A Few of My Favorite (Research) Things
English Through the Ages arranges words upon their first appearance in the written language. The book is set out as a timeline of centuries and, for more recent additions, decades. These chapters are further divided into down into subject (i.e. geography, science, everyday life, insults, the body) So next time someone says your use the word "knocked up" in your regency novel is anachronistic, you can inform it has been in use since 1665.
Word Menu So word-rich, Amazon wouldn't even insult it by supplying a picture of its cover (it's black and bland.) You know there's a word for it. It's lamb's wool. Only special lamb's wool/ Really silky and curly. Doctor Zhivago has it on the lapels of his winter coat. What is it…? No worries! Flip open this book, head for Domestic Life and thence to Clothing and Material and from there to Material and fabrics and Bomb-shucka-lucka! Of course! ASTRAKHAN!
The Thesaurus of Slang has more than 12,000 entries including more than 165,000 idioms, catchwords, and phrases. About a third of them are useful. The problem with slang is that it is often anachronistic by the time it appears in popular fiction. Still, if you simply need another verb for, say, "drink," this is your book. Guzzle, down, swig, belt, put away, liquor up, sop it up, hit the red-eye, knock off, slurp, chug-alug, knock back, pull, wet one's whistle, inhale… you get the picture.
The Ultimate Visual Dictionary is for those of you who, like me, need to be able to walk through a thing before you can describe it to your satisfaction. Packed with photographs, this book takes you into the minutiae, giving you a vocabulary for them. Get a global perspective of the Triassic period or a cross section of a hip joint, break-down a Jaguar V12 engine into its components or learn the elements necessary for making a fresco.
Did you know that Tolstoi published War and Peace, Manet painted The Fifer, cattle were first driven on the Chisholm trail, Russia ceded Alaska to the U.S for 1.9 cents an acre, a new Atlantic cable stretching between the U.S. and Britain is completed, the ASPCA was founded, Europe entered a seven week war, and the first Broadway musical took stage all in the same year? Do you know what year? If you owned The People's Chronology you would.
Well, sadly The Regency Companion is out of print but I include it here because it's simply the most easily read, to the point, entertaining and useful book available to a writer of regency romance. Divided into a year in the life of the beau monde, it encompasses The Season, fashion for both ladies and gentleman, how they played, how they lived, what they ate and when, how they spent the off season and where, as well as short biopics of real people and a very useful dictionary of regency slang. Find it. Don't let it go.
The Regency Underworld presents the flip side of The Companion taking you on a ride through the back streets, slums and "rookeries" of London. Filled with anecdotal material on famous fences and theives and con men. You can read about "Mudlarks and scuffle hunters" of the river Thames, as well as "resurrectionists" who supplied dead bodies to medical schools.
While not as engaging or quickly read as The Companion, Our Tempestuous Day provides something else: a historical perspective. An entertaining and generally solid look at the personalities and events that shaped the decade where George III sent insane and his son ruled as Regent.
Oscar Wilde's London is also no longer in print, but the book is worth the trouble of seeking out. It covers a wide variety of subjects like art, artists, social classes, sports, diversions and religion, putting them into context within the great city of London.
One of my favorite perusing research books, primarily since it reads more like People magazine then a research book is the good-natured To Marry an English Lord, about the rise of the "Buccaneers" the pretty, wealthy daughters of American entrepreneurs who stormed the impoverished top echelons of English society, bartering wealth for titles. Filled with eye-witness reports of various parties, dress, scandals, entertainments, and a who's-who list of who got what and how.
Daily Life in Victorian England is without a doubt, my go-to book for research on almost any aspect of Victorian life. Starting with a brief chronology this books covers areas as diverse as education, religion, technology, government, law, working life, entertainments, and sports in a very approachable style packed with the sort of delicious minutiae that helps make your own book come alive.
If you have been wondering how your Victorian soldier hero received those valiant scars, you might need a book like Queen Victoria's Little Wars, which recounts the people, stakes, and issues surrounding the dozens and dozens of "little wars" England was involved in during Victoria's reign.