Real People in Fictional Realms

Today is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 1809-born 16th president who would have been 208 if he were alive in 2017 — meaning 143 years of Social Security payments.

But, seriously, I’m reminded that many fictional works — and not just historical novels — feature actual famous people.

That can of course be very attractive to readers who want to “get in the heads” of often-long-dead notables, see the times they lived in, see the way authors depict those luminaries, and see how real personages interact with fictional characters. Many readers find this a more palatable way than nonfiction history books to learn about high-profile people of the past — whether those people were heroes, villains, or something in between.

“Honest Abe” himself has appeared in everything from Gore Vidal’s Lincoln to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

Another president — Ulysses Grant, commander of the Union army during the American Civil War that marked Lincoln’s presidency — shows up in Darryl Brock’s If I Never Get Back, along with various real players from the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team. Brock’s sequel, Two in the Field, includes a deservedly scathing depiction of General Custer.

Also set in the 1800s is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which of course includes Napoleon among its large cast of mostly fictional characters; and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which features a real-life person (Grace Marks) accused of murder. Not the best way to become famous, or infamous, but Marks is a known name — especially in Canada.

Moving to literature set in more recent years, there’s the novel containing more real people than most fiction: E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime — in which we see Henry Ford, Sigmund Freud, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Booker T. Washington, and other well-known figures.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna devotes quite a few pages and conversations to artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

Fannie Flagg’s Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! includes a memorable scene with playwright Tennessee Williams as he discusses the downside of fame.

And moving to fiction set many centuries ago, we have such novels as Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and its sequels (which feature King Louis XIII, etc.), and Anthony Burgess’ The Kingdom of the Wicked (which includes Jesus Christ. One can argue about whether he was “the son of God,” but he may have existed as a person).

Which real people have you noticed in fictional works? Bonus question: Who’s the better president — Lincoln or Donald Trump? (Hint: The Electoral College can’t help Trump this time!  🙂 )

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for Baristanet.com. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

132 thoughts on “Real People in Fictional Realms

  1. To all my literature-loving friends here, I feel the need to say that I hope my blunt comment yesterday about Trump & Co wasn’t offensive to any of you. That said, I expressed exactly how I feel. I’m past the point of social amenities where this administration is concerned. I’ve been fighting a perpetually bad mood during the past interminable month, and it’s because every SINGLE day there’s something coming out of the White House that makes my blood boil. Here’s the thing: I’m middle-of-the-road, leaning to the left. I don’t vote straight tickets like the Republicans do – again speaking from personal experience with my own family. I vote my conscience, and in my lifetime have voted both Democrat and Republican. Since I’ve become a grandmother, I cast my vote with my grandchildren always in mind, their present and future world. I’ve been terrified of a Trump presidency from the outset, but, once elected, I hoped he would prove us wrong. That’s not happening. It’s not going to happen. It’s only going to get worse.

    As Kat Lib said, checking the news has become an obsession. I check it when I wake up, when I’m at work, and before i go to bed. I check it to keep tabs on Trump. And I check it, with bated breath, hoping to read he’s announced his resignation.

    I did get a lot of laughs this morning by reading posts to #lastnightinsweden.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Pat! I was fine with your comment, and I’m guessing everyone else here was, too. I’m also not usually someone who writes bluntly, but, as you allude to, Trump is such an abomination that occasionally one has to vent in a hardball way.

      And your above comment today? Terrific, eloquent, and heartfelt!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Pat, I understand what you’re saying about not wanting to offend anyone with what most of us here seem to agree with regarding this crazy administration, but I think this is the time we all need to stand and be counted. I’ve been good friends with a woman for over 20 years. We met on the job way back when and had to work closely together. When she lost her job due to layoffs, we started going places together for meals and shopping, especially B&N, as we shared a love of books. We’ve a lot else in common, but for some reason politics never came up (though we’ve talked about religion). I guess I made it a point to never talk about my political views at work, and that carried over to our friendship. Not long ago, she mentioned watching “Fox & Friends,” which I didn’t comment on, but I did tell her the other day about joining a protest group, and my hope is we’ll weather this and keep our friendship intact.

      By the way, I too was amused by Trump’s remarks on Sweden– I’m sure they were more surprised than anyone about this “terrorist attack,” sort of like the “Bowling Green massacre” and attack in Atlanta!

