How Do You Choose What To Read?

RLKC profile picI mentioned in a recent post that I’m a part of Read Local Kansas City. I am also a part of another “read local” organization—Hometown Reads, which lists books by local authors in many cities across the U.S. Go check out this site and see what books have been written by your hometown authors—you might find a gem.

Hometown Reads wants to learn more about people’s reading habits, and they have a few questions for readers. These questions include:

  1. When do you read books?
  2. How do you choose the books you want to read?
  3. Do you read print books or ebooks?

As I’ve noted in earlier posts, I’ve been a life-long reader. While there were periods in my life when I didn’t read for pleasure, it has been my first source for entertainment since I was four or five years old, and even earlier when my parents read to me.

When do I read? Any time I can. As a child, I read in the afternoons during the school year when my homework was done. And I read all summer long, devouring six to ten books a week.

During the years I was in college, law school, and employed full-time, I had little time for reading. But it was my guilty pleasure to curl up with a book on an occasional weekend afternoon, though I had work to do, kids to feed, and laundry to fold. On weekends when my husband was away on Naval Reserve training, I could get through a book or two, and I often did.

Now that I’m retired, reading is no longer a guilty pleasure, just a pleasure. Though at times I feel guilty, because I have a blog post to write or a critique partner’s chapter to edit or groceries to buy. Daily life continues to intrude on time I’d like to spend reading. Or writing.

How do I choose what to read? I’ll read whatever books come into my hands. I frequently receive books as gifts. Some family members give me books they think I’ll like. Others give me books they think would be “good for me.” One nephew works in an independent bookstore, and he finds unusual books that suit my interests, like this year’s gift, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, by Claudio Saunt, which is awaiting my attention.

I read literary bestsellers. I read books that friends recommend (which have led to some very good finds, like Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly, and The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore). I read books for my book club, and I read books that other book clubs are reading. I read books that our local library selects for community-wide “Big Reads.”

I read them all, or put them in a stack “to be read.” Most of the books in my stack I eventually read. Others I don’t, which makes me sad.

When I’m browsing, whether in a bookstore or library or online, I often look for books by authors I love. Those tend to be genre books in series, whether they be thrillers or mysteries or romances. But any book with an intriguing cover, or one I’ve read a review of, might get picked off the shelf and find its way into my stack.

The problem isn’t finding books to read, it’s making the choice between books.

Print or ebooks? I’ve addressed this question in earlier posts. I’ll read both, but I’ve switched largely to ebooks, except for books I’m given, books I can’t find in ebook format, and occasional forays to the library. The reason? My budget and my bulging purse. I can carry a tablet with Kindle, Nook and Overdrive apps loaded on it, each giving me access to dozens of books, or I can carry a single paperback, which gives me no choice of reading material when I’m stuck waiting in line or for an appointment. The Overdrive books from the libraries I belong to are all free, as are many Kindle and Nook books. Otherwise, my reading habit would break the bank.

And I can read on my tablet in the dark. That’s my new guilty pleasure. Waking in the middle of the night gives me the opportunity to read a chapter or two before I fall asleep again. I put on the blue light filter and read without bothering my husband.

What about you? What’s your answer to the questions posed above?

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Haunting Book: The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson

bookseller-coverLike A Murder in Time, The Bookseller haunted me because of how the novel deals with time and reality, though The Bookseller is not a time travel story. In this debut novel by Cynthia Swanson, the protagonist, Kitty Miller, owns an independent bookstore in the early 1960s, together with her friend Frieda. Kitty lives alone with her cat, but at night she dreams of another life, a life set in a slightly different time. In her dream world, she is married to a wonderful husband named Lars, and she is the mother of triplets, two of whom are normal children, and the third is autistic. In that dream life, she is Katharyn Andersson.

Through the course of the novel, Kitty also comes to doubt which world is real. The story becomes like the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, with alternate views of reality. Is it autumn in 1962 or spring in 1963? Is she Kitty, the bookseller? Or is she Katharyn, wife to Lars and mother of three children? Which does she want to be? Can she choose?

SPOILER ALERT—DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS

Kitty likes the freedom of her solitary life as a bookseller, but she finds herself more and more drawn to her dream world, hoping each night to find her way back. She falls in love with blue-eyed Lars and with their children, though she has trouble understanding and dealing with her autistic son. She realizes that she knew Lars in her life as “Kitty” several years earlier, and that the life she dreams of might have been hers, had one conversation been different.

