Thursday, June 21, 2007

From Clueless to Connoisseur

For two years, I’ve lived in a quaint New England college town whose chief claim to fame is its U.S. News and World Report rating as home to one of the best universities in America and birthplace of Chester Greenwood, inventor of the ear muff. There is a parade in Chester's honor every year down the thriving, brick-fronted main street. At first glance as you drive through town, you think you’ve stepped back a century. Looking more closely, you see the university has taken over a lot of the big Victorian houses as office and academic buildings, and there’s a hippie store amongst the funky others that has cornered the patchouli oil and incense market in western Maine.

I am ashamed to say I do more of my shopping at Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town (all those cheap books, you know, plus they have a Dunkin Donuts in the store). But since I’m on vacation, yesterday I decided to visit Twice Sold Tales, an enormous UBS with considerable organization despite its laid-back vibe.

I really scored. For $15 I bought a 1,536-page, eight-pound book, The Connoisseur’s Complete Period Guides to the Houses, Decorations, Furnishing and Chattels of the Classic Periods, published in 1968. It spans from Tudor times to early Victorian, and is loaded with articles, photographs and illustrations. Like a lot of people, I do research online, but I’m really a hands-on kind of person, so this book is fabulous for me…although it makes me sneeze and itch a little.

What I’m loving most is the faces in the portraits. There’s Wellington, there’s Castlereagh, there’s an unknown lady with Shirley Temple curls. Or maybe Shirley had hers. There’s a lot of stuff pictured courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, my favorite place on earth, and one painting loaned out by “the Earl Spencer,” Diana’s grandfather. I could spend the rest of the summer discovering exactly what crizzling and cartouches are.

Have you ever found something you just had to have, even if you didn’t have a practical use for it? What's your favorite research tool/site? Anything interesting about your town?
Petworth: The Drawing Room by J.M.W. Turner, c. 1828


Atherley said...

The most utterly useless thing I had to have is a now nearly-280-year-old book, An Answer to the Dissenters Plea for Separation, printed in London in 1728. I found it in an antiquarian bookstore in lower Manhattan one day and fell in love with its antiquity, though I've little interest in Church of England politics! The thing smells like a library full of old books and cedar shelving. I've got to practically archive it, keeping it out of sunlight and humidity!

As for research, my absolutely favorite "tools" are the Firestone Library at Princeton University and the New York Public Library's map room. Internet research is convenient, but it doesn't hold a candle to the thrill of exploring a great library and and discovering what lies within.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Anne, one of the perks of working in my library is I get to take the discards home. I have several strange and wondrous things (see the January 15 post). I love old books. And you're right, nothing beats the real thing as you sit hunched over a fragile manuscript with your white gloves on!

Hellie Sinclair said...

I'm so jealous of your book find! How awesome is that!?

My currrent "research" book faves are:

The Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines (Tami Cowden): breaks them down into archetypes and lists flaws and strengths, etc. Very good. Highly recommend.

And I probably have about 4 plotting (specific) books; a dozen general writing books; a book of jobs to give your characters; history books (mostly Scotland); and...well, pretty much anything. I rarely read them, though I obviously though they were highly important to have at the time and I won't part with them.

Terri Osburn said...

I don't research. LOL! But I love old books. I've found some great ones over the years at flea markets. I have this one that was a handbook of sorts to tell soldiers how they were to behave in all different social situations. I believe it was printed in the late 1800s. I also have another manners one I think. I just love the way they look and smell and everything.

Beverley Kendall said...

I have this wonderful picture book on Victorian homes and another one of Godey's Costumes and Fashions which I absolutely could not do without.

Anonymous said...

Yes Maggie - I'm purchased many things I've had to have and have had no need for.

Always when I'm off in the country and someone is having a yard sale, or I pass by a great shop. I've purchased unusual boxes, and holder, and all sorts of things that are in my home... had to have them, no use for them... they are now decorations.

Janga said...

My favorite research source and my biggest splurge on something I wanted but didn't really need are the same--the OED. It is endlessly fascinating to me, and it gives me a thrill to look on my personal reference shelves and see my compact edition complete with magnifying glass. But I have always had library access to it, and now it is only a mouse click away, so it was a splurge. Second only to the OED as favorite reference works are Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Benet's Readers Encyclopedia, and H. W. Fowler's The King's English. I can spend hours lost in any one of them.

Earrings are another extravagance. I am not big on jewelry, but I love earrings. The problem is I fall in love with a pair at a craft show or museum and buy them. Then I get them home and know that I will never wear them. I have a penchant for the long dangly ones, but my neck is too short to wear them. I look foolish with earrings hitting my collarbone. :)

Lenora Bell said...

I'm a thriftstore addict so I have unnecessary treasures too numerous to recount. As for research, I rely in a predictable way on Wikipedia when I'm overseas, and the interlibrary loan system when I'm stateside. I loved the description of your town. I'm from a teensy town in Southeast Alaska, where the population doubles during the tourist months. There has never been, and perhaps never will be, any fast food restaurants in the town. No McD's, no KFC, no Starbucks. Nothing but bars, greasy spoons, and a hippie pizza place.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Beverley, I'm very visual too. Despite my love of writing, I'd much rather see a picture than read those thousand words!

Maria! Welcome! I used to be a terrible yard sale-antique shop addict. Now I keep trying to give stuff to my kids...and they don't want it either. But I do love quirky, repurposed things. Frustrated interior decorator here.

Terrio, the thrill of contemporary writing: you're living it! I love old books though too.

Janga, indulge your inner gypsy. Wear those earrings. I actually used to read the dictionary for fun---I imagine I'd go blind with the OED.

Lenora, you're my first Alaskan (besides Jewel). I've had great luck in thriftstores. Bought one daughter's prom dress in one for $9.99, a brand new cheongsam (sp?).

And Hellion, no writerly books here. None. Guess I need to get some. :)

Anonymous said...

Maggie - quirky is a nice word for it. Sometimes I find pieces I think are beyond incredible and I give them as gifts to family members. Unfortunately they aren't always sure what the heck to do with them.