• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
    —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

A Guided Tour of Diana’s Bookshelves…


I get a lot of questions about what I read, what resources I find "useful," how much research I do, etc., etc. And when interviewers come to talk to me at home, they always want to see my office, and frequently spend half an hour or more browsing my bookshelves in fascination. So I thought y’all might want to have a peek, too.

(One question I often get is about how I organize my material. It is to larf, as John Lennon so eloquently put it. I have two—no, three—ways of organizing research material. The books live in bookshelves. Loose papers, maps, reprinted emails, etc. go into one of three zippered… things. (I can’t really describe them; they’re about the size of small briefcases, but made of nylon fabric, mesh on one side, and they zip on three sides.) The red one holds all the printed miscellanea for the contemporary mystery that I’ll eventually get round to finishing, the black one has stuff about the Lord John stories’ background—maps of London, a guide to the geology of Jamaica, that sort of thing—and the blue one has Stuff that might at some point be useful to the Big Book— MOBY, at the moment— under construction. Interesting websites and material people email me ends up either as a site bookmark or in a catch-all folder/directory called "JRESRCH.") And, um… that’s about it, really.

I do group books among and within bookshelves, though. This is a small office, so there are only two sets of shelves up here: the huge, built-in set of four bays that my husband got me for an anniversary present in 1993 or so, and a much smaller one that got added during a renovation a couple of years ago. Downstairs, in the lower office, two walls are lined with built-in shelves, but a lot of those books are the family "core" library—classics and series that anybody might want to read anytime. (It has got my collection of ghost stories, the field guides, and the natural history references, too, though.)

Anyway, it’s the big bookshelf in my upper office that mostly fascinates people, so I thought I’d show you that, for starters. Above is the overview, guarded by Otis (my son’s pug, who visits often and likes that chair).

And here’s a closeup of the top shelf, upper left:

This is the larger part of my collection of herbals (which continues on to the next shelf). You’ll note that I plainly need a third (and possibly a fourth) shelf for these, but there’s no place to add more up here. I need to weed through these, and move the less-useful references out to one of the tertiary bookcases in one of the (adult, moved-out) kids’ bedrooms.

The books in this class that are/have been most useful are generally the field guides, which tell me where things grow, which plants are native and which are introduced species, which are edible, poisonous, or medicinal. THE PETERSON FIELD GUIDE TO MEDICINAL PLANTS, Eastern/Central region is the main guide to American herbs, while the Hamlyn GUIDE TO MEDICINAL PLANTS OF GREAT BRITAIN is… well, the British equivalent. Both of these books have indices that include diseases and symptoms, with listings for which herbs are or have been used for treatment of same.

Mrs. M. Grieves’ A MODERN HERBAL (published in 1931; the edition I have is an unabridged 1971 Dover reprint) is a much more detailed and more scholarly reference that includes the chemical analyses of many plants’ active principles, as well as historical and cultural notes on usage. The illustrations are not of the quality you’d find in a more modern production, being mostly line-drawings, but still helpful.

Nicholas Culpeper’s CULPEPER’S COMPLETE HERBAL (published in 1647) is the oldest one I have; less directly useful, but still interesting to see just how far back some of the common herbal medicines were known, as well as to see the theoretical/philosophical basis underlying some of the treatments.

And Paul Beyerl’s THE MASTER BOOK OF HERBALISM gives a thumbnail of each of many commonly useful herbs, with preparation and treatment details—but does so from a Magickal point of view, including information like the phases of the moon and how to use certain herbs in conjunction with various gem stones. (You’ll notice that the few gem magic books I have are also mostly in this section.)

As for the inspirational artifacts… <g>

Moving from left to right:

Basket full of letter-openers. In practice, I usually open letters with a steak-knife (or a pair of poultry shears, for particularly intransigent parcels), as I’m generally reading the mail at the kitchen table. Kindly intentioned people often give me letter-openers (and very beautiful hand-made bookmarks, which—alas—I don’t use, either. If reluctantly compelled to stop reading a book, I normally set it face-down, open to the page I abandoned), though, and I also inherited a couple of these from my father, who didn’t use letter-openers, either, preferring a thumbnail, but kept an ornamental one on his desk for show.

Ferocious dinosaur, made by my son, aged about six at the time. (He’s now 28 and a published novelist in his own right. Sam Sykes, esteemed author of THE TOME OF THE UNDERGATES, BLACK HALO, and— coming in September from Pyr Books (US) and Orion (UK)—THE SKYBOUND SEA.)

