Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I have been watching coverage in awe – the beautiful beach of Normandy, the graveyards full of fallen soldiers. It’s moments like these when I absolutely ache to be a historian. I’m constantly reminded of how small my knowledge of history is and wish that I could read book upon book of the history of the world. Not just read them, but understand them, understand their roles in our larger histories, and be able to talk about them with any sort of intelligence.
D-Day happened during WWII and can you believe that I don’t think I’ve read a single novel about that day? Probably because I tend to read fiction focused on the women of the time and not men in the war. I also don’t tend to read a lot of non-fiction about the time period (or any time period). WWII is my favorite genre and I get swept away in those stories – what it was like to live on rations and very little supplies, the fear of invasion, the horror of what was happening just over the ocean. I love people’s stories and have a much harder time with the non-fiction, which I usually find dry and slow.
But if I wanted to dive into history, where would I even begin? There’s a Goodreads list titled “Best D-Day books,” which helps. There are Goodreads lists for everything, of course. But how does one devote the time and energy to some of these books that are required? Especially a reader like me who focuses on the big picture of what I’ve read and not the gritty details. But historians dig for those gritty details and that’s what they want to highlight. I wish I could appreciate those more when I’m reading!
And of course, D-Day was just one day in the history of the world. In my Geography class in high school we were assigned to write histories of a chosen country. I asked the teacher how far back we were supposed to go and he answered, “all the way back. Which country did you choose?” I chose Greece. Do you go all the way back to Greek mythology as the beginning? There’s so much in this world to learn about – not only what’s in the history books, but what individual cultures believe about the world – how it was created, how boundaries were drawn, how religions shaped identities – where do you start? I just googled “best beginner history books” and found this crazy list on reddit, which categorizes events in history into very specific headings. It’s dizzying.
But it’s helpful to get started with just one book at a time. I placed a hold on The Longest Day through Overdrive, which was voted as THE best D-Day book on Goodreads (thanks to a whopping 21 voters). It’s as good a place as any, right? Thank goodness for the library because not having to pay for a book makes it much easier to climb out on a limb and try things you’re unsure about.
What about you? How do you approach learning new things? Or what period of history are you fascinated by? Or do you have any great D-Day books to recommend for me? And how do you balance all of your bookish interests — is it even possible?!