Old, Outdated, Antique & Juicy


137_3778 - CopyLately we've had a lingering flu in
our house, with one or another of us requiring tea, soup, quilts and endless
tissues, tucked in with comfort reads (or doses of mindless tv) in between long
naps. Despite my fluey state, I have research to do and progress to make,
though I haven't had much energy for library research or drilling down through online sources. So I went to my bookshelves to find something to
further the current project — and reacquainted myself with the sort
of research that I love most: browsing and wool-gathering among old books.
The older the better — the more outdated the source, the more biased,
opinionated and wordy the historian, the more fanciful and unreliable and even ludicrous the
history, the happier I am. 


OldbooksI spent years in academia, where the
oldest sources are revered alongside the newest, but when every statement
needs to be backed up by proof, not to mention exhaustively footnoted, the oldest sources aren't always the best. A
gossipy old Victorian history can be an unreliable and risky source for an
academic, but for a fiction writer, that same overblown tome could be a gold mine. I've
found more juicy tidbits of facts and ideas between tattered covers than shiny
new covers among historical sources.

Over the years I've collected quite
a number of antique and old books for historical research, especially of the Scottish and
medieval persuasion. I love these books — the feel and smell of them, the wear and tear and imagined history of others who have held them, the look of them on the shelves, While I will delve
into everything and anything when I'm in a voracious research mode, it's
often the oldest books, rather than the newest, on the subject at hand that
yield the most interesting and useful information and inspiration.


BookshelvesThe house is full of books and bookcases, but none more dear to me than the bookshelves crammed with old and antique books — rows and rows of lovely tattered copies with embossed,
gilded, threadbare or faded spines. Some of the pages are so delicate, foxed
and gone golden over the years, that the pages must be treated with care. But
oh what wonderful stuff is in those old pages.

When I’m researching a new topic for
a novel, I go to three types of sources – children’s books (the best and
fastest way to glean an overview, especially on a topic new to me); the latest
and most up-to-date work on a subject such as medieval pilgrim routes, for
example; and the oldest, most crumbled, obscure, outdated books I can find. Whether on my own bookshelves or in the dustiest sections of a university library, those books are the closest it gets, sometimes, to the historical source.

Abbotsford-libraryIf I’m writing about 19th
century characters, what better resource than a book the
characters might have had on their own shelves – Sir Walter Scott, with his sometimes
wildly inaccurate history, is a direct Regency source, and his juicy taste for
historical trivia was unparalleled (if untrustworthy). His library at Abbotsford (shown here) is paradise (I know, because I've been dragged out of there more than once by friends).

I love the gossipy, sentimental, dramatic Victorians, too, like Lang and Skene and others, whose histories are part fact and part fancy. Going further back, there's the yummy biases of late medieval historical chroniclers like Froissart,
Holinshed, and even earlier. Their slants, prejudices and flat-out fibs are just the thing for understanding
history from a historical perspective rather than a modern one. Historical fiction does not always require absolute accuracy – authenticity is more crucial to writing a readable, enjoyable novel. And what's more enjoyable than researching quaint and sometimes downright wacky old histories?  

220px-William_Forbes_SkeneIf I’m writing about Victorians who
are interested in archaeology and old myths, why go to current archaeological
and mythology sources? Head straight for W. F. Skene, that old Victorian intellectual lion, that armchair
Indiana Jones, whose work on ancient Wales, the Matter of Britain and of course the Celts is still rock solid
today, and still radical in aspects. His fascination and immersion with ancient British cultures reflected the
interests of his own society in the hidden, the mysterious, the deliciously mystical
and enchanted, and his work was a likely inspiration for Tolkein's academic and literary "story soup."

Fairies decoJust now I’m looking into fairy lore
and Celtic myths again, something I often draw on for my stories. Try
researching fairy lore these days – now there’s a glutted and overwhelming research
field. With such a plethora of fairy sources now available, where does one even
begin, let alone figure out what’s reliable core mythology and what’s been invented
since (and therefore not to be touched with a ten-foot wand by another fiction
writer)? Going back to the oldest studies I can find, ah, then things make much
more sense. Here are the beginnings, the origins, the best core versions of the
wonderful, lyrical, magical stories that my own fictional characters might have
known.


