Business Musings: Research, The Internet, and Dated Books
As of this writing (Saturday, March 10, 2018), I have a gigantic research library. I started it in the 1980s, and much of what I buy is impulse. In other words, I see a book and my creative brain says, Ooooooo, yes!, and I listen. I know that book in come in handy one day.
In 1986, I met Dean and we moved me from Wisconsin to Oregon. We drove across country in my Le Car, along with my futon, my computer, and my cat, Buglet. We shipped my books.
At that point, I had two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of books, fiction and nonfiction. Mostly I traded away my fiction, so 90% of those books were nonfiction.
After we settled in Eugene, I acquired more books, many of them designed to give me overviews of various topics I was interested in. When we moved to Lincoln City in the mid-1990s, we got to know one of the local book dealers, who found us a treasure trove of old library books and one man’s lifelong nonfiction collection of history and biography.
Add to that decades of my own purchases, and I suddenly had a research library bigger than some small town libraries. Many of the books were if I ever need them types of books, not the kind that made my subconscious excited about a possible project.
So, as I mentioned last week, I’m moving again. We’re selling our 5,000 square foot house and downsizing (kinda), with a place in Lincoln City that’s small, and a place in Las Vegas that’s about 2,000 square feet.
Because my health issues will keep me in Vegas more than I’ll be in Lincoln City, the research library will move with me. But I have to commit to the books—which ones make my creative brain excited and which ones are just cool? Which ones can be jettisoned as irrelevant and which ones can go to one of our three stores?
I’m sorting, sorting, sorting. Every time I take a break, I’m digging through dusty old books and brand-new purchases, putting them in the proper order so that they’ll go down in a moving van this time (because shipping would be prohibitive).
I’m finding fascinating things. Books that I really cared about because the information was impossible to find when I bought the book now go into the sell it pile. Most of them are mini-encyclopedias on a single city or a single topic; some are “important” quotes (which have no women or people of color quoted, because the books were published before 1985 and the curators didn’t think most people had anything important to say, apparently); and a few are just not interesting to me. I’ll never write a book on those topics, so bye-bye research volume.
The encyclopedias and compilations existed because when I started the library, the internet was not A Thing. Now, it’s easier to find that sort of thing online.
Although one part of my research library that I’m keeping are printouts, done years and years ago, after I chased down truly esoteric items on the internet. For example, for a Smokey Dalton book, I wanted to know what the daily TV sign-in was in 1970 for WMAQ in Chicago. I found it, after lots and lots and lots of searching, and printed up the information…in 2013. I have no idea if that site still exists. That’s three computers and a zillion bookmarks ago. But I have it in the paper library if I need it, and that stapled pile of paper will go with me to Las Vegas.
I’m getting rid of a different subset of books, however, ones I never thought I would get rid of. Some political analysis books from the 1980s and 1990s that are so wrong (in hindsight) they’re ridiculous. I have science books like that too, and again, I can find out how the thinking changed by searching the internet—faster and more conveniently.
I’m finding some gems, though. Things that I will never use, but someone might. My favorite is the one pictured above.
A History of The World War: An Authentic Narrative of The World’s Greatest War by Frances A. March, Ph.D., copyright 1919.
Yep, 1919. I love the title. Such optimism. The World War. Only one, because in theory, it was the war to end all wars. (That worked.) It’s a fascinating books, with tipped-in photographs. (If you’re interested, contact Pop Culture Collectables, not me.)
If I still had 5,000 square feet, I’d keep the book because it’s so unusual. If I were a historian specializing in WW1, I’d keep the book because it’s primary material, from someone who lived through the war.
But the book is just a curiosity now, and in my ruthless stage, I no longer have room for curiosities.
As I’ve been sorting, though, I’m watching times and tastes change (just in cover design alone—look at that one, above). I’m also realizing that some books truly are produce, particularly in nonfiction. The purpose of some of these books was to sway public opinion on topics that no one cares about any more.
Other books have so much misinformation, by modern standards, that they’re useless (see the science books, particularly books on physics). And some of the books are so atrociously offensive that I’m holding them with two fingers while moving them to their respective piles—particularly nostalgia books on “The Old South,” which I thought I had cleared out of the libraries we bought, but apparently I missed some. I don’t need nostalgia for the Confederacy and White Supremacy, thank you ever so much. Ick, pew, yuck.
The other thing I realized as I’m sorting through my books is that most of them are not only out of print in paper, they do not exist online either. A few (relatively speaking) were scanned in one of the many scan-paper-books projects, but most are simply not worth reviving, except for some researcher like me. I doubt I have the only copy, but I have one of the few copies.