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    • Oh Pat, join the club, I have been outspoken as well. I am still sort of depressed .
      Was reading Times a little while ago on Chuck Schomer . The night of the election he was coming to Washington thinking to be the majority leader for Hill, he landed being the minority leader and is the hardest working leader of ever since
      The election was such a shock for all of us while the republicans are having a jolly good time.
      My republican neighbor just went to Bahamas , the grandparents are here to watch the kids.

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  2. ” Game Change” was a book written by By John Heilemann and Mark Halperin , became a blockbuster movie about Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime is more about exposing Sarah Palin for what she was .
    There has been many books on Lincoln but none on Donald Trump except he claimed to write some but according to his ghost writer DT had no contribution.

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      • Trump actually referred to himself as the “Ernest Hemingway of the tweet”. Well, that is certainly an alternative fact. While I’m not the biggest Hemingway fan on the planet, the man could pack a lot of meaning in just a few words, as opposed to The Trump who manages to fit more “bloated nothingness” (apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson) into a tweet than words of the Lord’s Prayer could fit on the head of a pin. His entire “career” could be summed up in a paraphrase of another title he may or may not have come up with for the book he may or may not have written (either ghostly or ‘bigly’): The Art of the Steal.

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        • Brian, I didn’t know Trump said he was the “Ernest Hemingway of the tweet”! Wow! Pathetic.

          Hmm…I wonder if he and (Kellyanne) Conway are “The Old Man and the C”?

          “The Art of the Steal” — clever and highly accurate.

          Great comment!

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          • The Son Also Rises– Dad was bigly successful in the NYC real estate game, but his golden boy’s success was far more better, even biglier

            To Have and Have More– Trump’s simple lifetime business plan made simpler, volume I

            To Have and Have More and More– volume II

            For Whom the Belles Toil– Billy Bush’s blockbuster bio of dinky-digited beauty pageant boss

            The Old Man and the She– Can he keep it up the third time around?

            A Clean Well-Lighted Place– Mr. T.’s check-up from the neck up

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          • bebe, it IS amazing that some people are still buying into Trump’s nonsense. Perhaps it’s partly due to being brainwashed by the right-wing media they read/watch/listen to. Hemingway, despite his flaws (such as not exactly being a feminist), would be disgusted with most aspects of Trump.

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            • I have a feeling DT will run in 4 years and win again 😦
              unless…the man is 70+, bloated, sleeps 4-5 hrs,not known to do any physical activities. I would say drunk but I understand he is a teetotaler according to Dowd.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I’ve also heard Trump doesn’t drink, but he apparently eats a lot of junk food. And, as you list, he has other unhealthy habits.

                With voter suppression by the Republicans and the influence of the part of the media that’s far right, Trump if he’s still alive COULD win again despite doing a spectacularly awful job.

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  3. Who’s the better president — Lincoln or Donald Trump?
    Dave if one believes in alternate truth it is Donald Trump .
    On Thursday I happen to be home and had something on then there comes the TV anchor..getting ready for impromptu press conference by DT.
    I could not believe my ears what the man was saying, he is running the government like a fine tuned machine?
    On another note last night I was watching a movie “Florence Foster Jenkins” based on a true story. Here the socialite from 20th century made a name for singing the opera off key. It takes a talent to purposely sing off key which is Ms. Streep. to learn to sing off key. But Ms. Jenkins never knew she was off key.

    That is the different with Trump, he was lying the whole time and telling us all it is the truth.
    The man has criminal intent.
    .

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  4. Dave, sorry, but I can’t seem to focus on interesting topics about “War and Peace” and Stendhal, etc. I keep thinking about Trump’s presser yesterday and how if someone were to write a novel about it, we’d almost all say that the whole thing was “contrived” or “unbelievable” or “fantastical” or whatever one might call it. But that is the world we’re now living in and is the new realty — I’m having a hard time accepting it.

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    • So true, Kat Lib. That press conference (I read about it, didn’t see it) was surreal and disgusting and full of Trump lies. America’s global reputation is in the basement, saved to some extent only by the millions of people protesting this travesty of a so-called president.

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      • The news show I was watching last night claimed that his rally in Florida yesterday was in reality a campaign rally for 2020. As Archie Andrews and his gang would exclaim, “GAK”!