Interwoven with this alternate reality story is the story of women in the 1960s, at the cusp of cultural change from being housewives to having paid careers. Does Kitty want her bookstore—which is hers, though it is failing because of the new shopping center in town—or does she want Katharyn’s Jackie-Kennedy-era life of a housewife dependent on her husband, while raising kids and attending cocktail parties?

Over time, Kitty doubts the choices she’s made in life and comes to wish that her dream world were real. In fact, she starts to think it is real. However, Katharyn’s world is not perfect, and Kitty learns that her parents—alive in her bookseller’s life—died in a plane crash in her fantasy. She also learns that her alter-ego Katharyn has had a falling out with Frieda, the friend with whom Kitty owns the bookstore in the real world.

As Swanson says in The Bookseller, “There is no such thing as a perfect life.” We all discover this for ourselves in our own lives, but part of the reason I read fiction is to watch the characters discover the pros and cons of their choices. In this case, the choice was between two different lives—each with its own rewards and problems. Friendship and career, or family and tragedy—which would you choose?

I won’t tell you where Kitty/Katharyn ended up. But I will say, I enjoyed her journey.

What books have caused you to think about life choices you have made?

Tidying Up: Beginner Level

My husband was recently out of town for about ten days, leaving me home alone. I wanted to focus on my work-in-progress, and I did get a good chunk of it edited into close-to-final shape (yay!), though I didn’t do as much as I had hoped (boo). I also decided that while he was gone I would undertake some household clean-up projects.

I’m not good at keeping things in order, as I have written before. Moreover, my husband and I have different styles—he is neat, and I am not. I see right through clutter. It doesn’t bother me to sit in the middle of stacks of paper—I can still focus on the work at hand.

Plus, I know from experience that sorting stuff out gets messier before it gets neater. One must strew everything on the floor so it is all visible before it can be organized and stowed.

“I’m getting nervous,” my husband says, whenever he sees me strewing paper about, or if my old piles of paper start to teeter. He doesn’t deal well with the interim stage of chaos.

“Stifle it,” is what I want to say when that happens, but I try to just smile and say, “It’ll all be put away soon.”

Soon, of course, never comes soon enough for him, which is why I wanted to do my cleaning while he was gone.

I developed a long list of projects to do in his absence—sort out financial files (the ones not shredded in my last cleaning project), go through all our old computer peripherals and electronic gadgets to throw away or donate, organize my bookshelves and give away books I didn’t need, sort through files from boards and committees I’ve been on in the last decade, organize the documents I should keep from my time as executor of my parents’ estates, etc.

I started with my books. I had a pile of books on my bedside table that had been there for months (okay, make that years). I wanted to read them, but I usually turn to ebooks before I go to bed. I had two shelves of books I’d received as gifts that I hadn’t read yet. As well as two more shelves of beloved books I might want to read again. And books authored and autographed by friends. And textbooks left from law school and management programs. And half a shelf of French novels that I should really read to keep up my French vocabulary.

You get the picture. (It will have to be a mental picture, I didn’t take a photo of my bookcase before I started.)

tidying upI began by taking all the books off the shelves and piling them on the floor to sort. Imagine my surprise when I found a book I didn’t remember receiving—The life-changing magic of tidying up, by Marie Kondo.

Ironic, I thought, to find a book on tidying when I planned to spend a week at that activity. I opened the book—and was further surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) to learn that the person who gave it to me was my husband. I’d stuck a little Christmas gift card from him inside the front cover. Even more ironic.

So Kondo’s book did not end up in my discard heap, and I read it in the evenings after I worked on my clean-up projects.

bags of books 20160809_093721

Bags of books (more than 100 books in total) waiting to be given to the library

First I learned that when “tidying up”, as Kondo defines it, there are two rules: (1) Start by discarding, and (2) then organize your space. Okay, I’d done that part right. When reviewing my books, after I spread them all out, I put about 100 aside to donate to our local library. Only when I’d made my “discard” decisions did I start putting the books back on the shelves.