These books are, for all intents and purposes, gone from the cultural zeitgeist. Some of them should be banished (like the Old South crap), but many of them have some important history or stories to tell. First-person accounts of World War II for example. I have six Ernie Pyle books, only one of which is available as an ebook from somewhere called Deluge House. (God knows what that is.) You can get a lot of biographies of Pyle online, as well as some incidents from his life molded into other stories (one about John Huston and Pyle, for example), but not the Pyle books themselves.
And who was Pyle? He was one of the best, if not the best, U.S. war correspondents. He died during the war, and I have no idea what condition his estate was in then or is in now. His books are incredibly readable and filled with period detail that can help writers make their fiction seem real. But even if I didn’t keep the Pyle books for research, I’d keep them because they’re so dang readable.
People complain about the piles and piles and piles of ebooks available online, about the crap that folks have to wade through to find “good” books, but as I’m digging through this library, I realize just how lucky we are.
As I moved some of the encyclopedia books to the sell it pile, I found sticky notes still attached to certain pages, so that I could easily find something again. I remember going through those books page by page, trying to confirm something I thought I knew or being convinced that someone had to care enough to put that information somewhere. (Usually not.)
Now, I can search the internet, and not only find something so esoteric as the TV channel morning sign-in for 1970 from one TV station in Chicago, I can listen to the sign-in too, because someone somewhere found a reel-to-reel tape of it and decided to put it all online.
It’s amazing how much the world of researching has changed in the past 25 years, and how beneficial it is to someone like me. I don’t necessarily want to do a deep dive into a topic like Chicago TV history. I want to Google whatever it is I’m looking for, something I want to add for authenticity or period detail to the book/story that I’m writing, and then I want to get back to creating the story itself.
It’s been a nice little visit to the past, nostalgic for me, but not in a good way. It’s amazing how many books I’m willing to part with now, books I clung to before the widespread availability of information, books I paid to ship to Oregon when I barely had two dimes to rub together.
And what’s really cool? Those books will continue to have another life. The stores, which remain physically in Lincoln City, will sell those books—mostly on that same internet that displaced them. And they’ll go to someone who cares about them as much as I care about the Ernie Pyle books.
We live in the future, but it’s normal now. It’s our present. It’s just really cool sometimes to realize how different the world was, as recently as my last cross-country move.
As you can tell, I’m a bit distracted at the moment. I’ll be back to blogging on current topics soon. But I’m organizing and uploading and moving and in transit right now. So, if you need something from me, please wait until April. Thanks!
“Business Musings: Research, The Internet, and Dated Books,” copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
In the late ’60s I visited Pyle’s house in Albuquerque. I think it was part of the city library system.
When you mentioned you where moving in last post, I thought about the effort moving your library (Dean’s and yours). I don’t have a library as big as yours, but every time I have moved, it’s been a problem, last time (a year and a half ago) the people we hired to move the big items (we were taking the furniture with us) were complaining: Another books box!
When the time comes to downsize, it’s going to be a problem, because I’m attached to my books and although a lot of them aren’t going to get read again, I’m not able to get rid of them, I even have my high school notes (what if I have to complement my retirement pay with private lessons as I was doing during university?), my parents’ school books (I’m Spanish, my mother’s history books where written during Franco’s dictatorship with the political agenda of that time, which makes them an interesting reading), I’m keeping my Enid Blyton books, and even now, that I’m reading almost everything in digital format, when I find a good (and heavy, and big) paper edition of a book I like, I buy it, so my library keeps growing, not so much as before, but it’s growing.
So you have my sympathy
I made a terrible mistake years ago, and gave my sister my Enid Blyton books. I still regret that, but she has a daughter and my boys didn’t read them. I want them back so I can read them again.
I have maybe a couple dozen nonfiction research books like that. I just got rid of several science books that I’ve had for years and have never been interested enough to read. I bought them because I thought they might be useful research for certain sci-fi stories. But then I realized that even if I did write sci-fi related to those topics, I don’t care enough about the hard science of it to do much research. The readers who want their sci-fi to be rigorously accurate aren’t really my audience and would probably not be satisfied with my attempts no matter how much time I put into the research, because hard science just doesn’t like to work with my brain. My approach to sci-fi is a bit more Star Wars-y than hard sci-fi-y. Even when it comes to historical trivia like your radio example, my thinking would be, “If no one else remembers, why should it matter what I write it as? Who’s going to care? And even if someone does remember, that’s a really small number of people, and most of them still probably won’t care because that’s not what the book is about.” But I also don’t write much historical fiction because of the research. *shrug*
And that was fun for me. Also, my muse demands accuracy on historical stuff.