        I was supposed to go to an “Indivisble” group kickoff meeting yesterday in Kennett Square, but I had a stomach bug and couldn’t attend. My sister went so I’ll get all of the info from her. If there’s not much we can do against Trump, we at least can start holding our senators and representative accountable for supporting his policies and appointments — an Education Secretary who wants to do away with public schools; an EPA Secretary who wants to do away with the entire Department and is beholden to the oil and gas companies; an HHS Secretary who wants to abolish the ACA, as well as Medicare; etc. And don’t even get me started on the truly evil Stevens, Bannon and Miller!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Well said, Kat Lib.

          Trump holding what was essentially a campaign rally nearly four years before the 2020 election is just so…Trump-like, as in disgusting.

          And I hear you about holding cowardly/opportunistic congresspeople accountable for supporting Trump. That’s been what has been happening in my district, where formerly “moderate” Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen has been catching hell for supporting every far-right thing Trump and the GOP Congress does, and for refusing to meet face-to-face with any constituents other than those who agree with him.

          Sorry about your stomach bug; hope you’re feeling a little better today.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Kat Lib, it IS hard to accept, more so by the day. World leaders are experiencing growing anxiety over Donald Trump – an erratic, bats**t crazy narcissist who also happens to be the most powerful man on the planet by virtue of his position as President of the United States. All I can say to my Republican family members and everybody else who voted this very unstable person into office is this: Are you happy now? Is this what you really wanted? Has it begun to sink in yet that you made a UUGE mistake?

      And as for Stephen Miller, that gravedigger-looking little white supremacist gnat who told America the other day that Trump’s national security actions “will not be questioned” – well, Stephen, get ready for a virtual tsunami of questions coming from all directions. Here’s a few questions for Stephen Miller now: Ever heard of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble? – you can read all about it in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, you insignificant little blip. F**k you.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. The Rudetsky March by Josef Roth concerns three generations of a military family, the Von Trottas, whose fortunes were utterly changed on the field of battle, thanks to the reflexes of a young soldier, the first generation’s Trotta, who earned the Von before his name and a place in primary school history books, all in one reflexive act: taking a bullet while moving a royal personage out of its path– that personage being Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

    Franz Josef is a character in the novel, to whom the first Von Trotta personally appeals for a right to be forgotten, if it means the false account of his doings on the battlefield would also be, and to whom the second Von Trotta appeals decades later on behalf of his errant son.

    An aside: The first Von Trotta, though a fiction of Roth’s, in a way touches on the week’s theme: He can be seen to extricate himself, if for present purposes we call Roth’s creation a ‘real person’,with the emperor’s help, out of the realm of popular fiction in which the empire’s propagandists have mired his public persona.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Enjoyed your very interesting comment, jhNY.

      “The Rudetsky March” has been on my list for a while, per your recommendation, but my local library doesn’t seem to have anything by Josef Roth. Philip Roth, yes…

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  6. Opera, more than novels, may be the biggest one-stop for real people in fictional surroundings, though the surroundings are not necessarily presented as such from the stage, nor are the real people free from the librettist’s impulse to fictionalize. Lampedusa complained in a serio-comic essay on the topic, that opera presented fantastic fictions which its Italian idolators came over the long years to view as history, having in their love for opera, abandoned the study of history, much as its fabulous stage sets had allowed the Italian public to imagine it was acquainted with architecture and fine art.

    History Through the Looking Glass by George Jellinek is more kind, and more exhaustive in its study of history in opera, finding numerous instances of accuracy, at least in the main, and numerous instances where theme carried the day over fact. Jellinek, in his introduction, writes: “It is my aim to separate true history from the kind of history we encounter on the operatic stage, obscured, embellished, or sometimes distorted by the librettist’s imagination.” The text of History Through the Opera Glass runs over 300 tight-packed pages, covering “2000 years of history– and the manner in which they have been portrayed in nearly 200 operas by the world’s leading composers”– according to the description of the book’s contents on the jacket.

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    • Interesting, jhNY!

      I know next to nothing about opera, though I’ve read a few novels with opera singers as characters. Among them are Willa Cather’s “The Song of the Lark” and Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto.” Their respective protagonists (Thea Kronborg and Roxane Cross) are fictional, though I’ve heard Cross was based to some degree on Renée Fleming.

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      • James M. Cain’s Serenade features a singer of remarkable talent, classically trained. The description of his talent, and prowess in the field I found, reading the book years ago, a bit too effortless and neat.

        Then I learned that Cain, of all writers, might well know his subject, and what such talent and prowess might look like close at hand, if not in the mirror. His mother was a singer, and trained Cain up in the family business to young adulthood– at which time she informed him that she could not consider him, despite their mutual effort, to be professional material.

