Skip to main content


July 30, 2009

Sharon Kay Penman: Books in Troubled Times

Posted by webmaster
Books open a door to the past, writes historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman in today's guest blog post. And what's more, they can help see us through difficult times, as they once did for her.

Sharon's most recent novel is Devil's Brood, the concluding volume in a trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The previous two books are When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time and Chance.

I am going to begin with a confession: This was my first visit to, though it definitely won't be my last. Sadly, I am not a child of the Computer Age; I've been known to have trouble with electric can-openers, and I have a love-hate relationship with my computers, as their names reveal --- Lucy, short for Lucifer's Hand Maiden, R.B. for Rosemary's Baby, two Dells from Hell, and Merlin, who mocked his optimistic name by going over to the dark side like the others. So my ventures into cyberspace have been sporadic and hesitant. But I now have my own blog, and I've loved interacting with my readers so much that I hope to make up for lost time.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to write a blog for I have long been a fan of book clubs, and I've had some lovely experiences with them over the years. I remember a visit to the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, where I had dinner with the members of one of their book clubs. We had a lively discussion about the characters in my books --- Joanna's infidelity in Here Be Dragons, Ellen de Montfort's capture by pirates in the pay of the English king, Henry II's clandestine meeting with Eleanor of Aquitaine in a Paris garden. My fictional people were flesh and blood to them, just as they are to me. We agreed that books are a form of time-traveling, for they open a door to the past.

But books also provide a life-line to get us through troubled times in our own lives. I have been told by readers that they found solace in one of my books during an illness or a family crisis, and that means more to me than I could ever express. My own experiences are just the same. During my father's brave and prolonged battle with Alzheimer's, I turned to books for comfort, sometimes reading them aloud to him, for he'd always been an avid reader, too. Books offer us a refuge from reality. They entertain and educate us. They give us a sense of solidarity with others, reminding us, as John Dunne did, that no man is an island. So I refuse to believe that books will ever become obsolete, as some predict, and I see book clubs as a means of improving their survival odds!

---Sharon Kay Penman