History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

10 March 2008


All of us have a To Be Read pile, but today I am curious about your I Am Reading stack.

The other element that intrigues me as I write this is HOW you read, not CAN you read but the process you use to read a book. It has come to my attention that there are a dozen different ways to read and I want to know how you do it.

Me first. In the last week I have picked up a dozen or so books.

From the library: Great Figures of Mythology which I perused, enjoyed and ordered from Amazon, thinking I could use it to fill in that huge gap in my education. Jewels of the Tsars (no surprise there) which I read carefully, loved and plan to buy eventually. I happened across these in the “Q” section where I went to find the Oxford Companion to Food which I hoped to use for research. I looked at the index and went no further than that.

Second Hand Bookstore: Our Lady of the Lost and Found which was recommended by several friends from church. Loved the title and have read a few pages and might go back to it eventually, but the opening was not as intriguing as the title.

Purchased: Remember Me? Sophie Kinsella’s latest. I enjoy her work though I have never found one I liked better than the Confessions of a Shopaholic. The first chapter of COS – the arrival and opening of her credit card bill – is one of my all time favorite bits of chic lit. The cover of Remember Me? is a great escape from the generally nasty March weather. I read the first few pages, thought the set-up was a little slow but will get back to it after this pesky April 15th deadline for my next book.

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb. My brother nags me about this book all the time. He thinks it and Taleb’s Black Swan are must reads. That works only if you love non-fiction. I don’t at least not when I am looking for an escape which is generally what reading is for me. Still the concept is fascinating. The back cover says “Fooled by Randmness is an irreverent….exploration of one of the least understood forces in all of our lives” aka luck. You could not prove this by me as I am not beyond the intro. But it is still on my IAR pile.

What Jesus Meant by Gary Wells. I love this book even though it is taking me months to read it (and it’s only 142 pages long.) The author has the most unique, and for me, honest assessment of Jesus that I have read in a long time. For example: He asks if we really do aspire to do what Jesus did (as in What Would Jesus Do): “Would we praise a twelve-year-old who ran away from his parents in a big city without telling them he is staying behind.” “If we would could cast out devils would we sent thme intoa herd of pigs destroying two thousand animals"([and someone’s livelihood) . This book is on target in terms of tradition but unique in his interpretation of the New Testament. Will definitely read every word and look for his other books.

Strangers in Death by JD Robb. I am a huge Robb fan. Cannot get enough of Eve Dallas and Roarke and the people that complicate their lives. I swear I know these people better than I know my neighbors. I inhaled this in three days and it only took that long because of that pesky April 15 deadline.

Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade. This book explores the history of humanity. One of my other brothers recommended it when I expressed surprise that the story of man begins about 5 million years ago when “ape-like creatures at the head of the human line of descent split from those at the head of the chimpanzee line of descent.” That long ago? Really? (Apparently another big gap in my education) The book looks good but I have not moved beyond the cover flap and general discussion of it with my brother. Once again I run into the "dislike of non-fiction factor."

The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan. I really wanted to do a piece on the Little Ice Age (1300 to 1850) for today’s blog but science is the biggest gap of all in my education and whenever I approach it I am intimidated. Despite the fact that this book is also non-fiction I have read most of it, and am fascinated. If you are interested and willing to accept a complete novice approach I will write about it next time…fascinating study on that now familiar theme of how weather influences history.

So often I tell people that “I don’t read much.” That is not true at all. You would think I’d know myself better than that. I may not read WHOLE books but based on the above one week’s worth of books considered, read, rejected and saved, I read more than I thought I did.

What is interesting is that while none of the above are actual research they have added interesting elements to my WIP ( the one with the pesky April 15 deadline.)

How about you? Tell us what you have read in the last week or month. How do you decide what to read. And how do you read?


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Fascinating post Mary. I just picked up a copy of Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us from the Strand after reading an excerpt in the April issue of Vanity Fair. I have at my fingertips The Writer's Guide to to Everday Life in the 1800's for research, plus several fashion books whose names escape me right now that I took out of the library. I'm also in the middle of re-reading Eleanor Herman's Sex Lives of Queens, Elizabeth about the life of Elizabeth Chudleigh who was married bigamously to both the Duke of Kingston and the Earl of Bristol. I just finished Michelle Radford (Michelle Cunnah's) first YA, Almost Fabulous and I have Moby Clique by Cara Lockwood and How to Salsa in a Sari that I just bought from Barnes and Noble (damn that membership card!). Also my friend Anton Strout's first book Dead Like Me. I tend to dip into my research books whenever I need to look something up. I'm always reading various works of fiction and non-fiction at the same time depending on my mood and what day it is, whether it's hardcover or paperback.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Mostly I’ve been reading/studying period cook books, LOL!