        I had an English professor who voiced regret that James Joyce had not made more of his fine talent as a singer, if only because while he was busy doing what my professor was sure he did better, he could not write. Facetious, yes, to a point, but there was sincerity behind it. He did not feel literature was better off for having muddied itself in the stream of consciousness.

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      • Should also mention re opera:

        Stendahl was a most devoted opera-goer, attending performances as often as he was able, even going so far as to write a life of Rossini, from which this description of a performance of an unnamed Rossini opera is taken:

        “As the overture begins, you could hear a pin drop; as it bangs its way triumphantly to an end, the din bursts with unbelievable violence. It is extolled to high heaven; or alternately, it is whistled, nay rather howled into eternity with merciless shrieks and ululations. There is no parallel in Paris, where cautious vanity anxiously eyes a neighboring vanity beside it; these are men possessed of seven devils, determined at all costs, by dint of shrieking, stamping, and battering with their canes against the backs of the seats in front, to enforce the triumph of their opinion, and above all, to prove that, come what may, none but their opinion is correct-, for, in all the world, there is no intolerance like that of a man of artistic sensibility.” . .

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        • jhNY — interesting, well-told info concerning James M. Cain, James Joyce, and Stendhal! I had no idea Joyce was an excellent singer, too! Some people definitely have more than one talent. I think of someone like Fannie Flagg, who was once a TV entertainer and became a fine novelist.

          That’s some mighty fine writing by Stendhal you excerpted.

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          • I think so too, and yet, from his wikipedia bio: Nabokov called Stendahl “that pet of all those who like their French plain”. In the notes to his translation of Eugene Onegin, he asserts that Le Rouge et le Noir is “much overrated,” and that Stendhal has a “paltry style”. In Pnin Nabokov wrote satirically, “Literary departments still labored under the impression that Stendhal, Galsworthy, Dreiser, and Mann were great writers.”

            He is prickly, that butterfly-catcher! Guess I must ‘like my French plain’, even if I come by it by translation. On the other hand, I am not so much of a fan for the others on that list, stylistically speaking at the very least…

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            • I did read ‘The Red and the Black’ but got stuck in the mess of the first 40 pages of ‘The Charterhouse of Parma’ that I gave up. It was so speedily written that there were NO transitions between scenes so in the blink of an eye you’d be one place, then blink again and be in another. One day I’ll attempt it again. I thought ‘The Red and the Black’ WAS fairly readable although I’ve been more moved by other Frenchmen such as Balzac and Flaubert far more. The excerpt from the Rossini piece is very well-written and astute in general although it does include well worn cliches like ‘you could hear a pin drop’ and ‘high heaven’. Of course, that could have been the translator’s word choice. I’ve come across many cliches in translated works that don’t detract from the quality of the work. I usually keep that in mind when reading them. As far as the authors Nabokov cites, I did consider Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ quite powerful although the glacial pace of the narrative was at variance with the main character’s sense that he’s only been in the sanitarium for a few months when in fact seven years have passed at the conclusion of the novel. I’ve read a few of Mann’s short stories/novellas such as ‘Death in Venice’ and others in the same collection that were decent but not spectacular.

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              • jhNY, Nabokov was annoyingly elitist. N’s writing WAS extraordinary (I’ve rarely seen a book with more amazing literary pyrotechnics than his “Pale Fire”). But Stendhal, and various other authors who Nabokov disparaged, were also darn good writers in their own ways. I hope, somewhere in the afterlife, butterfly wings are eternally whacking against Nabokov’s nose. 🙂

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                • Brian, I also prefer Balzac and Flaubert over Stendhal in the pantheon of 19th-century French novelists. Zola, Hugo, and a couple of others, too. But I also was impressed with “The Charterhouse of Parma” despite its hasty creation.

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                • I cannot defend Stendahl on the basis of his fine style, as he was a breakneck sort of writer who seldom went back to refine what he dictated. But I admire and enjoy his point of view, his social insights and his assured pace.

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              • ” It was so speedily written that there were NO transitions between scenes so in the blink of an eye you’d be one place, then blink again and be in another.”