Research is fun for me as well. I love how you describe your muse as demanding historical accuracy. Yes! my muse demands accuracy for physical realities, even though I write fantasy.
Which is why I was recently looking at a lot of videos by living history buffs and re-enactors who regularly wear plate armor. My protagonist wears it, so I needed to know all about it. 😉
For a personal fantasy, not for any writing project, I hunted down the maximum size of HDD available on the consumer market in 1996.
It was…smaller… than I remembered.
It also took a lot longer to find hard numbers for such a key piece of computer related trivia on the internet. I was wishing I had a stack of old Computer Shopper catalogs so I could just pull the right year and look.
As far as I know, there is no Wikipedia article on single consumer grade hard drive capacities by year, hard drive price points by year, processor speeds, in FLOPS, by year, memory prices by year, or any of that other stuff, yet.
And again, that was for a daydream. Not writing. No need to keep someone else from falling out of their suspension of disbelief over a flaw in the details.
So I understand and emphasize with your need for, and to keep, as much of your research library as you can manage.
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When searching for ebooks, never fail to go to archive.org and search for the title or the author there.
Not only do they have the results of many scanning projects beyond Google’s, they have uploads of scans by individuals.
It can be very useful because they have some scans of books which are in copyright. Archive.org’s policy appears to be “We’ll take any upload, and we’ll remove it if a copyright holder complains.” Since many publishers are long-closed, and many authors descendants don’t even know that they have rights to a literary estate, and even if they do, they don’t know to check archive.org for copies, many post 1923 books are on archive.org that are technically not public domain
Technically this is probably piracy, but it’s super useful for books that are copyright abandoned, since Congress seem to refuse to address the issue. .
It appears that the Internet Archive also allows users to borrow many of the digitized books they have in their collection. For instance, I could borrow _Here is Your War_ by Ernie Pyle (provided by Daisy Books for the Print Disabled). I’m not hurrying to do that, because my local library has two Ernie Pyle books in its collection, so I’ll be starting with those.
When I saw that photo of the World War I book, I said, “I’ve got that book, too!” But I was wrong: the one I have is called _The Nations at War: A Current HIstory_ by Willis John Abbott and Staff. It belonged to my great-grandparents and I’m keeping it for when I write my World War I novel. Of course, at my age (I’m older than you are, Kris), I’ll likely not live to do any such thing. But I can dream.
Then there’s my attachment to the shelves full of professional books of the kind David Raines describes. It wasn’t my choice to stop practicing that profession, and to get rid of the books would be like admitting I’ll never get into it again. I’m not ready yet to face that death.
Which just goes to show how books can carry meaning far beyond what is communicated on the page.
In case anyone is interested, _History of the World War_ is available on Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18993 – although they don’t have a cover image. In contrast, books published during WWII may still be in copyright, and none of Ernie Pyle’s books appear to be on Project Gutenberg. The length of copyright is combining unfavorably with the Internet in terms of preserving these cultural items.
I am a big fan of old books (especially encyclopedias or equivalent) for training mindset. When I bought my house one of the hidden treasures I found was a sort of mini-encylopedia, 4 volumes, from the early 1900’s. In addition to some pressed flowers, it was a sort of snapshot of what people of that time found important. A preacher I had never heard of rated a full page and a half of biography, while this young punk in the British Naval office, name of Churchill, got a scant paragraph. Plus the contemporary understanding of scientific principles, technology, and even countries that no longer exist.
A pet peeve of mine is contemporary concepts and topics in historical fiction, and books like that help focus the writer’s mind to “get in character”. Plus the things they had to deal with everyday that we have forgotten can be useful plot points! (Can’t leave the horses standing in cold weather after being used for a drive or ride, so Polly Protagonist dismounts to walk them and thus is delayed in making a quick escape when the wolfpack suddenly appears.)
We share the same pet peeve! It’s gotten so bad that I’ve recently quit reading a historical romance author whom I used to enjoy (as in, I pre-ordered every book) because every single book she releases now has contemporary attitudes with no justification (i.e., why do these characters believe this way) nor consequences (i.e., social shunning or worse, depending on time/location).
Almost as jarring to me are contemporary phrasings or words that no one in that period would use. “Are you okay?” or “The thing is…” or similar.
I may have to scour my local used bookstore for good historical fiction, as well as resources like those Kris discusses here.