Blue-fairy-bookAnd what a great list of antique
fairy sources there are – either as tattered old bookshop finds on my own
shelves, or in reprint form (and many of them are available dirt cheap and even
free in e-book, a handy source unless you are addicted to turning old pages, as I am). There’s Thomas Keightly’s Fairy Mythology, Evans-Wentz’s
Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, W. B. Yeats’ own fascination with fairies and
Celtic ; stories, myths and superstitions collected by Lady Gregory and Lady
Wilde; and Andrew Lang, a respected Victorian academic whose red, blue, green,
orange, purple, pink fairy tale collections rank right up there with the Grimms.

Bookshelves2So when I’ve got real research to
do, and a genuine understanding to develop of some area of history, I go for the oldest books I can find – the books in the worst shape, the most outdated writers
with often questionable intentions, unreliable accuracy, personal agendas or endearing
academic naivete – what great, unique sources for a fiction writer looking for
authentic, delicious sources and inspirations for a new story.

Do you also have an obsession for old books, the older the better? Are your bookshelves sagging with beloved, tattered, faded and unique volumes?  Do you favor a modern fairy book, an antique fairy book, a free e-book fairy book (or no fairy book at all!)?  

If you'd like a copy of the Wenches' latest, our anthology Mischief and Mistletoe, leave a comment and we'll toss your name in the hat!

Susan

SusanKing_TheAngelKnight (6)p.s. Speaking of old books – ahem – the e-book releases of my backlist continue to grow. Currently Laird of the Wind (now a bestseller on Amazon!) and Angel Knight are available for .99 cents!  Grab them before the price goes up…and happy reading! 

 

 

 

55 thoughts on “Old, Outdated, Antique & Juicy”

  1. I also adore old worn books I have a few of my own and they are the most treasured out of a very large and varied collection. I loved your post and I am getting a real yen to have a peek at those fairy books!

    Reply
  2. I also adore old worn books I have a few of my own and they are the most treasured out of a very large and varied collection. I loved your post and I am getting a real yen to have a peek at those fairy books!

    Reply
  3. I also adore old worn books I have a few of my own and they are the most treasured out of a very large and varied collection. I loved your post and I am getting a real yen to have a peek at those fairy books!

    Reply
  4. I also adore old worn books I have a few of my own and they are the most treasured out of a very large and varied collection. I loved your post and I am getting a real yen to have a peek at those fairy books!

    Reply
  5. I also adore old worn books I have a few of my own and they are the most treasured out of a very large and varied collection. I loved your post and I am getting a real yen to have a peek at those fairy books!

    Reply
  6. I’m addicted to all the books. Reference books, religion, astrology, history books I love old hard bounds, but the Gutenberg Project and a 32GB sim card allow me to horde e-copies like a dragon. Adore the cover of the blue fairy book.

    Reply
  7. I’m addicted to all the books. Reference books, religion, astrology, history books I love old hard bounds, but the Gutenberg Project and a 32GB sim card allow me to horde e-copies like a dragon. Adore the cover of the blue fairy book.

    Reply
  8. I’m addicted to all the books. Reference books, religion, astrology, history books I love old hard bounds, but the Gutenberg Project and a 32GB sim card allow me to horde e-copies like a dragon. Adore the cover of the blue fairy book.

    Reply
  9. I’m addicted to all the books. Reference books, religion, astrology, history books I love old hard bounds, but the Gutenberg Project and a 32GB sim card allow me to horde e-copies like a dragon. Adore the cover of the blue fairy book.

    Reply
  10. I’m addicted to all the books. Reference books, religion, astrology, history books I love old hard bounds, but the Gutenberg Project and a 32GB sim card allow me to horde e-copies like a dragon. Adore the cover of the blue fairy book.

    Reply
  11. I am a complete and utter old book addict! The older, the better. I recently acquired a 100 year old copy of The British Museum- It’s History and Treasures. It is inscribed with the previous owner’s name and the date the book was acquired in the most beautiful florid script. The book is in near perfect condition.
    I have an 1890 edition of Glimpses of Old English Homes by Elizabeth Balch and an 1860 edition of Jewitt’s Stately Homes of England.
    I love the language of these books and all of the interesting little bits of information you won’t read anywhere else.

    Reply
  12. I am a complete and utter old book addict! The older, the better. I recently acquired a 100 year old copy of The British Museum- It’s History and Treasures. It is inscribed with the previous owner’s name and the date the book was acquired in the most beautiful florid script. The book is in near perfect condition.
    I have an 1890 edition of Glimpses of Old English Homes by Elizabeth Balch and an 1860 edition of Jewitt’s Stately Homes of England.
    I love the language of these books and all of the interesting little bits of information you won’t read anywhere else.

