The Sarajevo Haggadah, surfacing in Sarajevo in 1996, has been through it all. It has seen war, disease, slavery, wealth, and a full range of human depravity. There were times with glimmers of religious tolerance and times of overt anti-semitism. While the plot in 1996 propels People of the Book forward, the historical chapters make the book something greater than a silly intellectual mystery* and family drama. A few times I thought that Brooks was trying too hard to distribute vices and virtues: "Okay, I have a Christian with syphilis, a Jew with gambling addiction and an atheist who ignores her family. I think the rapist and the redeemer both need to be Muslim." But then she shocked me with a plot line that didn't turn out, and given how funny I found a recurring bit about Australian vs. Austrian stereotypes, I could forgive her for a lot. PotB is recommended for Irene, Janet and any of the knitters. Compared to HotCoBaS and UE, I would say that its strengths are stronger but weaknesses more obvious. I think it is less of a chick book, but I always have a hard time determining that.
As I was reading PotB, I kept asking the Mister questions about Bosnian history, the extent of the Ottoman Empire, the formation of Yugoslavia and the like. Then, as we were driving to Baltimore over the weekend, I announced that, assuming Dianthus has the capability, we are going to do everything in our power to find a way for him to enjoy reading. The Mister, being married to me, is used to non-sequiturs, so wasn't terribly surprised that this stemmed from a Habsburg Empire query. Aside from learning to write well (which the Mister swears is a direct product of reading things written well, and I'm unlikely to argue), reading teaches so much. I dare say that almost all of the history I know is a result of fiction reading.
What have you learned from books?
*I must admit here I am a sucker for silly intellectual mysteries and that I am particularly fond of heroines with advanced degrees in seemingly obscure fields.