• “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. Thanks for the peek at your bookshelves…fascinating!. The bric-a-brac that we keep speaks about the things that we deem important, things that wouldn’t mean much to anyone else. I have interesting rocks and molluscs shells and bird feathers my son would find and bring to me boy on my bookshelves.
    My books are an eclectic collection of fiction and non-fiction, just whatever strikes my fancy, I find that switching back and forth from genre to genre keeps reading fresh and interesting.

  2. Please tell me about your dog(s)! I glanced at the picture and thought…”Come back later when I have time to read/look for a little bit more time.” Then I backtracked when my brain registered the pug on top of the couch! We just recently adopted our second little pug from a shelter and they are the most friendly little dogs!

  3. Such fun! Very gracious of you to give such an intimate tour of a very personal place. Thanks for every word you write!

  4. Your bookshelves look a lot like mine. I have books on many subjects mostly because I am interested in them. I read lots, mostly mysteries, but have other genre in case I get tired of reading those. I have not read any of your books lately, but have been a big fan in the past. I have geology books because I took geology courses recently and they gave me more of an understanding to what I was studying at the time. I am 61, and back in school again. I have never stopped learning and now my learning is toward another degree in Criminal Justice-Human/Animal Resources. I have 3 cats, Bubba-Louie aged 7, Tigger aged 5 and Shadow aged 1-1/2. Tigger is spayed, Bubba-Louie is neutered and Shadow is neither, she goes into heat on occasion, but other than being annoying for a week doesn’t want to step foot out of the house. We found her outside in November of 2010, and she is perfectly satisfied being an indoor kitty. I started writing a novella, but have yet to finish it. I doubt that it would be read much, but one never knows and until I can get it finished and published, I will keep wondering if there is any way for me to complete it an still get my other school work done online – the only way to go as expensive as gas is and without transportation.

    Thank you for your tour of your bookshelves. I have similar items on mine as well. It’s always good to keep those things that your child did even when they did it all those many years ago. My daughter is 24 and I have a 1 year old grandson as well as 2 instant grandsons. They are the sweetest and most polite little men I’ve been around. Good luck with your books and I look forward to reading more about your bookshelves and what exists on them.

  5. What a wonderful tour! Makes me feel much better about my “packed to the brim” bookshelves and the fact that many other surfaces in the house have turned into bookshelves as well! If I wouldn’t have gotten my Kindle a few months ago I’m not sure what I would have done!

    Thanks for the tour!

  6. LOVE THIS!
    THANKS! My shelves look much the same although my Gabaldon Books are taking up large space!:)
    Which is just fine with me.

  7. What a great look see! I noticed your asthma books *g* I had NAET treatments back in March…….. really helped!

    Michelle

  8. I love books. We have a ridiculous amount at my house too. Theres seven bookshelves jam packed, plus I have a lot I have on a handy shelf at work. I cant imagine how many books I have but I am happy that my kids love them like I do, unlike their father who proudly states he hasn’t read a book since he was at school! I’m always stressing about where I am going to put them. When the local primary school opened near here I donated 300 children’s books as the house was overflowing. I have always looked with longing at those gorgeous library rooms people seem to have on tv with floor to ceiling shelves. I do have a special shelf with all my first editions which no one is allowed to touch!!! By the way I love that Culpeppers book is ‘profusely illustrated’! Looking forward to finding a space for MOBY :)

  9. My house is a library. Or so my mom calls it(: But my own books I usually classify alphabetically; Except for my three favorite authors: Diana Gabaldon, Ted Dekker, and Helen Dunmore. For these, I have shelves or _”Shrines”_ as I call them, to display my paper-back children(:

  10. Thanks for sharing! I’ve been addicted to reading for the past 49 years. I’ve experienced so much in books, but I have to say your stories are the best I’ve ever read! Thank you for taking me places that I couldn’t go without you!

  11. OMG ~ that is GAWDAWFUL! Don’t get me wrong ~ I LOVE it! And it totally ‘figures’. It’s just that I don’t know how you can _find_ anything in that mess! I mean, horizontally-stacked books sitting _on top_ of vertically-aligned books??? And everything obstructed and cluttered with geegaws and brick-a-brack?! I’m nearly beside myself with horror ~ kind of the way I’ve often felt reading my favorite series of all time! Come to think of it, I believe your bookcase makes for a rather apt metaphor of your writing style ~ MOST illuminating, Mrs. G. Thank you soooo much for the share ~ and the insight!

  12. Reminds me how much I have longed for a roomful of books. Alas my little home lacks the space. A girl can dream.

    Thanks Diana for sharing.

  13. Thank you for ‘part one’ trip through your wonderful shelves. It seems many of us love the written word on a page…we are in good company!

  14. Hi Diana,
    Too funny, my book shelves look the same. I have an ancient copy of Culpeppers that I found at an antique sale in southern Alberta. Published by W. Nicholson and Sons London, old enough it was when they didn’t put in the date of printing. I have feathers everywhere too, if you are ever in need of a Swainson’s Hawk feather or magpie feathers just shout. I have 2 resident hawks that come back each year and kindly drop feathers in the grass for me. And the magpies, well they’re magpies and leave stuff everywhere. My office looks messy but I know where everything is. :~)

    Thanks for sharing
    Nancy Bell

  15. Thanks Diana, I’ve enjoyed your tour and look forward to the rest.

  16. I’m curious as to where you stash your Lord John research. I’m thinking of the information given to you by your fellow parishioner and the various gifted porn I’ve read you mention. Does it have its own shelf as well? That would be a spot to linger on during a browse of your bookshelves for interviewers I’m sure. Sorry, I had to ask…

  17. I laughed when I saw the picture of Otis because my son also has an “Otis the pug” that sits on top of the couch. And, now that I think about it, my book shelves look a bit like yours too :o)

  18. As a librarian’s daughter I kept my fiction alphabetised and my non-fiction categorized. That was until I had no room anymore. Now my library is somewhat organised and somewhat a mess. Similar to yours. So you are a kindred spirit, which I always suspected:)

  19. The book collection is wonderful. The variety of herbals is stunning. No wonder your books are so accurate.

  20. What a great shot of your bookshelves! I don’t feel so bad about mine now. Except yours don’t have any dust! How do you do that? I especially like the endearing photo of your son Sam. And the dogs are adorable. Such sweet faces!

    • Dear Maverick–

      Compressed air. [g] I clean my office every Sunday afternoon, and blast all the shelves as I go.

      –Diana

      • Aha! Very clever. I am sharing this with all my pals.
        Incredible that you can post a photo of your bookshelves and get pages and pages of responses. Even more incredible that you respond! This is why you are a much-loved author.

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