    Reply
  13. I am a complete and utter old book addict! The older, the better. I recently acquired a 100 year old copy of The British Museum- It’s History and Treasures. It is inscribed with the previous owner’s name and the date the book was acquired in the most beautiful florid script. The book is in near perfect condition.
    I have an 1890 edition of Glimpses of Old English Homes by Elizabeth Balch and an 1860 edition of Jewitt’s Stately Homes of England.
    I love the language of these books and all of the interesting little bits of information you won’t read anywhere else.

    Reply
  14. I am a complete and utter old book addict! The older, the better. I recently acquired a 100 year old copy of The British Museum- It’s History and Treasures. It is inscribed with the previous owner’s name and the date the book was acquired in the most beautiful florid script. The book is in near perfect condition.
    I have an 1890 edition of Glimpses of Old English Homes by Elizabeth Balch and an 1860 edition of Jewitt’s Stately Homes of England.
    I love the language of these books and all of the interesting little bits of information you won’t read anywhere else.

    Reply
  15. I am a complete and utter old book addict! The older, the better. I recently acquired a 100 year old copy of The British Museum- It’s History and Treasures. It is inscribed with the previous owner’s name and the date the book was acquired in the most beautiful florid script. The book is in near perfect condition.
    I have an 1890 edition of Glimpses of Old English Homes by Elizabeth Balch and an 1860 edition of Jewitt’s Stately Homes of England.
    I love the language of these books and all of the interesting little bits of information you won’t read anywhere else.

    Reply
  16. My book passion is Historical Romance and I have 5 book cases full and over flowing of them. I also have 13 large storage bins full and sitting in my closets. I am an avid reader who hates to part with the books that I have enjoyed. There is always a chance that I will want to read that particular book again…. and I do!

    Reply
  17. My book passion is Historical Romance and I have 5 book cases full and over flowing of them. I also have 13 large storage bins full and sitting in my closets. I am an avid reader who hates to part with the books that I have enjoyed. There is always a chance that I will want to read that particular book again…. and I do!

    Reply
  18. My book passion is Historical Romance and I have 5 book cases full and over flowing of them. I also have 13 large storage bins full and sitting in my closets. I am an avid reader who hates to part with the books that I have enjoyed. There is always a chance that I will want to read that particular book again…. and I do!

    Reply
  19. My book passion is Historical Romance and I have 5 book cases full and over flowing of them. I also have 13 large storage bins full and sitting in my closets. I am an avid reader who hates to part with the books that I have enjoyed. There is always a chance that I will want to read that particular book again…. and I do!

    Reply
  20. My book passion is Historical Romance and I have 5 book cases full and over flowing of them. I also have 13 large storage bins full and sitting in my closets. I am an avid reader who hates to part with the books that I have enjoyed. There is always a chance that I will want to read that particular book again…. and I do!

    Reply
  21. Love of books runs in my family. My mom passed away about a year ago.. I donated over 200 books to the local Red Cross [they do a huge book/media sale annually.] Those were the ones I didn’t keep…

    Reply
  22. Love of books runs in my family. My mom passed away about a year ago.. I donated over 200 books to the local Red Cross [they do a huge book/media sale annually.] Those were the ones I didn’t keep…

    Reply
  23. Love of books runs in my family. My mom passed away about a year ago.. I donated over 200 books to the local Red Cross [they do a huge book/media sale annually.] Those were the ones I didn’t keep…

    Reply
  24. Love of books runs in my family. My mom passed away about a year ago.. I donated over 200 books to the local Red Cross [they do a huge book/media sale annually.] Those were the ones I didn’t keep…

    Reply
  25. Love of books runs in my family. My mom passed away about a year ago.. I donated over 200 books to the local Red Cross [they do a huge book/media sale annually.] Those were the ones I didn’t keep…

    Reply
  26. I love romance books. and have several bookcases and boxes full. Some of them from the 70’s-80’s. I also love old and new fairytales in romance books.

    Reply
  27. I love romance books. and have several bookcases and boxes full. Some of them from the 70’s-80’s. I also love old and new fairytales in romance books.

    Reply
  28. I love romance books. and have several bookcases and boxes full. Some of them from the 70’s-80’s. I also love old and new fairytales in romance books.

