History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

19 May 2008

My Grail of Research Books

It’s embarrassing for a Hoyden to admit, but I don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of history that so many of my sister Hoydens display. My memory is worse than it’s ever been, and I find myself turning to research books more and more to verify the most common facts of the Regency.

At least once a month for the past half a year, I’ve walked down to San Francisco’s lovely new Main Library, taken the elevator to the third floor, circled the central stairs to the Paging Desk, and held my breath while the helpful staff went to retrieve the city library system’s sole copy of The Regency Companion, a wonderful scholarly research book by Sharon Laudermilk.

I waited on pins and needles for the librarian to come back from the locked shelves housing the books marked “For In-Library Use Only.” What if this was the week that someone had stolen the book? This rare scholarly book is worth over $200 on the open market. It’s a common target for theft, and often libraries have the “loss price” set at the $35.00 cover price from when the book was published in 1989.

I was lucky last month, as always. But eventually I got tired of the nervous tension. I decided to buy (gasp) a copy of my very own. Hey, it’s less than the price of an Hermes scarf, and tax deductible (which fashion accessories are not).

Looking for a copy for sale on the Internet wasn’t daunting. As I scanned the lists of copies for sale, I became troubled by how many sellers noted “Library markings,” “Library pocket on cover page,” or similar comments. Was anyone selling a legitimate copy of this book?

I understand the temptation to boost a reference book. They’re expensive, they appear to be infrequently used, and … well, there’s really no justification. In fact, there must be a special place in hell for people who steal library books. No one has a right to steal the property of another, particularly when the book is serving the needs of the whole community.

I did eventually find a seller who assured me that the book was stamped “Discarded from the Podunk County Library”, and offered me a discounted price. So I went ahead and bought it. The book is in wonderful condition. It looks fantastic in my china cabinet (Yes, I keep books in it instead of china…but this particular book will probably live in my Safe Deposit box when I’m out of town). I’m fortunate to have a copy of my own, and I can sleep comfortably knowing that a library system in Pennsyltuckey wasn’t ripped off.

Even better, I’ll never have to feel the trepidation of walking up to the Paging Desk and waiting to hear, “Oh, that book’s missing.”

9 Comments:

Blogger doglady said...

Congratulations, Doreen, on achieving that holiest of Holy Grails! I too am contemplating the idea of selling a kidney and obtaining a copy of The Regency Companion. I tried to sneak it onto my Amazon list when my brothers asked what I wanted for Christmas / birthday (Dec.29)Needless to say the shouts of "Two hundred bucks for one book! Are you crazy?" reached me loud and clear from 80 miles away.

I despise people who steal library books! I have lived in some poor communities where the public library was the only place the children in the area had to obtain books. My late dh and I donated books to these libraries as often as we could.

The school library was my favorite place in the world when I was growing up.

When I was in grad school, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians in 20 plus volumes was always in demand. And of course the volume I needed at any given time was never in! I walked into one of those great old used book warehouses in New Orleans (pre Katrina) about 20 years ago and there it was - a complete set of Grove's! My dear dh didn't hesitate. He handed over the credit card and asked the salesperson for a box. That set of books has traveled all over with me!

6:54 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Congrats from me too, Doreen, and you can expect to find me on your doorstep, just to check out a detail or too.

And also (disclosure here) because I love Doreen's doorstep... which opens out onto one of those sweet, funky, magical little tree-line urban streets, out of the flow of car traffic but somehow in walking distance from the main library and just about everything in the city.

Here's to civility, urbanity, respect for the public library system, and all those oft-neglected virtues.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Doreen DeSalvo said...

Thanks for the congrats! My non-writer friends don't really "get" the impulse to have a little research library at home, especially when I'm so close to the Main library.

Doglady, I've gotten a lot of use out of Grove's, too. It's funny how many of the reviews of it complain about the cost, but it is hands down the most comprehensive music resource out there. The SFPL also has a set "for library use only" and I have made good use of it while researching a composer hero.

I've become a big supporter of the public library now that I am "decluttering" more and more. I have somewhere around 100 books in my house right now, which is approximately a 90% reduction from where I used to be. I feel a lot lighter without them, even though I ocassionally succumb to special books like The Regency Companion.

Pam, you are welcome on my doorstep anytime! Yours is pretty sweet, too -- I am still in envy of your backyard, and hope you got a lot of use of it during the heatwave a few days ago.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Okay, I have to ask (and thus reveal my ignorance)...Doreen, can you give me a hint about the contents of the The Regency Compansion?

I have no problem with the price tag! I'd come closer to spending $200 on a book than I would a pair of shoes...sad, but true!

9:34 PM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

I really miss being attached to a university library-- people might hog books in their carrels, but they seldom stole them (and you could usually track them down and guilt them into sharing). Now that I don't have that right there anymore, I spend waaaay too much on research books. There are a few right now that I'm coveting madly-- including a full set of the Dictionary of National Biography. Oh well. One of these days.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I have lots of attachments to university libraries -- some allow "community" memberships; San Francisco State University (which has a remarkably nice collection of Regency/Romantic era books) gives library privileges to class auditors (which my husband and I are).

And (attention California writers who'll be attending RWA National this summer) the San Francisco Public Library issues cards to California residents -- and with a card you get online access to the OED. Find out more here.

My next hoyden project: learning how to use online databases like JSTOR.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Doreen DeSalvo said...

The SFPL has a lot of great resources online, including a wide range of foreign language study programs like Rosetta Stone and Pimsler..and as Pam mentioned, the online OED is fabulous.

Kathrynn, The Regency Companion is a well-written description of various facets of life during the Regency -- entertainments, housekeeping, country parties, etc. etc. It's an engaging book and as far as I know everything in it is accurate, which is rare with books that prport to be about the Regency but often have a lot of Victorian stuff mixed in. There is a "timeline of the Regency" in an appendix that's very handy for writers.

As I've said before, the information in the book is available elsewhere, but it's not available in one easy book like The Regency Companion.

12:26 PM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

Congratulations on your purchase! I know the feeling of getting one's hands on a VHTF, but great resource. *g*

My library has several copies of this book, and only one has gone missing. I read this back when I thought I wanted to write Regencies, and still think it's an excellent, excellent resource (now if someone would write a book about the Edwardian era in that manner...)

3:59 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Congratulations Doreen. I bought this book years ago when I first thought I would write Regency historicals. I'm glad that I held on to it. The NYPL here in New York has some great resources, particularly at the Main branch (they actually have a Regency collection) and at the Performing Arts library, but often I find that they have only one copy of a book and its reference! I spend way too much on research books but there's something to be said for being able to refer to something easily instead of having to schlep to the library.

5:11 AM  

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