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REFERENCE BOOKS

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 20, 2010

Who said books were outdated? A home library can be a boon for writers even with the advantages of the Internet. For example, I needed to know the difference between a Chinese junk and a sampan for my current WIP. My characters have to go from an island off the coast of Japan all the way to Taiwan. They hire a boat from a small fishing village. Which type of vessel would be appropriate? Here’s what I found.                                               Chinese Junk

First I looked online at Wikipedia on these sites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_(ship)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampan

From these articles, I learned a sampan is a flat bottomed boat used for fishing or transportation in inland waters like lakes and rivers. It’s propelled by poles, oars, or an outboard motor. Sampans are still used in rural areas in Southeast Asia. They may have a shelter on board and be used as living quarters.

On the other hand, a junk is an oceangoing vessel with several sails. War junks and merchant junks were common in the past. With their longer range and multiple uses, this type of ship suits my purpose. I have only to watch videos of Horatio Hornblower to get a feel for the claustrophobic interior.

Suppose my characters walk the deck. What do I call the different parts of the ship? Here I checked my home library and found the following books:

SHIP: The Epic Story of Maritime Adventure by Brian Lavery, Dorling Kindersley ,2004.

The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing, Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley, 1991.

I love these visual dictionaries. You can find almost anything. We have several of them on our shelves and they’re wonderful references.

Here are some more recommendations, although I have older versions:

The Dorling Kindersley Visual Encyclopedia, Dorling Kindersley, 1995

The Visual Dictionary of Everyday Things, Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley , 1991

Ultimate Visual Dictionary, Dorling Kindersley, 1994

What’s What: A Visual Glossary of the Physical World, Reginald Bragonier, Jr. And David Fisher, Ballantine, 1981

Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary, Marc McCutcheon, Ballantine, 1992.

Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, Reader’s Digest Association, 1997.

Sometimes as writers doing research, we uncover obscure, fun details to add to our stories. Look what I found when I put Japanese Fishing Boat into an online search function: A Japanese trawler was sunk by a giant jellyfish. Cool, I can use this info in my story. These creatures are real and can weigh up to 400 pounds. Read more about it here:

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2009/11/02/enormous-jellyfish-sink-japanese-fishing-boat

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/6483758/Japanese-fishing-trawler-sunk-by-giant-jellyfish.html

 So while many things can be looked up on the Internet, sometimes a real book is just what you need to meet your research requirements. With the digital age upon us, don’t toss these tree killers–or whatever activists are calling them these days–into the bonfire just yet. Regard them instead as treasures of knowledge.

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4 Responses to “REFERENCE BOOKS”

  1. This is twice now you’ve pretty much read my mind. I’m on the hunt for research books for my next story and hope to come upon some gems that I can add to my research library. I use the county library system’s online catalogue as well as the Amazon used book network to find rare and sometimes out-of-print books that nonetheless have the information I need. It’s like a treasure hunt!

  2. The bargain tables at the bookstores can be another goldmine.

  3. I find research difficult depending upon the subject. JI couldn’t find much on the net I actually had to go to a library in Vermont and still not much… What do you do then?

  4. Depends on the subject, Mary. Is it modern day or historical? Is it a local or a way of life? Diaries and journals, maps and tourist brochures, are some other resources you can use.

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