• “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. Nice shell. Looks like a Pacific deer cowrie (Cyprea vitelus). I’ve never seen a ceramic fly (blue bottle?). Your feather loss was probably caused by dermestids. They are more likely to munch keratin than termites, whose preference is cellulose. I found larval exuviae in some stored duck feathers that had been mostly reduced to dust.

  2. l see that all our bookshelves are familiar. Books plus stuff we like. I have pine branch with mini cones from the Oregon Trail Stage coach tracks. silly me. My new home will soon be under construction with the main room being the kitchen and then the library. Our Air Force days will be done (house #36 for me) and I can’t wait to unpack the 250 plus boxes of treasured books we have collected over the years and journey’s.
    Sad note, the cat I rescued in the Philippines and named Adso, died last week. I am devestated as he was my friend and pal and my husband’s two. I still have two dogs three horses and six more cats but Adso was the best and there is a huge hole in our hearts and inbetween us in bed where he slept. RIP my dearest Adso.
    xoxoox aim

  3. Looks exactly as I’d imagine a modern version of the Reverend Wakefield’s bookshelves probably looked! :)

  4. Thank you for a look into your bookshelves. They look a lot like mine did before I lost them all to a house fire in 2008. I have started rebuilding my collection and look forward to adding some of the titles to my new collection. In my house instead of the cute little dog it would be a great big gray tom cat named Oops or a little white cat named Buddha.

  5. I love it! I have always maintained that smart people have a lot of books on a variety of topics.

    The pug is thinking, “Does she REALLY need this many books?”

  6. Adding my thanks to all the others for the peek into your personal world.
    Having spent ages 11-almost 16 living next door ( in Burlington) to the Alamance Battleground and there during the bicentennial of the battle it was fun to see your sticks from the Alamance River on your shelves. I visit there once a year or so and I might just have to go find my own sticks and visit the battleground park once more on my next visit.

  7. it truly takes a great deal of courage for you to show us your private bookshelves. Everyone has their own bookshelves, whether they be organized or cluttered – it does not matter but only matters to those who own them. Of course, I was often insulted about my clutters but who cares? they belong to me only. At one time, a friend of mine who noted my work desk all messy with stuff – telling me to clean or trash them out; that all the clutter is not good for my mind or mentally, whatever and that once I cleaned them out, I will have a “relaxed” mind. I was aghast and told my friend, if my desk were all cleaned out and not so cluttered, my mind would be like a “blank” – so, no thanks! I’d rather have things or books that mean something to me; to keep my mind more imaginative and to have my memories alive by them that are still there. Every one’s own bookshelves are priceless treasures! Way to go, Diana, you’re brave to show us yours!

  8. I had to go and buy a new bookshelf to handle all my multiple copies of “Diana” books! I collect them from all sorts of places and give them to my friends so they too will become addicted !!

  9. Fantastic reading!! As much as I loved seeing the books, it’s the momentos worthy of self life I loved seeing – my own book shelves look very similar!

  10. We moved to Central America from Texas 4 years ago and have made a couple of trips back to the States each year since. I’ve been bringing books back on each trip. Usually, I take two suitcases, but on the trip to the States, put one bag INSIDE the larger suitcase so I only have to check one piece of luggage on the first part of the trip, then check TWO bags for the return trip, the second full of books.

    However, on our most recent trip because the book shelves here are pretty well crammed full, this time I did NOT return with the smaller bag FULL – repeat FULL!!! – of books, for a change. My husband could hardly believe it!

    Bric-a-brac, mementos, souvenirs, and other non-”useful” items fill in any of the very few gaps in the overloaded shelves.

    Is there a 12-step group for reading addicts?

  11. Hello Diana:

    Just looking at your bookshelves reminds me of my mother’s: bits of this here; baskets of trinkets there; and always with a meaning behind it.

    Unfortunately, my mother passed away very recently and my sister and I were the volun-told persons that got to clean-up much of those enormous book shelves (there was an entire wall with a built-in unit that stretched about 15 feet long by 7 feet high). There was an entire shelf dedicated to your works which are now in my own collection giving me doubles of everything. The remainder of her collection was donated on her behalf to her local library.

    Thank you for giving us a glimps of your life.

    Cheers!

    • Amber,
      I got very many books from my parent’s collection, to add to my own extensive one, after they passed. It felt as if part of them stayed with me through the favorite books they had owned. The old encyclopedias were particularly fun, as they told me many times to “look something up, if you don’t know about it.”

      • I know exactly what you mean! In my mom’s collection of books there was a set of animal encyclopedias that I remember reading when I was very young. Nice memories that I will forever cherish.

        Thank you for your comment. Although I realize that I am not alone in my grief, it’s nice when someone like you can shed some positive light.

        Cheers!

  12. Nice tour and I’m already looking forward to future installments! From the peek at your personal objects, I suspect that like Brianna, you also have a way with objects that marks them as unmistakably *yours*.

  13. Your beautiful boy has a lovely smile, a real ‘photo shop’ of both his handsome parents.

  14. Thanks for sharing your whole life with us….we have enjoyed all of your books so much, and it is a desire of all of us to know how you live…even thou it really is none of our business. Your bookshelves look alot like mine, I always say it is a treasure hunt when you go to mine, you never know what you will find…but it all means something to me. I want to thank you for helping me thru some rough times, and now with bits and pieces of your personal life, I feel like I have another friend. Write on! Live on! Enjoy Life, love, pets, family and being a great person!! We Love ya!!

  15. If you ever need a librarian to add some order to your shelves, I volunteer! There are also wonderful new apps that allow you to catalog your books. Very handy!

  16. Love the bookshelves! I have some very old veterinary books that I like to look through on my shelves. I have to say, a very large part of me would love to straighten all those books out for you but I know there is a m ethos to your madness lol

  17. I have the same healing crystals and gemstone book, I use it quite often. I also see a few similar books on your shelf that parallel a few I have with herbs and healing. I am not sure you use the books for anything other than research but many have quite common sense approaches to better health.
    Thanks for the tour…and I will say my husband’s office looks much like yours…successful people have a very unique way of organizing. ;)

  18. This somehow looks a bit like my shelves. :)

  19. Woman . . . you need to straighten up a bit – your tour makes me itch to orgainize in a civilized manner.

  20. LOVED the Tour! I _used_ to have shelves like that. I have down sized an awful lot. Most of my goodies are boxed away. We moved into this house that had wall length shelves on at least 2 walls of each room :0/. So ONE room is the office ( now my massage therapy office) and I have all my fav books and most current various items stacked up there. When I finish painting that room I will post a picture of it!

    Reflexology! I have been collecting books on that subject and aromatherapy!

    Cant wait until the next installment! Thank you Diana!

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