Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain" **

Is it wrong to spend $70 or $80 on books for fascination brought on by having written one little short story? Could I not go to the library, perhaps? Perhaps. But last night Amazon cast its spell on me and kept doing its “readers who ordered this also liked this” magic trick and before I knew it I had ordered four books of collected first-hand accounts of the lives of soldiers, civil servants, families, and children of the British Raj. Four books -- a bit lavish of me!

Here’s how it all began: in the midst of ploughing forward with my novel, I took a few hours to reread a Sunday Scribblings story I wrote last summer, set in Raj-era India, Spicy Little Curses Such As These, about kissing and curses and Hindu Hell. I LOVE it.

But I have long been wanting to spackle the huge holes in my knowledge of British India. The details about regiments of Scots Fusiliers and what sorts of weapons the dacoits weilded; and what is a syce and a khitmutgar and an ayah; and what cocktails were mixed at parties? And is it true that most children were sent home to England to boarding school? And lots of other little things. Did they play cricket yet, or mainly polo? I’m just really suddenly fascinated with that era. Beside me now sit a battered second-hand copy of Famous Tales of India by Kipling; one of Barbara Cleverly’s fun Sandilands Raj mysteries; and a mysterious-ish old yellowy tome called Hindu Religious Customs and Manners. Been a while since I read Passage to India -- maybe I should rummage for that, too.

Quite apart from the India stuff, I read a little about the Battle of the Somme. MY GOD. July 1, 1916, Northern France: the British army suffered 57,270 casualties in one day, of which 19,240 were deaths. IN ONE DAY. Almost a hundred years later, this remains a one-day record. I say again, MY GOD. How can generals bring themselves to send waves and waves of young men to certain death like that? How can there exist a personality type capable of marshalling that scale of death? Do generals have to terminate the functioning of their imaginations, the thing that would make them start putting faces and childhoods and histories to those 19,240 names? It puts me in awe and fear of the flexibility of the human mind, the way it can be made to do the limbo under the basic human default setting of NOT sending thousands of one's own country's sons out to die in the mud. I’m not saying those generals were wrong to do it. Obviously if I just learned about the Battle of the Somme, I don’t know nearly enough about the First World War to judge. I wish I could judge. If I could have my dream super power of time stoppage I would somehow squeeze in a history degree, learn to do research, read more nonfiction, delve in dusty archives for old letters and diaries, and try to gather enough of the past into my head to have some insight into our baffling human ways.

Right now, though, I’ll just wait for my four new books and hopefully learn enough about the Raj that I’ll be compelled to write MORE about it some day. Just think of all the story possibilities! (Oh, but I am proud of myself that I drew the line at ordering these books. I’m only allowed to get them if I actually read the other four!)

[** The quote in the title of this post is by Louisa May Alcott. See it here.]

13 comments:

Kim G. said...

I'm so glad you're going back to that story! I loved it and it made me think of a dark and twisty version of the old "Sleeping Beauty". Can't wait to read the "futzified" version!

Rampian said...

Aren't those Amazon recommendations insidious? I've ordered six books from Amazon in the past month--and if it hadn't been for the recommendations, I would have ordered one!
With regard to the British Raj: Have you ever read the first few pages of 'The Secret Garden'? Cholera, mem sahib, English ladies in long gowns, British army men, ayahs, elephants... it's all there.

aithbhreac said...

What deliciousness all the way around. I have found myself more open to drawing many little trinkets and books (and even events/experiences) into my world when I can frame them under the validating category of "research". I applaud your latest investment! "Spicy Little Curses.." is just a title that begs for every justice to be done to its writing process!

Sustenance Scout said...

They're investments, every one, Laini! I love the "addled" quote...it reminds me of my older brother who told me I'd sprain my brain from reading too much. Thankfully I paid him little mind...and kept right on reading. K.

Deb R said...

The need to own books is a sickness. But I have to say I don't particularly want to be cured. :-)

deirdre said...

I went through an "India stage" several years ago and read everything I could find. Fascinating stuff. I'm glad your working on the story again and am looking forward to reading the revised version. Yay!

xegbp said...

My nephew has recently develpoed a love for books and his collection is growing and I am so happy that I can feed his passion. Books have always been a aprt of my life I can not imagine it without them.
The India research sounds exciting and i am looking forward to the rest of Spicy Little Curses...

paris parfait said...

I love Kipling's work and all those tales of the British Raj. And I can totally understand you getting caught up in the offerings and ordering more books! I have books everywhere in my house, many of them unread and I keep ordering more. Wonderful Louisa M. Alcott quote - her Little Women book was what convinced me I could make a living at being a writer (rather than the secretary, teacher or nurse the guidance counselor suggested). :) Enjoy your books!

Neil said...

It is completely wrong for you to pay all that money for books when you can go to the library. But would life be any fun if you did everything you were supposed to?

Alexandra S said...

This post makes me want to gobble up history books myself! And as far as Amazon goes, I think they put viewers in a trance if you stay at the site more than a few seconds and then you are FORCED through amazonial hypnosis to buy their books. I firmly believe this!!!

Karen said...

Another one of those moments of synchronicity--I just finished rereading Hodgson-Burnett's book A Little Princess (about a girl who is sent from India back home to England to boarding school, as apparently most children were, for health reasons), then go to check on Sunday Scribblings and click on your name (to offer help putting up the permalink list, since I really liked what I wrote yesterday and want people to read it)--and end up seeing something about India, with its lascars and ayahs...

How's that for a run-on sentence? Can you tell I just finished rereading Faulkner's Light in August?

I'll be watching for Blackbringer, as we're a house of readers here...

Karen

Anonymous said...

A t-shirt, please, for your fellow besotted readers. (Most of your favorites are also mine.) WE NEED a "She is too fond..." t-shirt- bought the card for leader of our Jane Austen study today and everyone wants a t-shirt and a lapel pin- turn your card-size into a pin?? I intend to do so and know they would be snapped up!
Your royalties would buy writing time. WIN-WIN ! Brenda

Anonymous said...

we are trying to find the original source for the quote "she is too fond of books and it has addled her brain". We know it is from L.M. Alcott's book "Work"but cannot find it with that exact wording. Can you help?