    Reply
  29. I love romance books. and have several bookcases and boxes full. Some of them from the 70’s-80’s. I also love old and new fairytales in romance books.

    Reply
  30. I love romance books. and have several bookcases and boxes full. Some of them from the 70’s-80’s. I also love old and new fairytales in romance books.

    Reply
  31. I love old books too. I still have my favorites from childhood – all the Baum and Thompson Oz books, Robert Heinlein, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Andre Norton, Georgette Heyer and lots more. One particular one was a gift from my brother and even though it’s falling apart, they’ll pry that one out of my cold dead fingers. I think the oldest book I have is a 1903 reprint of The Wizard of Oz, with the color plates (no, I didn’t buy it new 🙂
    I look in them once in a while, but I keep them mostly as nostalgia for the kid I used to be, the way the world was, and the family I had then.
    I didn’t get into regencies until the mid 80s, and I formed the habit of putting them in plastic keeper boxes so the air wouldn’t turn them brown. All those lovely bright covers still look new. I am going back through the boxes now to reread favorites and see if I still have the same reaction to them. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I always have respect & appreciation for the craft that went into the writing of them.

    Reply
  32. I love old books too. I still have my favorites from childhood – all the Baum and Thompson Oz books, Robert Heinlein, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Andre Norton, Georgette Heyer and lots more. One particular one was a gift from my brother and even though it’s falling apart, they’ll pry that one out of my cold dead fingers. I think the oldest book I have is a 1903 reprint of The Wizard of Oz, with the color plates (no, I didn’t buy it new 🙂
    I look in them once in a while, but I keep them mostly as nostalgia for the kid I used to be, the way the world was, and the family I had then.
    I didn’t get into regencies until the mid 80s, and I formed the habit of putting them in plastic keeper boxes so the air wouldn’t turn them brown. All those lovely bright covers still look new. I am going back through the boxes now to reread favorites and see if I still have the same reaction to them. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I always have respect & appreciation for the craft that went into the writing of them.

    Reply
  33. I love old books too. I still have my favorites from childhood – all the Baum and Thompson Oz books, Robert Heinlein, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Andre Norton, Georgette Heyer and lots more. One particular one was a gift from my brother and even though it’s falling apart, they’ll pry that one out of my cold dead fingers. I think the oldest book I have is a 1903 reprint of The Wizard of Oz, with the color plates (no, I didn’t buy it new 🙂
    I look in them once in a while, but I keep them mostly as nostalgia for the kid I used to be, the way the world was, and the family I had then.
    I didn’t get into regencies until the mid 80s, and I formed the habit of putting them in plastic keeper boxes so the air wouldn’t turn them brown. All those lovely bright covers still look new. I am going back through the boxes now to reread favorites and see if I still have the same reaction to them. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I always have respect & appreciation for the craft that went into the writing of them.

    Reply
  34. I love old books too. I still have my favorites from childhood – all the Baum and Thompson Oz books, Robert Heinlein, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Andre Norton, Georgette Heyer and lots more. One particular one was a gift from my brother and even though it’s falling apart, they’ll pry that one out of my cold dead fingers. I think the oldest book I have is a 1903 reprint of The Wizard of Oz, with the color plates (no, I didn’t buy it new 🙂
    I look in them once in a while, but I keep them mostly as nostalgia for the kid I used to be, the way the world was, and the family I had then.
    I didn’t get into regencies until the mid 80s, and I formed the habit of putting them in plastic keeper boxes so the air wouldn’t turn them brown. All those lovely bright covers still look new. I am going back through the boxes now to reread favorites and see if I still have the same reaction to them. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I always have respect & appreciation for the craft that went into the writing of them.

    Reply
  35. I love old books too. I still have my favorites from childhood – all the Baum and Thompson Oz books, Robert Heinlein, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Andre Norton, Georgette Heyer and lots more. One particular one was a gift from my brother and even though it’s falling apart, they’ll pry that one out of my cold dead fingers. I think the oldest book I have is a 1903 reprint of The Wizard of Oz, with the color plates (no, I didn’t buy it new 🙂
    I look in them once in a while, but I keep them mostly as nostalgia for the kid I used to be, the way the world was, and the family I had then.
    I didn’t get into regencies until the mid 80s, and I formed the habit of putting them in plastic keeper boxes so the air wouldn’t turn them brown. All those lovely bright covers still look new. I am going back through the boxes now to reread favorites and see if I still have the same reaction to them. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I always have respect & appreciation for the craft that went into the writing of them.