                “Ah, Sir, a novel is a mirror carried along a high road. At one moment it reflects to your vision the azure skies, at another the mire of the puddles at your feet. “– Stendahl, The Red and the Black

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  7. In you blog essay for the week, you noted Napoleon in the midst of all that fiction in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. But more fleshed out as a character, and certainly more sympathetically portrayed, is the actual flesh and blood Russian general Kutusov, hero of Borodino, wily, earthy, altogether more human, posed in pointed contrast to Tolstoy’s odd, unnatural Napoleon.

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  8. In Stendahl’s The Charterhouse of Parma, there are mentions of historical and contemporary figures, as well as disguised and repurposed characters out of Italian history, but so far as I can recall, there is only one actual person who enjoys the fleeting attention of the author: Field Marshal Michel Ney.

    Ney in the novel is described among his galloping peers in the battle of Waterloo as “the fattest of these generals”, yet also though not perhaps without a tinge of irony, as “this famous prince of the Moscova, ‘bravest of the brave'”. These observations were made by the young and impressionable Fabricio del Dongo, but may reflect something of the mixed impressions of Stendahl himself, who not insignificantly, was an actual participant in Napoleon’s 1812 Russian Campaign, and the long retreat to France after, when Ney commanded the rearguard. It should be noted however, that the appellation was bestowed (without irony) by Napoleon during the Russian Campaign, as was the title. Perhaps Stendahl means only to point out the contrast between the glory and fame attending the exploits of the Marshal and his physical appearance.

    Ney was an embodiment of his tumultuous times, a Romantic figure who fired the imagination and affection of his troops and the French public. His many exploits in battle, his revolt with other marshals in 1814 against Napoleon, his embrace of the re-establishment of the Bourbon monarchy, followed by his about-face and re-embrace of Napoleon when he was sent to capture him, and last, his execution after Napoleon’s final defeat, make fascinating reading, even in the form of biographical sketch.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Ney

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  9. I am playing through Bioshock Infinite as of late. This game provides a unique take of the founders of the United States and Abraham Lincoln. The ‘elite class’ of the seceded city state of Columbia have come to revere the founders as god like beings and the Emancipator Lincoln as a devil. There is even a commemorative statue of John Wilkes Booth in one of the more twisted Fraternities of this fictional society.

    An alternative history is used to add substance to a very deep and fairly disturbing story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Stuart — that does sound disturbing, and intriguing. Alternative-history stories can definitely be fascinating.

      (An interesting literary reference to John Wilkes Booth: Mary Surratt, who was executed for taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, was a distant ancestral relative of F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

      Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, jhNY — didn’t know that Jack Reacher novella existed! Very interesting premise.

      I’m trying to remember if any of the full Reacher novels feature real people in speaking cameos, as opposed to real people being mentioned in passing — like when Jack sometimes name-checks former Major League baseball players. Drawing a blank.

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      • Can’t think of any instances myself, though my memory for plots is spotty like a leopard.

        That novella thang was included in the back of one in the series– and not to make too much of my reaction, but I felt while reading it, that Child had jumped the shark. Then I thought, ‘Forgive him! Otherwise, you will be bereft of thrilling fodder for your airport travails.’ So I did.

        I’ve read a dozen of the Reachers, I think, maybe more. You’ve read more than I have– so it’s one of the ones I read but you haven’t. Yet.

        What I Have Learned: Never read the extras in the back of Reacher books. Either they’re a little off somehow, as in the one above, or the one where Reacher snuffs (are 2 enough, are 4 too many?) Russian agents in the mean NW DC streets of yesteryear, or they’re the excerpts out of the latest– which can confuse the heck out of me, when, bag in tow, I’m looking through Reacher books at the airport book outlet, trying, as the titles seldom clue me in, what with one being so much like another, to figure out whether I’ve read it already or not. And yes, I’ve bought the same one twice, though years apart…

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        • Thanks, jhNY!

          All but one of the Reacher novels I’ve read (17, I think) I took out of the library — and none of them had extras in the back. Hmm…

          And, as much as I love the series, I agree that many of the books kind of blend together in one’s mind. If I were asked to match the plots with the titles, I’d be surprised if I got more than a half dozen of the 17 correct.

          I’m looking forward to reading the latest — last fall’s “Night School,” which hasn’t gotten to my local library yet. Have you read it/flown since then? 🙂

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          • Have not read “Night School”– I do have a signed Child hardback (and one other I found at a thrift store, which I read, and gave to a bookselling friend), but unless the latest in already out in paper, I’ll wait for the airport version.

            My problem: reading the series out of order. I should, if only I were sufficiently motivated to actually do it, go to a library to see a lot of them in one lot, and pick out, if I’m able, the ones I haven’t read. As it is, I get what they got at the airport mostly.

