were at primary school was excellent and sparked off my continuing interest in the Spanish Civil War. Following that I studied history as my major subject when I was doing my B.Ed. to be a teacher and we began by learning about the landscape of England.... so my recommendation would be The Making of the English Landscape by W.G. Hoskins. History's a great thing, it's how we ended up where we are now!

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    1. Jan, it really does depend a lot on who's doing the teaching I think. Some teachers have a real gift for making the most boring subject come alive.

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  5. I was useless at history at school but I did History 'A' level on a correspondence course and got a reasonable grade. I've been hooked on history ever since. I also love historical fiction (preferably well researched). That said, I am currently struggling a bit with Wolfhall. I've not given up, I will finish it and almost certainly take a look at the French Revolution one. Just that, having just happily read my way through last year's Booker Prize short list, I am finding Wolfhall somewhat heavy going. Although the subject matter is fascinating.
    I can't think of any good historic fiction I've read set in the French Revolution, except for a Tale of Two Cities which I read about forty years ago. I have read something that was good - but I can't remember what it was (again, a long time ago)...

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    1. omentide: Well done you for persevering with a subject you weren't originally happy with...it was obviously worth the effort for the enjoyment you clearly have now.

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  6. I've always loved history, Ayak, and am so sorry you were turned off it back then. I read A Tale Of Two Cities in English Literature at about 14 and thought it was great. My preferred historical periods are much earlier, so I'm not help here, but you've had excellent suggestions.

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    1. Perpetua, I'm hoping that because I love reading, that the more novels or biographies I read which have a historical theme, the more I will enjoy history.

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  7. So sorry you were turned off history in the old days, I think a lot of people were. I loved history but couldn't stand Math. In the old days we took up English history, I know every King and it's castle...... now in school here they don't anymore, which is sad. My degree is in Art History of the Middle Ages in Europe, it fascinated me. During the days when I had time I loved reading historical novels (the kind they turn out weekly). It always took me back in time.....even now when I buy some antiques I always think of how the history was when it was first around.

    Anyways I'm going to try and get the book about Ataturk...looks like a good read. Also see about that French Revolution novel.
    I'm glad you were eager about everything and did it all on your own.....especially your writing, it shows....you are kind of an inspiration sometimes when I read your posts.

    Have a great day...... gorgeous here and sunny so far.

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    1. Hi Erica. I didn't like Maths either. In fact I only really enjoyed English Language and Literature and Art, I think simply because those teachers encouraged me. My parents gave me no encouragement at all. Parents and teachers have a lot to answer for, but I sincerely believe that education has improved and these days children find it much more enjoyable.
      It's sunny here today too, but windy and a bit chilly.

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  8. The things you learn from blogging! I worked with Janice for years and never knew she used to teach history. How wonderfully strange that I find out via your blog, written in Turkey.
    I'm absolutely with you on preferring history in novel form. I quite liked my History teacher - he was historic, he taught my mum - though History wasn't my 'thing'.
    I don't know of any novel specifically based on the events of the French Revolution, but once you've found one and read it - do read 'Les Miserables' by Victor Hugo, which is set in the period immediately after the revolution and is a masterpiece of literature and historical fact. Actually, I shall go and dig out my copy and re-read it myself!
    Happy reading.
    Axxx

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  9. Hi Annie. Well I'm pleased that you've found out this about Janice through my blog...isn't it strange how these things happen? And now I've prompted you to read a favourite book again.
    I'm making a list of books to read. This time next year I will be writing posts all about events in history (only joking)

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  10. Enjoyed your post...why do English Lit and Art sound so familiar as a combination...because those were my 2 favorite subjects...probably would never have graduated from HS if not for the both of them. By the time I reached HS I was pretty much bored with American history having had years of Virginia history crammed into my little pea brain (I am a native Virginian and have lived over half my life in Virginia)! Of course as the years went on I discovered most of what I'd learned about the history of Virginia had been embellished quite a lot. So have had to learn and relearn a lot...by reading. I'd don't believe I have enough time or money left to read all the wonderful books I've learned about on blogs, yours in particular...I thank you for your recommendations, I just need to make a more organized list, so I can check off those I've read and move on to the next! Right now I have little lists all over the place...;-)

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    1. Theanne I am also a maker of lists. Lists for everything! In fact after the comments on this post with suggestions for books, I started to make another list, but recalled that I have other lists for various books somewhere. Now if only I could remember where I put them!

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  11. Ooh, Ayak, if you haven't done so you should definitely read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. You learn tons of history without even noticing you're learning.
    And oh! We're going to be in the UK at the same time!! DH and I leave on the 16th for three weeks!
    And, guess what I'm reading this weekend? Barbara Nadel's first Istanbul book, thanks to your recommendation!

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    1. Thanks Deniz. Another addition to my list. Oh I'm glad you've got around to Barbara Nadel. I'm sure you will enjoy.

      Whereabouts in the UK will you be? Maybe our paths may cross!

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  12. First in London and Kent, then up north! So excited!

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    1. Oh quite a lot to do in 3 weeks Deniz. Hope you have a lovely time x

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