...in which I share some of my favorite medieval research resources and methods for the benefit of others interested in also writing about the Middle Ages

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Don't Overlook the Value of Gift Books

I'm talking small (5" X 6.5"-ish), hardbound, beautifully illustrated little books you'll find, not in the history section of your bookstores, but in the "gift section"-- if you're lucky enough to stumble across such a book and if your favorite bookstore has such a section. These are mostly books I've discovered "accidentally", for you never know when they will appear and often it does feel like pure "luck" to be in the right place at the right time just as one of these little jewels is available. For that is how I view these books, as "jewels" in my research collection.

Many of these "jewels" come in the form of A Book of Days. Two such examples in my collection are:

Medieval Lovers: A Book of Days and Medieval Gardens: A Book of Days. Both of these books are filled with reproductions of contemporary medieval paintings, tapestries, etc. These reproductions "show", rather than "tell", what life was like during this period. But there is "telling", too! "Telling" in the form of contemporary quotes, whether medieval verses about love (in Medieval Lovers) or medieval advice about gardening (in Medieval Gardens). The lovely thing in both cases is that the text accompanying the pictures is "contemporary". We hear the medieval voice itself on these subjects!

A Medieval Herbal also contains contemporary medieval pictures and text, but this one is not a Book of Days. This gift book contains a modern introduction, followed by short medieval treatises on a variety of herbs, such as betony, fennel, marigold, wormwood, and many, many more. There are also sections on "In the Wood", "The Seven Herbes That Have Great Vertue", "In the Monastery Garden", "Gathering Herbs", "Drying and Storing", and "In a Pleasure Garden".

Last, but very much not least in my gift book collection, is Love and Longing in the Age of Chivalry. This is my smallest jewel of all, at only 4.5" X 5.5". It varies from the books mentioned above in that the artwork is a combination of contemporary medieval art and Pre-Raphaelite paintings. (If you're unfamiliar with the Pre-Raphaelite painters, then you are in for a treat. Click here to read about the Pre-Raphaelite painters and here to see examples of their paintings.) The text is also a mixture of medieval poets (Chrétien de Troyes, Bernard de Ventadour, Chaucer, etc), and more modern poets, such as Sir Thomas Mallory and John Donne. The former far outnumber the latter, however, once again giving you plenty of opportunities to sample the medieval "voice" in  matters of love!

Now for the bad news. Many of these "jewels" in my collection now seem to be out of print. Most have used copies available on Amazon, however, so there is hope for some of you to track down copies of your own. (And Google searches can usually help you find other buying options, too.) The lesson? If you are fortunate enough to happen across one of these little gift books, run, don't walk, with it to the cash register! If you delay, thinking you can come back and buy it just any old time, it not only might be gone when you come back, it might be out of print!

And the good news? Once again, I just happen to have a duplicate copy of one of these books in my research library. To find out how you can win a copy of A Medieval Herbal, click here.

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