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            • Not sure if Lee Child’s latest is in paperback yet.

              Great that you have a signed Reacher hardcover!

              I also read the series (mostly) out of order. While that probably helped lead to the books being blurred together in my mind, I still enjoyed them — even non-chronologically. Plus, Child has done at least a couple of flashback Reacher novels, so those are out of order in a sense as well.

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  10. Easily the best book in this category I’ve ever read is “The Public Burning” by Robert Coover. It’s a fictional account of the Rosenberg spy trial, and every other chapter is narrated by none other than Richard M. Nixon. Oh, my.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Bill! That sounds like some book! (Maybe a bit like E.L. Doctorow’s “The Book of Daniel,” also a fictionalized account of the Rosenberg situation?) And a “Richard Nixon” character doing the alternate narrating honors!

      The real Nixon, as negative as he was in many ways, was a smart man and the author of a number of (presumably not ghostwritten) books.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  11. Hi Dave, I wasn’t feeling very well yesterday, so when I read your column last night, I thought you’d stumped me, other than your bonus question! 🙂 After a good night’s rest, a few thoughts came to me this morning. First of all, there was a very small role for the crime writer Ian Rankin in one of Alexander McCall Smith’s “44 Scotland Street” series. I think I mentioned before that they were neighbors in Edinburgh. Another novel was Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life,” which chronicles Ursula Todd, who lives, dies and is reborn into other paths of her life. During one of her alternate lives (is that similar to “alternate facts”?), she spends time in Germany with Hitler and Eva Braun in Berechtsgaden. In another, after living in London during the Blitz, she realizes that she must try to kill Hitler in the late 1930’s in order to stop the war from even happening.

    I know this might be slightly off-base with the intent of your column, but I couldn’t help but think about King Arthur (probably due to my writing about Richard Harris in last week’s comments!). I realize most modern scholars now doubt the historical Arthur, but even for a legendary figure, he’s certainly inspired as many literary and film works than anyone I can think of. Just off the top of my head: “La Morte d’Arthur (Thomas Malory),” “Idylls of the King” (Alfred Lord Tennyson), “The Once and Future King” (T. H. White), “The Mists of Avalon” (Marion Zimmer Bradley) and the poem “The Lady of the Lake” (Walter Scott). Films and TV miniseries include: “The Sword and the Stone,” “King Arthur,” “Excalibur,” “The Mists of Avalon,” “Merlin,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and of course the play and movie “Camelot.” As an aside, there are still Biblical scholars today who doubt the historicity of Jesus, not to veer off into a religious debate, but still it’s an interesting question — the history major in me that actually would prefer to read nonfiction as opposed to literature about historical figures — but a most interesting question, Dave, as usual!

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    • Thank you, Kat Lib!

      Sorry you weren’t feeling good last night, but glad you’re feeling somewhat better today.

      Your first paragraph has some very interesting examples of real-life people in fiction.

      And, yes, King Arthur (whether he really existed or not) is in all kinds of literature, movies, plays, etc. — as your impressive list indicates. Heck, for all we know, maybe he’s also on souvenir beer cups at various football stadiums…

      After seeing your lines about Jesus Christ, I slightly edited that part of my column. Who knows for sure whether he actually existed as a person? (I’m not religious myself, and am certainly skeptical of any god-like figure in any religion.)

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      • You have to admit, for a “king” (Arthur and Jesus, too, for that matter) who’s been so often written about not to have existed at all, seems unfair to all us mortals. Or at the least, I’d like to continue hoping. Maybe that is a more realistic idea.

        Hope springs eternal. Even under the regime of one T-Rump. One down (woohoo!!), many more to go.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Drolly said, hopewfaith! Thanks! It IS unfair that possibly fictional characters get all that ink. How did they even receive royalties if they didn’t exist? 🙂

          Like you, I also hope many more members of Trump’s lowlife administration depart — as national security advisor Michael Flynn did. Trump, Pence, every cabinet member, and every GOP member of Congress are welcome to slink away, too!

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          • Normalizing Trump is a fool’s game, though many craven people are playing.

            Big problem: the president is insane. Gold-plated, gold-pated insane. Period. Insisting that the unreal is real should be the tip-off. Unremarkably, it follows that what he says and does is a reflection of his damaged interior.