I’d love to know just how many books you have. In our 2,000-s.f. home we have about 8,000 books, most of them in the finished basement lining the shelves in bookcases I built. We had a lot more fiction hanging around, particularly fantasy and sci-fi we bought during the ’70s and on. We got rid of them when we realized we were not going to reread them. That still left a dozen cases with fiction that we will reread, or were too interesting to give away.
Oh, my. In my personal library? Remember, I own three stores filled with books and have even more in a warehouse, ready for sale. So…oh, I don’t want to think about it!
I feel so much better about having two rooms for nonfiction libraries (one technical/medical, one historical/political/occult/everything else)! 😉
One of my very favorite nonfiction books is “The Story of Detroit” from 190-something, covering the first two hundred years of the city’s history. Yeah, it’s dated; but it’s also a hundred years closer to the founding than we are now, and it’s chock full of early twentieth-century attitudes and voice. You learn about 1701 and 1901 simultaneously. And it’s not online.
But the CRC references? The encyclopedias? All that reference stuff? Gone.
I still can’t get rid of the 1933 Oxford English Dictionary, though. Every so often I have to look up a word, and find myself perusing it for an hour going “whoah… wow… what?” and a bunch of other words beginning in W. And every time I see a 1911 Britannica in an antique shop I get covetous.
Point? Uh… books are meant to be cool? Yeah, let’s go with that.
I have retired but I still keep my accounting and computing books from my university days, just in case. I still have lots of SF&F books from 30-40 years ago, even though SF&F has changed a lot from way back then. And I kept my western collection just in case I decide to write in that genre.
However, I did toss a lot of fiction and nonfiction when I downsized to my current home, so I do understand how easy it is to let go of some books and how hard for others. I wish you a safe move and a relaxing time unpacking and sorting your new office.
“He died during the war, and I have no idea what condition his estate was in then or is in now”
Death plus 70, right? Scan them and put them somewhere.
Take care. Best wishes with all that movement
In my copious spare time.
His copyrights might be owned by the corporations he wrote for. Too much research for me!
Not knocking your Google-Fu, but all of the Pyle books from the period of the war are available on line.
** Brave Men – 1944 – Henry Holt and Co. – ebook edition 2016 Michael O’Mara Books Limited – in Google Books – at archive.org
** Here is Your War – 1943 – H. Holt – 2004 Univeersity of Nebraska Press – in Google Books – at archive.org
** Last Chapter – 1945 – H Holt – ebook 2015 Lucknow Books via Amazon Digital – In Google Books – at archive.org
** Ernie Pyle in England – 1945 – H Holt – 2012 Literary Licensing LLC – ebook 2014 Uncommon Valor Press via Amazon Digital – at archive.org
** Home Country – 1947 – William Sloane – in Google Books – scanned edition available at archive.org via Internet Archive Book Drive
** Letters from a Leprosy Colony – 1945 – American Mission to Lepers – at archive.org via Columbia University digitizing project
More recent compilations of topically grouped columns don’t (yet) have ebooks.
** On a Wing and a Prayer: The Aviation columns of Ernie Pyle – 1995 – Friends of Ernie Pyle – no ebook I can find.
** Ernie’s America : the best of Ernie Pyle’s 1930s travel dispatches – 1980 – Vintage Books – 1989 Random House – No ebook
** At Home with Ernie Pyle – 2016 Indiana University Press – no ebook
The School of Journalism at Indiana University is housed in Ernie Pyle Hall.
(I still have several EP books from the 1940’s that are family heirlooms. Ernie Pyle in England was one I read as a kid and it was an eye-opener into what living during the Blitz was really like.)
Are you keeping any of the contemporary events/history books from the 1960s/1970s for research use in the Smokey Dalton series, to get that sense of “purpose of some of these books … to sway public opinion on topics that no one cares about any more”? Or is that something you can find online these days, too?
Years ago, before I forcibly downsized my own library, I had picked up a late 1950s Social Studies textbook for a middle-grader and saw what they were teaching about other countries and cultures back then. I never figured out how to use that information in any constructive way, but it has informed my approach to any novels I read that are set in the 50s and 60s. Such things are available in bits and pieces on the internet, but I have to wonder how much is getting lost.
I’m keeping most of those 1960s & 1970s books, JM, but not books from other time periods. Those books were curiosities I no longer need to keep.
Helpful perspective for me. I’m retired but still working until June. Then I’ll move, to Eugene. And I’ll be sorting my books, because many of them are professional in a profession I’ll no longer practice. So which give me energy, even when I’m outside the profession, and which weigh me down? That’s my adaptation of your paradigm. Thanks.