    Reply
  36. Susan, dangling these lovely books and library images in front of a bunch of readers is like teasing a dog with a steak! I want them ALL! I’d not even heard of your armchair Indiana Jones, and now I want to meet him. Among others!

    Reply
  37. Susan, dangling these lovely books and library images in front of a bunch of readers is like teasing a dog with a steak! I want them ALL! I’d not even heard of your armchair Indiana Jones, and now I want to meet him. Among others!

    Reply
  38. Susan, dangling these lovely books and library images in front of a bunch of readers is like teasing a dog with a steak! I want them ALL! I’d not even heard of your armchair Indiana Jones, and now I want to meet him. Among others!

    Reply
  39. Susan, dangling these lovely books and library images in front of a bunch of readers is like teasing a dog with a steak! I want them ALL! I’d not even heard of your armchair Indiana Jones, and now I want to meet him. Among others!

    Reply
  40. Susan, dangling these lovely books and library images in front of a bunch of readers is like teasing a dog with a steak! I want them ALL! I’d not even heard of your armchair Indiana Jones, and now I want to meet him. Among others!

    Reply
  41. Books ah bliss!!I am sitting in a room surrounded by books,a complete set of Georgette Heyer,a shelf of history text books various,heaps of historical romances that one day I intend to read again if I ever catch up with the ever increasing heap of new ones I have yet to devour.And then there are the old ones collected over years of junk sales charity shop visits and second hand book shop visits Leather bound copies of Scotts Ivanhoe and The Talisman ,Cowpers poems volumes one and two and weirdest of all a 1717 (I think if I have read the roman numerals right)copy of Paridise Lost I acquired whilst studying it for A Level many moons ago!I think you could safely say I am addicted to the things!

    Reply
  42. Books ah bliss!!I am sitting in a room surrounded by books,a complete set of Georgette Heyer,a shelf of history text books various,heaps of historical romances that one day I intend to read again if I ever catch up with the ever increasing heap of new ones I have yet to devour.And then there are the old ones collected over years of junk sales charity shop visits and second hand book shop visits Leather bound copies of Scotts Ivanhoe and The Talisman ,Cowpers poems volumes one and two and weirdest of all a 1717 (I think if I have read the roman numerals right)copy of Paridise Lost I acquired whilst studying it for A Level many moons ago!I think you could safely say I am addicted to the things!

    Reply
  43. Books ah bliss!!I am sitting in a room surrounded by books,a complete set of Georgette Heyer,a shelf of history text books various,heaps of historical romances that one day I intend to read again if I ever catch up with the ever increasing heap of new ones I have yet to devour.And then there are the old ones collected over years of junk sales charity shop visits and second hand book shop visits Leather bound copies of Scotts Ivanhoe and The Talisman ,Cowpers poems volumes one and two and weirdest of all a 1717 (I think if I have read the roman numerals right)copy of Paridise Lost I acquired whilst studying it for A Level many moons ago!I think you could safely say I am addicted to the things!

    Reply
  44. Books ah bliss!!I am sitting in a room surrounded by books,a complete set of Georgette Heyer,a shelf of history text books various,heaps of historical romances that one day I intend to read again if I ever catch up with the ever increasing heap of new ones I have yet to devour.And then there are the old ones collected over years of junk sales charity shop visits and second hand book shop visits Leather bound copies of Scotts Ivanhoe and The Talisman ,Cowpers poems volumes one and two and weirdest of all a 1717 (I think if I have read the roman numerals right)copy of Paridise Lost I acquired whilst studying it for A Level many moons ago!I think you could safely say I am addicted to the things!

    Reply
  45. Books ah bliss!!I am sitting in a room surrounded by books,a complete set of Georgette Heyer,a shelf of history text books various,heaps of historical romances that one day I intend to read again if I ever catch up with the ever increasing heap of new ones I have yet to devour.And then there are the old ones collected over years of junk sales charity shop visits and second hand book shop visits Leather bound copies of Scotts Ivanhoe and The Talisman ,Cowpers poems volumes one and two and weirdest of all a 1717 (I think if I have read the roman numerals right)copy of Paridise Lost I acquired whilst studying it for A Level many moons ago!I think you could safely say I am addicted to the things!

    Reply

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