            I suppose, on this topic, many professionals, in the press and in politics and specifically, in the GOP, are waiting for ‘the smoking gun’ of proof. I am reminded of what Condeleeza Rice said re weapons of mass destruction, and don’t wish to see what could be the literal mushroom cloud, or several, before enough of us conclude. Wouldn’t be prudent.

            And yet…see sentence 1.

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            • “Normalizing Trump is a fool’s game” — totally agree, jhNY. He just can’t be normalized, except in the service of political expediency (as practiced by most GOP congresspeople, who make believe Trump is normal but know he isn’t. Some of the craven people you referenced). And, yes, Trump is flat-out dangerous.

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              • The worst thing is, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, is obsessively watching and reading news feeds. One of the first questions I get asked in the morning is, “So what did Trump say or tweet about last night”? It certainly doesn’t help that it appears as though most foreign leaders seem to be testing him, from North Korea to China, and even his buddy Putin.

                Liked by 2 people

                • Yep– you almost feel as if there is no good reason to do anything else but monitor the unfolding crises, the way the folks under the dam in CA probably keep an eye on the spillway when they’re supposed to be working.

                  But that of course just plays into the small hands of a person with a bottomless appetite for attention. From everybody. From anybody. For any reason.

                  Trump is a political phenomenon, an accretion of the fears and projections of a great many unhappy and angry people, and “as if with a power of fascination, has always been drawing men from extensive surfaces toward some one vortex of delusion…” (Isaac Taylor, The Natural History of Enthusiasm 1833): HIMSELF.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Yes, Kat Lib, you are not alone in being obsessed with Trump. He IS about as alarming a person as there is. And you’re right, jhNY, that Trump LOVES the attention. As you allude to, he probably even loves the huge chunk of the attention that’s negative, because it’s still attention and he gets to lie and send out his stupid tweets in response.

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  12. The Last Bookeneer by Matthew Pearl includes a quest to get at Robert Louis Stevenson manuscript. One reader in the book club resented that Stevenson comes off badly (a bit Howard Hughes for her taste).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting — a real-life novelist in a novel. 🙂 Thank you, Petra!

      From once having read a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson, he was in legitimately bad health for much of his life and died fairly young. Howard Hughes’ “issues” seemed more a mental thing. So the Stevenson depiction by that author might not be totally fair. I also remember that Stevenson as a person seemed much easier to sympathize with than Hughes.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nice that book clubs are still functioning out there. I haven’t belonged to one in so many years, that I thought maybe they were done for. A bit of good news in this 2017 era of going backwards in logic, on other fronts. My hellos to your book club. Keep it going.

      Liked by 2 people

        • When Borders closed its doors, my whole family was heartbroken. We spent many, many Saturday mornings together, laughing over a good book together, as we sat in comfy circles, sipping a nice tea and pondering over writers like Tolkein, and many others, wondering together what made them tick. It just takes the right place and the right time to create a good memory. Book clubs are the same. I wish everyone had one to join.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Hope, I’ve never belonged to a book club, but for many years I lived a mile or so from a beautiful Barnes & Noble where I often met friends or my sister for coffee and just wandering around the store picking out at least one book to bring home with me. Back when I was working, it was the highlight of my week. When I moved to my new home last May, the closest B&N isn’t as convenient, not to mention most of my discretionary funds go to aforesaid new home and feeding my pets and birds. I do however have an extensive collection of books, so I won’t exactly run out of things to read, but as Petra said, there’s always the library!

            Liked by 1 person

            • I’ve joined a few book groups which have varied from lots of fun, to kind of pointless. I distinctly recall one conversation with a woman who was disdainful of ‘today’s’ literature (whatever that means) however couldn’t come up with anything that she DID like. But I’ve also made some wonderful friends from book clubs.

              My local library recently put in a reading room which is so peaceful. Luckily for me, it’s open late on a Friday, and the highlight of my week has become battling weekend traffic after work, then curling up with a book and some peace and quiet overlooking the library garden, knowing that there’s nowhere I need to be.

              Liked by 1 person

  13. In John Jakes’ “Kent Family Chronicles” Philip Kent meets Benjamin Franklin shortly before emigrating from England. Once in America, Philip becomes part of the revolution, working with men like Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. There are many, many other famous meetings throughout the terrific 8-book series, however having recently re-read the first one, they’re the ones that are most familiar to me.