Sticks. Mind, these are not just any old sticks. They’re twigs from a silver birch tree, growing on the edge of Alamance Creek in North Carolina. I picked them up during a brief research trip, and used them to evoke the whole sense of vegetation, atmosphere, and weather in parts of THE FIERY CROSS.

Replica of an 18th-century ink-well and tray, given to me by a good friend, John L. Myers (also a writer—of gay crime fiction (the novel HOLY FAMILY), as well as daily prayers and contemplations (at www.sacredpauses.com)). The quill in the inkwell is a raven’s wing-feather (the original goose-quill that came with the inkwell is over in the basket with the letter-openers), and the very large feather is—I think; I lose track of which feathers came from where (this is another thing people give me fairly often, but I do actually use them)—from a golden eagle, given to me in 1974 by a friendly zoo-keeper (now deceased) at the San Diego Zoo (I was doing a small research project there); it came from one of the captive birds at the zoo. If that’s not what it is, it’s a turkey feather.

The tray is filled with dried roses. Each of my daughters, at some point in her adolescence, gave me roses. I kept them.

The small ceramics of the housefly, the panda and the chubby baby’s head were gifts made by my sister—the baby was done from a notorious photograph of my son; the one the family refers to as "you know, the one of Sam as Mr. Potato-head…."

The small basket is full of stamps, though I find that I seldom need one anymore, in these days of ubiquitous emails and the Invaluable Susan, the assistant my husband and I share, who hauls anything outgoing over to the mail-place.

The little statue of the young Virgin was given to me in 6th grade, as a classroom prize of some kind. I was a confirmed teacher’s pet through high-school. Not very popular, as one might expect.

The white unfired ceramic is a memorial paw-print, sent to me by the kindly people at the animal hospital after my first beloved dachshund, Gus, died. [Below are the present incumbents, Homer and JJ, who also like the office chair and ottoman. (Photo of my pups taken by Loretta, my Webmistress.)]

My husband gave me the Disney Cheshire Cat as a souvenir of a family trip to Disneyland.

And the things over to the right are the sort of little bags that people put small gifts of jewelry, scented oil, or knicks-knacks in. I keep thinking they’re bound to be useful one of these days.


Return/go to my Writer’s Corner (What I Do) webpage.


This page was last updated on Thursday, October 25, 2018 at 3:40 a.m. (Pacific Time) by Diana’s Webmistress.

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123 Responses »

  1. Thank you Diana,
    It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of your private life! Your book shelves look so very interesting! I love your Outlander series and push them onto anyone I can. Thanks for the daily lines and blogs, I look forward to them all!

  2. Enjoyed the tour… and history behind your keepsakes. Thank you ma’am, we’ll be ready for more whenever you are. :) Happy Week to you!

  3. Hi Diana – I really enjoyed the tour thru your bookshelves, and I especially liked getting a glimpse at some of your research materials. Thank you for sharing some of yourself with us.

  4. Oh I don’t feel so bad as your shelves look very similar to mine. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I love browsing someone’s bookshelf…you can tell so much about them. But to see yours is a real treat!! Thank you so much for sharing! Oh, and I love seeing and reading about all the knick-knacks & what-nots too!!

  6. Oh yeah…LOVE the dog, too!

  7. Reading your books I can close myself off from the troubles of the day and loose myself in them.

    Thank you so much for sharing that little bit of yourself. I have always thought that bookselves are a little like a persons fingerprint. No two are a like. At a glance they may look similer, but a second and closer look you can almost tell that persons life story.

  8. You can never have enough book shelves. Of course we don’t have too many books.

    • Judy,
      I can’t agree more!! In my dream home (if it ever gets built) I will have walls that are only bookcases! In every room! I know I have enough books to fill them!
      Not to mention that I usually have shelves in extreme likeness to Mrs. Gabaldon’s! If you can’t put mementos and nick-knacks on your book cases, it’s just no fun.

  9. Interesting case. I have several still, though I have downsized by hundreds, maybe even a thousand books. I love reading a true book but find my kindle takes much less space and helps me to read faster. I also keep dozens of momentos on my shelves knowing that I may never use them but enjoy knowing they are there. Now I am trying to get down to the signed books and only have one book shelf. However, since A McCaffrey died, I cannot part with any of her books and I am still missing several. There are also those that are not yet in electronic form that I must keep because they have shaped my life. Thank you for sharing a part of your world with us. I like knowing that people we elevate to a higher level than ourselves are really so much like us.

  10. I *adore!* your bookshelves. They look like mine. I have shelving units in nearly every room stacked double and triple. I don’t get rid of nothin’!

    I’m interested in your answer to Val’s question, too. Do you use any of the herbals about which you’ve learned/written? If so, how effective are they? Perhaps one day you can write a book about that, too.

