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Saturday, October 5, 2013

What's On Your Research Shelf?

My children are well aware of my love of old books. Many years ago, while attending college, my youngest son spied a copy of The War Department’s Manual for Noncommissioned Officers and Privates of Infantry of the Army of the United States—circa 1917, in a small antique shop. He knew I wouldn’t be able to resist it and he was right.

There are some stains on the fabric cover and the binding is a bit loose but the book is in pretty good condition, considering what it might have been through. I can only imagine. I had absolutely no idea if I would ever use the information it contained but I’m one of those people who believes that all things happen for a reason.

Over the years, the book has remained in my research bookcase. I knew it was there if I ever needed it. What surprises me is that without realizing it, over the years I’ve collected quite a few books about the same time period.

War as a subject, has never been one of my consuming interests but there is no denying that it is part of our history. I have never thought history has been particularly well served by teaching only the important dates and accomplishments of the news makers of any particular period. History is lived by the people whose lives are affected by those important dates and generals and movers and shakers who are marked down as having changed the world.

Last year, the germ of a story idea prompted me to browse through the book again; wonder about the young man who might have memorized the information contained inside that one day might save his life. Or at least make it a bit easier.
It wasn’t long after that I came across Doughboy War, The American Expeditionary Force in WWI, a book full of letters and recollections from men that some long ago historian called “the fierce lambs”. They were farmers and clerks, mill workers and students. They were men whose ancestors had settled in the original thirteen colonies and men not long off the boat from Europe. Few were well-educated and many were illiterate. Some didn’t speak English.

Some of their letters made me smile, especially Sgt. Alvin York who related that his platoon was made up of men who could out drink, out fight and out cuss anyone and warned not to look side-ways at any of them unless you were ready to fight. More than a few of the letters made me cry. The soldiers didn’t mince words when relating the horrors of war.

Men go to war for many different reasons; some go because they are patriots and go where and when they are called. Some are running away from something they envision as scarier than war. Some are yearning for an adventure, lured by the stirring rendition of bugle and drum. Each one has a story and it would take a lifetime to unravel them all. I abhor war as much as the next person but I have to tell you that I am in awe when I read the snippets of their stories.

I research as I go and what I’m finding in the books that I’ve purchased over the years is helping me build the hero that was prompted by a small, square soldier’s manual. I just spied a copy of The World War One Source Book, that I haven’t looked through for a long time, but I need to take a break from war and catch up on my Prohibition facts.  

Lucky me, for my birthday this year, I received a book on the very subject.   

What’s on your research shelf?

Until next month,
Happy Reading!
Paris Brandon

***The photo I used for this blog is of Frank Buckles:  February 1, 1901-February 27, 2011

Last survivor of The American Expeditionary Force in WWI. If you'd like to find out more about him, here's the link:


Tina Donahue said...

Loved your post, Paris.

Like you, I adore old books. Growing up, my favorite places were libraries, not the mall, not music stores or amusement parks.

I had tons of research books before the internet. Now, I can get so much of what I need with just a few keystrokes.

God bless the internet. :)

Paris said...


I would probably have many more books if it weren't for the internet, lol. These days I search thrift and antique stores for the old and unusual stuff. Library book sales are also a great place! Thanks for stopping by:)

Rose Anderson said...

I love old books too, Paris. I'd fill the house if I could. I've tried several times. lol :)

Paris said...


My husband always jokes that if I don't stop buying books we're going to need another floor added to the house, lol! I find them as irresistible as chocolate:)

Rose Gorham said...

Great blog, Paris.
I get very emotional when I read or watch war documentaries; all the human destruction and hearts broken, and I mean down right crying my eyes out.
On the subject of research, I have reference books on animal tracks, poisons, and venomous animals & poisonous plants on my shelf, thinking they'll come in handy my books ladies.
Now a days most of my research is done on the internet.

Paris said...

Rose G.,

The internet does make it easy to have information at our fingertips and I find myself there when I'm in a time crunch. Thanks for stopping by!

Melissa Keir said...

Some of my favorite books are first editions of Bambi and old typewriter manuals. These were books my grandmother had and I've kept them ever since. :)

Paris said...


I have my grandmother's copy of "Little Women" and a few of her old poetry books. They are my treasures:)

Sandy said...

Paris, I loved this post, and the young man in the post hasn't been gone too long, so I hope his family cherished him.

War is not easy for anyone, but yet men seem to think it's an adventure until they're in the midst of it.

I have a bunch of my grandmother's old romance books. They were the kind of books I was allowed to read as a child.

Katalina Leon said...

Wonderful post Paris. This book sounds like a treasure you were destined to find.

Paris said...


I'm glad you liked the post. Frank Buckles lied about his age and tried to get into the Marines but they said he wasn't big enough, the Navy rejected him because of flat feet but the army was taking everyone. In order to get to the front faster he signed on to drive ambulances and motorcycles. He was 16.

Paris said...


I think you're right. The minute I heard about it I knew I'd have to have it.

Cara Marsi said...

Interesting post, Paris. That's a great picture of a WW1 soldier. A long time ago I had a copy of Ben Hur that was published in the late 1800's. It used to be easier then finding old books. I left it at my parents' house when I moved out. My parents were divorced and my dad remarried a women with two teens. My dad divorced that wife and she and the kids moved out and my book with them. Never saw it again.

The only research books I have now are books about the Gilded Age, a time that fascinates me. I want to write a book set in that period.

jean hart stewart said...

I have a brown, fragile copy of the Sear Roebucks catalog for 1916. It's lots of fun and the price make you want to laugh and cry at the same time. Lots of stuff you'd want for under a dollar. Great post!

Paris said...


I'm so sorry you lost that book! I don't remember when I first learned that its author was a Union general, Lew Wallace. Besides being a memorable story it has an interesting background. Good luck with your story set in the Gilded age.

Paris said...


How wonderful! I'm always fascinated by old catalogs and newspapers. When restoring old trunks was the rage, I used to be able to find many with old newspapers lining them. They were a hoot!

Anonymous said...

I love old books! I love history. Growing up with my grandfather, I was raised on stories of WWI. I've gone on to develop a keen fascinating in military history itself. I'm also hooked on presidential history. I've learned that nothing compares to the original source material, so whenever possible, I search out the words of the people who lived in those times. Last year I was able to track down writings from General Charles Lee from the American Revolution. It changed my entire opinion of him.

Thanks so much for the post. I could go on about this topic for pages and pages. I'll shut up now .

Anonymous said...

If you visit southwest Missouri, stop in my secondhand bookshop, BOOKMARKS, LLC. I've got plenty of books to add to your bookshelves! I sell a lot of them on Amazon as Ozarkbookmarks.

I buy research books per project and rely on those and people who are experts in their field. Books on gardening, costumes, maps (lots of those!), horses, weapons, the British army and lots of others are for my historicals. How-to books about forensics and being a PI are for this century writing. Can never have enough source books!

Paris said...


I know what you mean. I could go on for hours about history and ofter do. Nice to hear that I'm not the only one, lol!

Paris said...


I will definitely stop in your shop if I'm in the area!

Suzanne Rock said...

Great post!

Now a days, I get most of my information from the internet, like Tina.

My husband gave me the best Christmas present one year, though. It wasn't really an old book, but more like a book of old things. It was a dictionary of old mythologies and superstitions. It was HUGE. AS a paranormal writer, I was in Heaven. I still pull it out from time to time to look for ideas. :)

Marianne Stephens said...

Not many research books since so much info is available on the Internet. I have some specific ones for individual books: a few for certain years when I wrote a book set in a particular year.

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