• “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.”
  • “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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124 Responses »

  1. Thanks for sharing something so personal. It’s great to hear from you again.

    Does someone in MOBY have Asthma?

  2. Thanks for a glimpse into your world Diana. Loved it!

  3. Wonderful bookshelves! Thank you for sharing and I look forward to the next installment of your bookshelf. The dogs are cute, too — lovely faces!

  4. Hello Diana, Thanks for sharing a little of your personal things ! Love it. Seeing so many books everywhere in our house, my husband made some bookshelves for me in the bedrooms but, still, that’s not enough… Anyway, I’ll find a place for MOBY when the time comes ! Love your son’s dog too. Take care, greetings from Greece !

  5. Thanks so much for the tour of your bookshelves! I feel so much better about mine now . Must try the compressed air to get rid of the dust!!!! It was like taking a step into Claire’s world. Avidly looking forward to the next book(s). Love the dawgies too!

  6. I am very happy to see so many others who fill their bookshelves with things other than books. My books have many companions to keep them company on their shelves. Thank you for the interesting tour of yours.

  7. I’m living vicariously through the pictures of your wonderfully cluttered shelves … one day when my daughter is older I hope to put back some of the knickknacks I’ve been forced to hide (for their own protection :)).

  8. Really enjoyed the tour of your bookcases – do you or someone in your family have asthma? I noticed the book on asthma and yoga and wondered how well that worked…

  9. Compressed air – pure genius! Always knew you were (a genius!)

  10. I love your book shelves!! What a fabulous collection of knowledge, memories, and inspiration!

  11. A comforting insight, Diana. You are a rarity, yet you are one of many. In a Venn Diagram, you would be in the 99% and the 1%!

  12. Fascinating! I must admit that I’m a collector of so many historical non-fiction books … but many of them I haven’t bothered to read – yet. Something about just knowing they’re there, that what I’m seeing actually existed …

    I’d love to see your FICTION bookshelf! See what you’re reading just for fun!

  13. I really enjoyed seeing your bookshelves, and I will be looking forward to seeing more of them and reading about what you have on them.

    I used to be a cluttered book lover but after a four year stint as an inventory processor at Borders (R.I.P.), I have found that I prefer books to at least be in author alphabetical order. As soon as I am able to get a few more bookcases, I know that I will start putting them in region/author order like I like them to be. ^-^

  14. I’m currently dreading the task or reordering my shelves here at the library. I’ve seen all of these books!

    Just looking at your bookshelf makes me want to explore it…like a treasure hunt. :)

    Thank you for sharing.

  15. I loved your tour of your bookshelves but me thinks, you need more shelves. My dream home would have floor to ceiling bookshelves with an attached ladder that moves the whole lenght of them as I am vertically challenged too. Bookshelves are full of wonderful memories and lovely friends (books). I have 7 of my own (for some reason I can’t get rid of any books – so I just keep buying more shelves) but right now I am cleaning out my Mum’s bookshelves after her death. It is a horrific job. What do you do with the books? First I am making a spreadsheet of the titles so that I can send them to family members and friends to see if they want any of them. The religious books are going to our Church library (our Mum taught catechism for 28 years). Many of her medical books (Mum was an R.N.) are old and outdated, so what do we do with those? Second hand bookstores only want certain authors and genres. So my question is … what do we do with what is left? Anyone have any ideas?

  16. Ah, the subject of bookshelves. I have collections of bookshelves all over this house. It’s a rare room without a book shelve. because of all these book collections, I was once very careful about keeping all the books separated by writing style and Author name. Then horror struck, My husband chose to stay home while I attended a conference. He decided to paint interior rooms and suprize me. We had already selected colors, just not picked up the cans yet.
    In order to paint the roomsm he says he needed to remove my carefully organized shelves. no longer are the bookshelves in any type of order what so ever. Now, I can proudly say, I use the Dianna Gabaldon book cataloging system!

  17. heh heh – bookshelf porn :-) Neat – I liked the tour. We need more shelves in our place, I’ve had to severely prune our collection. My dream would be to have a proper library which, even though I am a librarian, would not be organised by any standard classification but rather by my own usage patterns and serendipity! :-)

  18. I’m of the opionion that browsing a person’s bookshelves can tell you more about them than going through their medicine cabinet, purse or wallet. Thanks for the tour!

  19. The news is all over the ‘net. Big TV mini-series deal to put Outlander on HBO or similar cable host.


  20. love it … somehow your book shelves validate mine … my kids have been after me to clear out … think I will just say NO LOL … and yes mine are very like yours … thanks for sharing !!!


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