    In any case, thank you for sharing with us.

    Also, I’m proud to say I got a former nonreader hooked on your books. She’s totally addicted to them, as are several other friends.

    Thank you ever so much! You have a real gift for story-telling.

  11. Love it! I recognize some of the those titles. That is fun. :-) Thanks for sharing. There are a few there that I need to add to my collection too.

  12. Thanks so much for the tour. I’m looking forward to the rest of it, as I’ve always felt a person’s bookshelves tell a lot about them. Really no big surprises here for your fans but it’s nice to see the personal items and read the stories associated with them.
    You mentioned all your children, and I’d like to share an odd coincidence: my three grandchildren are Olivia Rose, Juliette (French spelling, but close enough) Hannah and Samuel Agostino. I noticed the confluence with your children’s names on a rereading of Voyager a couple of years ago. They were all born before I got my daughters hooked on your books, so you don’t get credit for the names (they’re all named, as per Jewish tradition, for deceased family members), but what are the odds?
    Looking forward to MOBY, and LOVE those Master Raymond snippets!

  13. That was cool. I love how you just took the pictures just as they are and you didn’t tidy up and organize for pictures. Funny the little mementos we keep over the years isn’t it. I’m 43 and my grandma still has the angel I made her when I was in grade 2. LOL

    Thanks for sharing the bits of your private life. You are very generous to your fans.

    Michelle

  14. It seems as if it is the library of Claire!

    • Dear Debbie–

      Well, _that_ shelf is. I’ll show you Black Jack Randall’s section, later on…

      –Diana

      • Oh my! Can’t wait to see _that_ shelf.

        Thank you for a glimpse at where the magic happens! (Assuming you write in the upstairs office.)

        _My_ bookshelves look similar, except I have two shelves devoted entirely to some author named Diana Gabaldon. Maybe you’ve heard of her?

        Kristy

      • Oh – wait! I see you _have_ heard of her. I recognize many of her books on yet-to-be-explored shelves. It must be neat to see all the different covers in different languages. Do you keep hard copies of each one?

  15. Hhmmmmm… it looks like a “controlled mess”-as my boss says-, as long as you know where everything is :), at least Otis seems to be in “order”.
    On the other hand I read the “Daily Line”/Master Raymond you tweeted today and I have to tell you that the way you begin your books is most engrossing, from the very first line.

  16. Thanks for the personal peek into your life.

    My mother and I were estranged for many of my adult years. Once we reconciled, she came over and was perusing my bookshelves. She saw my copies of the Outlander books and got so excited. They’re her favorite books too. (Funny to see how much we were alike, despite our painful differences.) We immediately reconnected, talking for hours on end about all of *our* characters. That was 10 yrs ago.. and now I also have a 7 mo. grand-daughter named Claire.

    Thanks for the threads that have helped tie our generations back together.

  17. TFS, Diana! I enjoyed the tour.

    • Love. Your. Bookshelves. And the artefacts and dogs as well! I have hundreds of books in my apartment, my garage and my shop’s office. On top of tables, under chairs and the bed. Books are an excellent clue to people. I get either one of two responses upon seeing my books:

      “Oh my Gawd! Have you actually, um, READ all of them?” (Well, yes. Most of them. The front door’s this way. Bye.)

      “Hey, cool! I’ve read this and that book – what’s this one like, would you recommend it?” (If you’re a single man, that gets you to second base in the blink of an eye. Anyone else, we become fast friends.)

      Can’t wait to see the rest of the tour! And I love the old herbals, have them, too.

  18. Having given away some 25,000 books, I felt lighter. Did it bother me at all? Yes! But not enough to regret moving them on and because some were rare editions, was able to enjoy an income tax benefit which was much needed at the time.

    Do I miss some of them? Some of them, yes. I have a small collection of favorite novels, but I don’t know why because I’ll never read them again. I’d l ist them – well, you do know I’ve read you first four novels four times – and I’ll probably read the others again. I like character driven novels, but you’ve gone beyond that and I’ve loved every bit of your books (never mind the problems with The Fiery Cross where you should have dug in and refused, etc. ).

  19. What a wonderful blog post! With an intense “sense of urgency” otherwise know as “impatience” but probably undiagnosed hyperactivity – I rarely read closely. But this post was so fun! Enjoyed every word. Intimate really!!! Thanks a lot. Laurie

  20. Thank you for the wonderful tour of your bookshelf! I have to say I am fascinated by the fact that you have sticks from alamance creek, I live near the village of alamance and have fished alamance creek many times. Do you recall what part you visited? Its a shame I didn’t know you were in town, I would have loved to have met you! Thanks for sharing! :)

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