I’ll admit it. I’m sort of obsessed with books. I love the feel of a book, the heft of it in my hand. Sitting down with a weighty tomb in my hand gives me a thrill. I love the anticipation of opening a book to its first page. What wonderful stories am I going to read? What new lands am I going to discover? What interesting characters are going to reveal themselves? What fascinating facts am I going to learn? The physical act of turning the pages heightens my curiosity. What’s coming next? I can’t wait. And a millisecond later, my eyes focus on the first word of the page and I’m off on my adventure. When I have to stop, slipping a bookmark between the pages marks my progress and triggers different emotions when I’m able to sit down to read again: Oh, good, I still have many more delicious pages before I get to the end. Or, darn, I’m going to get to the end much too soon.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading e-books, too, and I have a ton on my e-reader. They’re certainly more convenient than a physical book. They don’t take up any room on my shelves, and I don’t have to do a periodic purge to make more room for new acquisitions. I don’t miss lugging those purged books to the library book sale. And traveling with an e-reader is much more convenient than packing books. But despite the wonderful stories I’ve read on my e-reader, I miss the feel of a book in my hands.
But back to my obsession. I have some keepers — fiction that I may want to go back to and re-read. I also have signed copies of books that my friends have written. But most of the books on my shelves are non-fiction, in a word, research. I have books on writing that I return to for inspiration. I have books on the origins and evolution of the romance novel. Those help me figure out the roots of the genre. But my favorite books are history and sociology books, because I find so many interesting facts. And sometimes, a bit of information sets me off on an idea for a story. Let me give you some examples of what I’ve found.
In The History of Underclothes (C.Willett and Phillis Cunnington), I discovered that during the Regency period in England, some men wore stays (a corset) to define their waists. In the late 1820s, several designs were offered, like the Glasgow Stiffener and the Bath Corset. A man’s waist, it seems, was sexually attractive to the ladies at that time.
During the 1700s, and even into the early twentieth century, “laudable pus” in a wound was considered a good sign. Physicians thought it indicated that the injured tissue was separating from the healthy tissue, and so the symptoms of inflammation were subsiding. I learned this from Revolutionary Medicine: 1700-1800 by C. Keith Wilbur, M.D. Now we know that pus isn’t “laudable” at all.
From Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Mrs. Isabella Beeton (1861), I learned that a lady’s maid should brush tweed or woolen dresses all over, or remove the dust by beating the item with a handkerchief or thin cloth. Silk dresses should never be brushed, but rather rubbed with merino or some soft material of the same color as the dress. Summer dresses of light materials should merely be shaken. And of course, if the frock needs repair, it should be done “at once: ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’”
These are tidbits of information that I love to learn. I don’t get to drop them into conversation very often, but I find them fascinating. Besides, I can always use them as background in my stories. I’ll be looking into more of the books on my shelves and posting some other interesting tidbits in the future. If you have something that you’re curious about, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can find an answer.