A note about research

So, I’ve made a point not to talk about writing and publishing here, even though those are things I do spend a lot of my time doing and researching.

But researching isn’t the same to me now as it was in high school. I don’t sit down with a stack of books as high as my head – okay, that’s a lie – and go through with a stack of index cards to glean out bits and pieces of information. I’m not writing non-fiction. I don’t feel the need to keep all my resources straight and my files in proper order.

I read. I read a lot.

Right now I have a stack of food-history books sitting at the base of my stairs waiting for me to get to them. I blame Mark Kurlansky for this. I read his book Salt and I’ve been hooked on food history ever since.

The thing is, these food-history books aren’t just about the food. They’re about culture and history and currency. They drift through centuries and recipes to modern restaurants. And that’s the thing. Nothing in the world is unconnected. And when you read natural histories (One Good Turn – the history of the screwdriver. Find it.) you find wonderful rambling stories that move from place to place through time. You end up thinking about things that you never knew you were interested in – say the history of the Basque.

That’s what I love most about research. That wonderful immersion in a world that has so many connections and tangents that you never know where you’re going to be next.

I also read blogs. Lots of them. Feedly is my new addiction now that Google Reader is RIP. I read through articles on evolution and electronic freedom and the new invisibility cloak that some grad students who grew up on Harry Potter are making come to life.

Part of those histories and blogs normally include the personal. They discuss the musty libraries or other blogs or interviews they’ve had with fascinating people. Those little glimpses into how someone researches are often as interesting as the research itself.

So, you might wonder why I’m as interested in the mechanics of firework colors as I am in the conditions of poverty in Victorian London, and it’s all because I never know what is going to spark a new track. I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I do enjoy the journey. The fascinating world that authors don’t always talk about because they think that everyone is as interested in the glittering ballrooms and jewelry as they are. I’m just as interested in what happened below floors or in the coal mining facilities or in the furniture trade. I want to know about the apprentice chimney sweeps who used to climb the chimneys and developed odd medical issues later in life. I want to know that while the ballroom was crowded with people, you had to dodge the drips of candle-wax melting from the chandeliers.

My research is haphazard in a way. I’ll read one book that will lead me to read another one. I’ll read one blog post that links to a new blog, that links to an article here or there. This blog is not meant to be Wikipedia. But it is meant to build connections and maybe to find a few new things that I’d never thought about.

There will be some articles that I wrote in college going up. (All properly footnoted and stuff.) Those I’m mostly saving for research themselves, but feel free to tell me what you think and what’s changed in your opinion.

What is your favorite method of research? Do you like blogs? Podcasts? Interviews? Books? Magazines? Trade journals? Do you wander from section to section or do you do a deep dive? Let me know your favorite resources down below.

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