    In Stephen King’s “11/22/63” Jake spends a lot of time living across form Lee Harvey Oswald. A kind of interesting story, and I’d be curious to know how accurate King’s Oswald is to the real thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue! Those are major American Revolutionary War-era names!

      It WOULD be interesting to know how accurately Stephen King depicted Lee Harvey Oswald. King does seem to do serious research for some of his novels…

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    • Hi Sue, you mentioned recently that Liane Moriarty’s “Big Little Lies” was made into an 8-part miniseries. I just read that the miniseries is starting this Sunday night on HBO. I don’t subscribe to any of the premium cable channels, but I expect this will end up being released on DVD at some point, especially with such high-profile stars as Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley, as well as Lauren Dern in a supporting role. I have my misgivings as to eventually wanting to watch it, especially since it’s set in Monterey, CA, rather than in a beach-side community in Australia. The way the plot was described sounds rather different from that of the book, but I suppose the structure of the novel would make it difficult to translate to screen. I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude to it, but it’s encouraging that some of Moriarty’s books are in the process of being optioned here in the States.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi 🙂

        I knew “Big Little Lies” was going to be on TV, however didn’t realise it was a miniseries. As I said, it does look quite glamorous, however I don’t think it’s quite my cup of tea. I am very much looking forward to getting to my first Moriarty novel though, and of course you’ll be the first to know what I think!

        TV adaptations can be so hit and miss. I really enjoyed the “Song of Ice and Fire” book series, and then loved the “Game of Thrones” TV show. What’s weird though, is the more the show strays from the books, the better it gets. It’s now like having two terrific stories instead of one.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. One of the first novels that provided a panorama of historical figures of the period that I read was Thomas Berger’s ‘Little Big Man’. The orphan Jack Crabb, who, along with his sister is abducted by a Cheyenne tribe and raised as one of them. Through a chain of circumstances, he meets Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickock and others, but the major encounter is with George Armstrong Custer (whom you mentioned in reference to another novel). The very old Jack, living in a nursing home in the early 1960’s, claims to be the only white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn. He even takes credit for Custer’s defeat through his account of the contrarian mind games of logic he indulged in with Custer. Knowing that Custer’s ego would still claim to be the decider of his fate, Jack manipulates Custer into a reverse reasoning that results in him leading his cavalry into the Little Bighorn where Jack knows will result in a near total massacre for Custer’s men. In the sequel to ‘Little Big Man’, ‘The Return of Little Big Man’, Jack meets Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp and ends up performing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s ‘Wild West’ show, even going to Europe where he meets royalty. I don’t remember the entire list of encounters with the famous but I know that it continues Jack’s knack for being the ‘little guy’ who ends up being present at many historical events and meeting many major historical figures. Jack Crabb’s adventures pre-date the films ‘Zelig’ and ‘Forrest Gump’, where two other ‘nobodies’ meet important figures. ‘Zelig’ is, of course, an original screenplay by Woody Allen and ‘Forrest Gump’ is based on a novel by Winston Groom.

    As far as Jesus is concerned he, of course, appears in several Biblical fiction novels, usually as an enigmatic, peripheral figure as in Lew Wallace’s ‘Ben-Hur’ and as a tortured protagonist in Nikos Kazantzakis’ ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, which I wrote about in your Christmas post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment, Brian! Sounds like there were even more famous real people in “Little Big Man” and its sequel than in “Ragtime”! I saw the Dustin Hoffman movie many years ago, but have never read the novel(s). It/they sound excellent. Definitely a precursor to the “Zelig” and “Gump” movies, as you say.

      And, yes, Jesus Christ gets around when it comes to appearing in novels. I have the vague memory that JC is also in Pär Lagerkvist’s “The Death of Ahasuerus,” but I’m not positive.

      Like

      • Well, he definitely appears in Lagerkvist’s novel, ‘Barabbas’, which takes up the tale of the thief who was spared in place of Jesus. You might recall the 1962 adaptation with Anthony Quinn, in which Barabbas witnesses the crucifixion, is friendly with a girl named Rachel, who claims to have seen him after his resurrection and who gets stoned for her beliefs. Being a career criminal, Barabbas eventually gets caught for other offenses, is sent to the mines to almost certain death (he survives), becomes a gladiator, meets the disciple Peter in his old age, misconstrues the message of Jesus, and thinks the burning of Rome by Nero is finally a fulfillment that his ‘Kingdom’ is at hand, contributes to the fire and is captured and crucified himself.

        Liked by 1 person

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