I also started The Whole Duty of a Woman: or, an infallible Guide to the Fair Sex (1737). It’s a hoot. I love getting a peek at what people (clearly male people!) thought about women, morals, mores, and behavior. I found it on Google Books when I was doing a bit of recipe research.

And I bought Sabrina Jeffries’ new book Let Sleeping Rogues Lie, but haven’t had a chance to crack it open yet . . .

I’m swamped with sewing for my upcoming Pirate even next month. Every spare moment is devoted to sewing right now.

Generally I have at one fiction book and one non-fiction book going at the same time, but that’s it. I’m not one of those people who has a purse book, a bedside table book, a car book, a couch book, etc.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

That's so interesting, Mary! I read fiction and non-fiction very differently. I can read multiple non-fiction books, which I usually read in small pieces over long periods of time (or just dip into and out of for research purposes), but I can only read one novel at a time. And I get very cranky when I'm between novels, so by the time I'm finishing one, I'm already usually thinking about which I'm going to read next. One novel will usually last me about two days, reading early in the morning, late at night, and on public transportation. My little sister and I have an ongoing debate about this, since she is very adamant that all novels must be read in one sitting, which means she usually needs to clear out a whole afternoon for a new book and can go for long periods between books.

Right now, I'm reading "White Moghuls" bit by bit as my non-fiction, and "A Princess Remembers: the Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur" as my real book of the day (okay, so it's not strictly fiction, but it reads like a first person novel....). And after that, maybe "Jane Eyre"-- I sense a Gothic mood coming on!

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating ladies -- Kalen I am not at all surprised that you have so little reading time these days. Keep those recipes coming!

Elizabeth, "books by friends" tend to be in my TBR pile, especially if they are in the same period. I wait until I am done with a book before I read anything near the Regency. But I do OWN them so that is a step toward royalty heaven for fellow authors.

Lauren, since there is NO public transpo where I live I listen to audio books while I "travel" -- it makes up about 50% of my reading. My only true audio failure was trying to listen to Chaucers Tales -- LOL -- could not translate it AND drive at the same time!

12:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I loved White Moghuls! Candice Hern pointed it out to me and I grabbed a copy when I was in England last. It was really fascinating to see how the idea of being “pure blood” became more and more important during the 19th century (plenty of mixed-race people being accepted by society during the 18th century).

12:57 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I read bits and pieces of a lot of nonfiction for my research -- sometimes a whole book, depending on whether I need it for the era, biography, or background details.

And like Lauren, I get a lot of reading done on public transportation (or the treadmill) because those aren't good venues for the research reading I need to do. Right now I have a stack of books on the era and area pertaining to the proposal I'm crafting, which I keep turning to as I write my sample chapters. Then I picked up one of Suze Orman's books that someone had left in our apartment building's downstairs "library" because I heard her speak at the NJ Governor's Conference on Women last Wednesday afternoon.

I'm also still reading "The Tea Rose," by Jennifer Donnelly, which I started a few weeks ago, but haven't had long stretches of free time to devote to it, since things like my career keep cropping up.

And I just finished an exciting ms. by one of our very own hoydens, Ms. Rosenthal, for the purposes of blurbing it. Another ms. is in the mail from my friend/contemp. novel colleague Saralee Rosenberg (for the same purpose), so that will go on my TBR Right Away pile!

I also have a few books which I began some time ago, but haven't been able to finish. I'd prefer not to mention them because they just weren't galvanizing enough for me to finish come hell or high water; they're on the "I'll get to them eventually" pile. But since it's taken me since 2002 when it was published to get to "The Tea Rose," my hopes are not high for completing these B-listers in the near future.

I also still have a pile of novels I acquired from my goody bag and from correctly knowing the year Magna Carta was signed during the after-dinner parlor game the organizers played with us at the Historical Novel Society convention last spring. Who knows when I'll get around to them?

1:45 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I am so grateful for that blurb, Ms. Elyot (which, as you know, contains a word I'd always hoped someone would use to describe my fiction -- no, it's not "hot," though I don't mind that one).

One of the reasons I like writing historical fiction is that it forces me to read non-fiction. But in truth, even the non-fiction I read is often the history of literary fiction. These days I'm very excited by a spectacularly smart and informative book called Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England, by Sharon Marcus (one of My Son the Victorianist's wonderful professors). I haven't gotten very far yet, but from what I've gotten thus far, Marcus bids fair to open doors and windows of understanding, knock away cobwebs, move old mental furniture around...

