Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 25, 2008

Research Mounds

In my usual step behind fashion, I’m getting around to a fun challenge posted by Becky Levine a while back. She took a picture of a stack of books she’d compiled for research on her historical novel, inspired by two even taller stacks of books that Susan Taylor Brown had posted. If you want to play, please join us (and no one’s in a rush here.)

I’m writing about ancient Iraq, or what the Greeks called Mesopotamia c. 2400 B.C. and am starting to get pretty comfortable there. (In my mind: no time or space trips planned.) I’ve always loved the Time-Life books for research; I think it was the Web that made these wide photo-packed books stop being produced, which is a shame. The longer essays include more than most web clips and the bigger pictures are more haunting. After checking out a few from the library many times, I decided to buy the three favorites at the bottom from used bookstores, and the musty smell of one only adds to my pleasure. Yes, call me research geek. The pictures of round-eyed statues, votives, and clay tablets printed with cuneiform script are inspirational.

I’ve also read some of the texts of the time – poetry and stories in their first written form. Much of it is not too my taste – I like the moon and everything, but how many ways to praise it? What I like is the thought of characters who do. So here are chants and tales to be reread. And on top of my stack I put a few of my favorite volumes of biographical verse, because I’m working with that as well as prose. I love Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life in Poems, Natasha Tretheway’s Native Guard, and Annie Boutelle’s Becoming Bone: Poems on the Life of Celia Thaxter, though, of course, these poems take place in entirely different periods.

My husband liked the photo, but said I should have stacked them in the shape of a temple. A ziggurat, I corrected: the five or seven storied buildings with a temple at the top where priests and priestesses worshipped the sun and moon.

That’s where – sort of – I’m heading now. But if you have a minute, for one of the coolest things ever, you can write your name and see it transcribed to cuneiform. Please, don’t think I was complaining about the internet when I was raving about Time-Life books! We want it all!


  1. Very cool! Thanks for sharing! 🙂 I always love your posts!

  2. I don’t know why, but that big black one that just says MESOPTAMIA on it is calling to me. 🙂
    I’m going to see if there’s a time-life book on the progressive era or the suffragettes. I’m betting they have great photos.
    Wonderful stack. I swear, let me dip one tiny toe into historical fiction, and all of a sudden, its like a magnet!

  3. I am verging on having a complete (small) bookcase for Jane right now. Insane, but true.

  4. This is fun. Gathering the books together – maybe not so much. I have piles and piles on my floor for different books. Sometimes I donate my research books to the library when I’m finished with a book – keeping just a couple for my personal collection. Thanks for sharing, J!

  5. I bet there is one with those suffragrists holding signs in front of the White House — now I want to go look for one myself. Yes, magnet.
    Also (maybe I should check the photo of your pile) did you read Only Yesterday by Frederick Allen? It was written about these years toward the end of them, by a journalist with an eye for truly great details — almost as good as photos. It has been a while, so I can’t remember how much he writes about women and the vote, but I think there is a treasure trove re what’s on the roads and what people are wearing and buying etc.

  6. small bookcase
    Kelly, I’m not exactly surprised. Yay for that kind of insanity and all kinds of truth.

  7. Nan, you don’t escape that easily! Now we want to see ALL the piles on your floor!
    Lucky libraries, to get your research books. And leave more room on your shelves (or floor).

  8. ACK… OK – I’ll post on my blog shortly!

  9. Not only have I not read it, I’ve never come across a reference to it. Off to look–thanks!

  10. teasing, Nan. Only if you want to!!!!

  11. well I think you’ll be happy, but I’m feeling guilty I fed into research lust when you have such a great plan of action to revise… oh well, there are many hours to the day, right? (and a person’s got to read…)

  12. Well, now you don’t have to feel bad–it’s at our library, but looks like its 5-10 years after my period. Whew! Back to the stack I already have. 🙂

  13. Okay, I just found two of the time-life books about the early 1900s at our library & put them on hold. (I’m using them as a reward–serious progress on revision this week, and I get to OPEN them at the weekend.)
    Anyway, I had to share the review at the website (not to be named) where I found out about them:
    ‘These two books tell the story of the Progressive Era in fluffy, superficial prose and an enormous number of photographs. The results are mixed: the photographs do a great deal to convey the overall flavor of the period, while the text completely misses the forces that drove the events of the era, and consistently focuses on the more tangential, irrelevant, and trivial. This is “history as light entertainment”.’
    They may be exactly what I need. 🙂

  14. Becky – for a while I collected a ton of those life in the different eras sorts of books. Feel free to come by and browse and borrow any time.

  15. I love your stack! What a great title – the Cradle of Civilization.
    And Carver: A Life in Poems, a book I wish I had written. Oh I love it!
    Good luck on your project.

  16. Yes, Carver is wonderful. I bet you would also like the biographical verse Carol Oles has written for an adult audience –on Maria Mitchell, Edmonia Lewis, very lovely.

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