52 Pick-up 2.0, #48 – 12/1/2020
“In an earlier answer you talked about preferring to read books for your research. But I’m curious how you get access to them. Do you buy them or borrow from the library? And how do you build your research list or determine what to read next? And lastly as a result of your research have you changed something in one of your stories?”
I suppose I’m preaching to the chorus whenever I say, I like buying books. I think it goes all the way back to grade school when they used to have these Weekly Reader book catalogs where you’d pick out the books you want, and they eventually show up.
But the biggest influence in my childhood was the big, Carnegie Library downtown. Walking in there was like walking into the Library of Alexandria, Antioch, Serapeum and al Hakam II all rolled into one. There were these marble steps, Corinthian columns, rows and rows of oak file cabinets for a mysterious thing called the Dewey Decimal System, and most important of all, books. What seemed like miles and miles of books. Tall windows and massive, cushiony chairs that wrapped around you as a young boy discovered Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Harper Lee, Alexandre Dumas, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Zane Grey and so many others… It was like being a member of a secret society or club that knew things and hid them in a special place—books. I grew up in a family of readers, and I can’t help but think that that is one of the strongest elements in developing a reader. Some of the most powerful images I have of my parents is with a book in their hands.
I was distracted from my first love, reading, by sports and the other great mystery in life, girls, but I finally came back to reading as a young adult and it’s continued to this day. I’ve developed into something of a book snob in that if a book is worth reading, then it’s worth owning and if it’s worth owning then it’s worth having in hardback. Generally speaking, if I stumble onto a good book for research, chances are I’ll be circling around and reading it again sometime, and is there anything more horrifying than kind of remembering a book and then not being able to find it? So, I’ve assembled my own library… A couple of them, actually. The library here at the ranch, the one at the guest cabin (which was built because I bought a hallway of old barrister bookcases from a law firm that was switching to digital), another at my cabin on the mountain, another in my shop and the last in my tack shed in the barn.
But it’s not like I’ve got a problem or anything.
Bookstores to me, are a constant treat and one of the occupational hazards of my life. Up until this year I’ve had the joy of touring to some of the most beautiful and amazing bookstores in the world (and will again) and I rarely escape them without buying a book. I love bookstores and bookstore owners, they’re like member of that secret society I mentioned and there’s a brotherhood in being able to see them year after year.
One of the great joys of writing for me, is the research—climbing aboard my legal pads and using my pens to pole up a line-of-thought like a mysterious river in some uncharted territory in an Edgar Rice Burroughs tale—deadly to the most dangerous threat to man, ignorance. I don’t know everything when I start out on a book, heck, I hardly know anything, but hopefully I’m getting smarter through the journey.
Lastly, to your question—have I ever changed anything in my books because of discoveries in the research? Absolutely. It’s never all that much fun to be wrong, but to change course and make things right in your book, that’s priceless. There’s no sliding rule to truth and I think that’s why I enjoy writing about Walt so much in that the same goes with his view of justice. There’s no absolute in what’s right and wrong for all cases in that the letter of the law need be tempered with humanity, but as a guide or polestar, doing the right thing is pretty important.
I think I learned that somewhere, maybe in a book.
See you on the trail,