• Reading,  Research

    Murder and Medicine

    Susanna here!

    A week or two ago, I decided to count my to-be-read pile and discovered that between my Kindle and my bookshelves, I own over 300 unread books! Which is just crazy. I buy books faster than I read them, especially since I’m also getting books from the library that take precedence over the ones I own because I have to take them back in three weeks.

    To lessen the madness a bit, I’ve decided that every third book I select to read has to come from the TBR. I don’t have to finish each book. I believe life is too short to waste time on books I don’t enjoy, so if I discover one of my impulse buys is poorly written, boring, annoying, or whatever and set it aside a chapter or two in, that still counts as clearing it.

    research shelf

    Almost a third of Mount TBR is composed of research books. I can’t walk through a used bookstore without checking out its history section and coming home with any likely-looking tomes on Wellington, Napoleon, the lives of women in the 18th and 19th centuries, and so on. And then there are all the times I’ve had an idea for a story, invested in some relevant research books, and for whatever reason either abandoned the idea or simply haven’t gotten around to writing it yet. So now I have all these books on Peninsular War battles like Salamanca and Busaco, on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and on Scottish Highland Travellers, just to name a few topics. Sometimes I swear those books are giving me reproachful looks for abandoning them to gather dust on my shelves.

    So I decided that at least one and preferably two of my TBR books each month have to come from the research shelf. I just finished the first such book, The Regency Underworld, by Donald Low. It’s an overview of crime, police work, and punishment during the Regency, all the way up until London’s first modern police force was created in 1829. If you’re interested in those topics, it’s a quick, worthwhile read.

    Burke and Hare

    Most of the book focuses on London, but one incident in Edinburgh caught my eye–the Burke and Hare Murders of 1828. Burke and Hare became serial killers after hitting upon a gruesomely lucrative moneymaking scheme. A tenant in their lodging house died of natural causes while owing Hare and his wife rent money, so they decided to sell his corpse to the anatomists at Edinburgh University rather than turning it over for proper burial. You see, back then the only legitimate source for medical cadavers was executed criminals…but by the early 19th century the number of executions was declining while medical school enrollment was growing. This led to a literally underground business for “resurrection men” who’d sneak into graveyards at night, dig up fresh corpses, and sell them to anatomists (who turned carefully blind eyes to where their cadavers were coming from).

    Once our villains saw that the medical school would pay good money and not ask many questions, it quickly occurred to them to make their own corpses…and in the year or so it took them to get caught, they claimed sixteen victims, largely by targeting those who weren’t likely to be missed. The public horror once the crimes were revealed was instrumental in the development and passage of the Anatomy Act of 1832, which was designed to expand the legitimate supply of medical cadavers.

    This is all fascinating enough on its own account…AND it’s given me the early germ of an idea for a story. In my January release, Freedom to Love, my heroine has a 13-year-old half-sister who learned healing at her mother’s knee and wishes she could study medicine. By the time of the Burke and Hare Murders, she’d be 26. Who’s to say she wouldn’t be living in Edinburgh at that point, perhaps as the young widow of a doctor or apothecary? If she was, she’d spend as much time as a woman could around the medical community, and who knows what she might suspect or witness? I can’t guarantee this story will happen–see above about abandoned ideas!–but it’s certainly fun to play with.

  • Former Riskies,  Reading

    The Nuclear Option

    First, let me preface this by saying I am sleep deprived because of a day job production database situation that kept me up and tense for about 10 hours Sunday afternoon through about 2:00am Monday. So the brain is a bit mushy.  Things came right in the end, but it was scary bad for a while.

    Anyway.

    It seems to be the case that when I buy books, physical reference books in particular, eventually, I run out of places to put them. My stacks are out of control. In fact, they no longer resemble stacks. Instead, they slid around like there’s a layer of jelly between them.

    If I go higher, someone, probably me, is going to get hurt.

    If I go wider, someone, probably me, is going to fall down in the attempt to find floor space for my feet.

    So I have had to get mean.

    Yes.

    REALLY mean. Meaner than that Spartan cat.

    I have begun to throw away books. Paper books. In my TBR. Book I bought and wanted to read. I loaned my copy of Wise Man’s Fear (a behemoth) to someone and told the loanee to take his time because when I do have time to read the book myself, I will buy it for Kindle. I just don’t do big books in paper anymore. Sorry.

    Big Freaking Hardback Fantasy vs. iPad3?

    The ipad3 wins. The iPad3 wins in just about every category actually.

    The substructure beneath my TBR has begun to emerge.

    My GOD!!!! There’s a floor here!!!!

    I have found other things, too. Like, my copy of Thieves Kitchen, the Regency Underworld. I’ve been wondering where that went. People, there was a LOT of crime in the Regency.

    Until such time as an eBook can adequately display the contents of some of the great, image-heavy reference books, I won’t be giving up my reference library. I suspect none of those reference books are making it to digital anytime soon.

    Shame that, because eventually the presentation for books like that will be BETTER than paper.  (video, color, 3-D image rendering. — Imagine if your fashion book showed you a 360 of that gown and zoomed in on the details, or showed a person wearing it, not a mannequin but a person. THAT would be awesome. I can’t wait.)

    My TBR I’m afraid, is physical toast. It’s going digital.

    My Questions to You

    • How close are you to going nuclear with your physical TBR?
    • What’s in it?
    • What’s a book you’re dying to read but haven’t yet?
    • What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

    Next week, Crime?

    P.S. Whichever Risky was nice enough to put the cover of Not Wicked Enough in the right-hand column over there ——>
    Thank you. That was really nice.

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