2:51 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I also still have a pile of novels I acquired from my goody bag and from correctly knowing the year Magna Carta was signed during the after-dinner parlor game the organizers played with us at the Historical Novel Society convention last spring. Who knows when I'll get around to them?

I haven't had a chance to read any of the YA historical fiction I won at the same conference for knowing that Almanzo Wilder's hometown was Malone, NY yet, though some of them look intriguing.

I generally have two books going at any given time. One is a research book directly relevant to my WIP (currently WELLINGTON IN INDIA, by Jac Weller), and the other is anything else that piques my interest, fiction or nonfiction (currently PINK THINK, by Lynn Peril, nonfiction on advice guides for women and advertising for women ~1940-1970). I read the research book on my bus commute to and from work, the other whenever else I can squeeze in reading time.

What I read when is largely dictated by my library holds list. I have a habit of requesting anything and everything that piques my interest, and then being overwhelmed when seven books arrive at once. Currently I have 15 books out, and I already have 5 waiting for me to pick up Thursday on my weekly library run. I guess it's my addiction! I won't have time to read them all--that's a given. If a book doesn't hook me in the first chapter, that's it. There are too many other books awaiting their turn, between my Library Problem and the 70-80 books I own but haven't yet found time to open.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

Oooh, Susan, we might have concurrent WIP's! (Well, mine is a W-almost-IP, since it's the book after the book I'm currently finishing). The WAIP is going to be set in India in 1804, so I just ordered "Wellington in India" last week. How is it?

Kalen, I couldn't agree more about "White Moghuls"! Reading about the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century in India makes such a contrast to the far more familiar world of the Victorian Raj-- it's so easy to improperly read later attitudes backwards. One of the things that struck me the most was that for a time there were fewer restrictions for those of Anglo-Indian descent in England than there were in India after all those 1780's laws passed by Cornwallis forbidding the Anglo-Indians roles in government.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Oooh, Susan, we might have concurrent WIP's! (Well, mine is a W-almost-IP, since it's the book after the book I'm currently finishing). The WAIP is going to be set in India in 1804, so I just ordered "Wellington in India" last week. How is it?

Not quite concurrent! My WIP is an alternative history that starts right after the Wellesley brothers get home from India in 1805, so I need to know what they were doing immediately beforehand. Anyway, I'll be looking forward to your WAIP. I want to try my hand at an Indian setting someday.

WELLINGTON IN INDIA is a useful source, though I think it helps me that I've read several general biographies of Wellington plus all the Sharpe prequels covering Seringapatam, Assaye, etc.--otherwise I might find it dry in spots.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Just what I hoped -- that we would have some books in common. Thanks for sharing everyone. I was gone this afternoon and have just caught up.

Will put White Moghuls on my "take a look at" list. Susan, I have the same inter library loan addiction. We have a great library in our small town and the librarians will occasionally try to guess what kind of story I am researching based on what I request. Often, like your list, they are just books that caught my attention

8:09 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I'm excited to read your India book. Lauren, and your Wellesley book with the India backstory, Susan! My mom and I wrote a book with an Anglo-Indian mixed race hero. The book took place in the Peninsula and England, but the India research for his backstory was fascinating.

I'm usually reading one fiction book and dipping into various nonfiction books for research. I just finished a fabulous book called "The Seduction of the Crimson Rose" (I love Lauren's series and this is my favorite so far), and I'm starting an ARC for a quote. I tend to snatch my reading time in bits and pieces--on the stairclimber, before bed, with morning coffee. Lauren, I can't believe your sister always reads books in one sitting. I read way too slowly for that!

10:39 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Taking notes of some of these great research books. I am accumulating a library bit by bit for my Regency research. Currently reading THE ENGLISH GENTLEMAN : The Rise and Fall of and Ideal by Philip Mason.

Just returned from my weakly pilgrimage to The Book Basket to indulge in my addiction - BOOKS! I call Tammy, the owner, my drug dealer! So, got Sabrina Jeffries's Let Sleeping Rogues Lie - Sophia Nash's The Kiss - Collen Gleason's The Bleeding Dusk - Michele Young's No Regrets - Debra Mullins The Night Before the Wedding - and Linda Berdoll's Darcy and Elizabeth. Just finished McCullough's John Adams. And in my spare time I write! LOL

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have piles of books around the house and more spilling out of my bookcases, but still I can't stop myself from browsing anytime I see a bookstore. I'm completely, hopelessly addicted. I usually buy new books from my favorite authors first and I also like finding debut authors. I also go through phases with books I like - for the past eight months i've been reading almost nothing but regency romance, and I've suddenly turned a corner and am now chest high in paranormals. I also collect reference books on history and mythology, but I don't often sit down to actually read them.

12:10 PM  

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