History. For Real: An evening with Erik Larson at the Appel Salon

Erik Larson - appel salon

“She was very good to me,” Erik Larson said in speaking about his character Martha in In the Garden of Beasts and the plethora of contemporary evidence she left for him in her journal writing. “She was also very good to many people,” he finished, and the audience chuckled knowingly.

Erik Larson interviewAt the Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon on a Monday evening, Linden MacIntyre, a journalist and bestselling author himself interviewed, interviewed bestselling author Erik Larson about his books and his writing. At one point he specifically asked about how Erik can take an event of non-fiction and tell a story without making it partially fiction as a result. Because how can you possibly know what people were doing at that precise moment or what the weather was like that day? It’s impossible. How could you know that man was pacing on that day at that time?  Erik Larson amusingly responded, “But I do know. He told me.”

This is how Erik Larson brings history to life, through the personal items people left behind and the detailed historical records that were kept.

I have yet to read one of Erik Larson’s bestsellers, all of which would be fascinating for a history graduate such as myself. Duty calls for many books, however, I do own and will be reading his book The Devil in the White City. I purchased it after my first trip to the illustrious Windy City. I fell in love with Chicago and its vibrant history, so who wouldn’t enjoy reading a book in which its past is brought back to life?

Not surprisingly, unlike most major bestsellers of that day such as The Hunger Games, Erik Larson’s appearance drew a mixed crowd of old and young. Although I was surprised how quickly older women could turn into young fan girls. I can’t really blame them — for an older gentleman, Erik Larson has aged quite well and has an Ernest Hemingway-esque look to him (Ironically, Erik claimed to be an admirer of the infamous author later that evening).

Truly enamored with his own work, it was a pleasure to listen to Erik Larson talk about his work, researching and writing history. It is quite the undertaking and an exciting one. History holds many secrets and most of these are often not taught in the school curriculum, as he pointed out. He didn’t learn half of what he knows now about the sinking of the Lusitania and the politics behind it since he published his most recently successful book Dead Wake.

Erik LarsonAfter the talk, Erik Larson graciously signed books for a very long line of fans. He was quite the gentleman, shaking my hand as I presented my copy of The Devil in the White City to be autographed.

I do wish I had had the chance to read one of his books before he arrived, however, his talk certainly inspired me to want to read more than just the one book I currently own.

Come back to Toronto soon, Mr. Erik Larson. After reading, I’m sure I’ll have a couple questions that the history books can’t answer.

If you missed Erik Larson’s visit to Ontario’s metropolitan centre then you can watch the Toronto Reference Library’s recording of the talk below. While lacking the in-person effect of his charismatic personality, it is certainly worth watching for the first time or reliving for a second.