Moreover, Kondo recommends starting with clothes and books. My clothes closet was in decent shape still, because my daughter and I did a major clean-out a year and a half ago. Kondo would have approved me starting with my books, I thought.

But then my approach began to deviate from Kondo’s. Does each item you own give you joy? she asks. If an item doesn’t give you joy, get rid of it. On one level, all books give me joy. On another level, there are books that I know I will never read, but I hate to not give them a try. Or at least tell myself I will give them a try.

And after all, I gave away more than 100 books. Isn’t that good enough?

Kondo and my husband would say no. I should have discarded every one of the books that I probably will never read.

But it would have to do. The bookcase looked better than it had. I moved on to the next project.

bookcase after 20160815_214521

My bookcase “after” tidying up. Not perfect, but definitely better.

I certainly didn’t get to everything on my long list while my husband was gone, but I made a dent. He has another trip planned in September, so I’ll check off more items then. Tidying up will not bring me joy, but I’ll keep plugging away at it.

Is it easy or hard for you to get rid of things?

P.S. After I drafted this post, I read a post by a writer friend, Jessica Conoley, who also just read Marie Kondo’s book. Here is Jessica’s take on tidying up.

Returning to Childhood With Favorite Books

I’ve written before about the importance of reading in my family when I was growing up (see here and here), and about how my husband and I read out loud to our kids when they were small (here). I recently had occasion to revisit some of my favorite children’s books.

My husband boxed up a bunch of our daughter’s old belongings, intending to ship them to her now that she has her own home. When she found out about his plan, she told him she didn’t want any of that stuff, and he should just give it away. We’ve adopted an interim solution—the boxes will await her visits during the holiday season, so she can review and confirm that we can give away her childhood possessions.

Some of the books I rescued from the "give-away" pile

Some of the books I rescued from the “give-away” pile

But I have already rescued a few of her books. Some were my childhood books that I gave her when she was small. Others were books I bought for her that I loved as a girl, but didn’t own. A couple were even my mother’s childhood books, which my mother gave to me. No way will I let those go at this point; someday, maybe, but not now.

Some of the books from my daughter’s shelves I decided I could part with, even though I loved them. They were paperback copies of books now in the public domain. Most notably was What Katy Did. This was the first in a series of three books about a tomboy named Katy, written by Susan Coolidge. Katy ended up with an injury that cut her tomboy days short. I won’t tell you any more, but even though I was never a tomboy, the story struck my fancy.

I have my mother’s copies of Little Women and Little Men, and my sister has our mother’s copy of An Old Fashioned Girl. An Old Fashioned Girl was my mother’s favorite of Louisa May Alcott’s books. My favorites were Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, about a girl named Rose and her seven boy cousins. The idea of being an orphaned girl pampered and bossed and teased by aunts and an uncle and all those (mostly older) boy cousins seemed such an unusual life to me—I had only younger siblings and no cousins in the vicinity.

My mother's Ex Libris sticker from her copy of A Wonderful Year

My mother’s Ex Libris sticker from her copy of A Wonderful Year

But the two books I loved most that were in the give-away pile—the ones I most had to rescue—were A Wonderful Year, by Nancy Barnes, and Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt. Both are girls’ coming-of-age stories.

A Wonderful Year, published in 1946, was my mother’s book. It is about Ellen, a young girl whose family moves from a town in Kansas to a ranch in Mesa Valley, Colorado, sometime early in the twentieth century (well before 1946, given the illustrations in the book). Ellen feels terribly out of place on the ranch, until she becomes friends with a teenage English boy on a neighboring ranch named Ronnie. As a young girl, I often felt terribly out of place, and I empathized with Ellen, though she seemed to have many more interesting adventures than I ever had. But I could relate to her descriptions of tumbleweeds and sage.

I received Up a Road Slowly for Christmas when I was twelve or thirteen. This coming-of-age novel was the 1967 Newbery Medal winner. It’s set in some period earlier than 1967, though the year is never specified. The story is about Julie, whose mother dies when she is about seven, and she is sent to live with her strict aunt. As a result, she believes her family doesn’t love her. She lives with the aunt for many years, and the readers see Julie mature through her high school years. I read it when I was older than Julie when the book begins, but she was older than I when the book’s timeline ended. This novel formed many of my visions about what high-school life should be—visions that did not come true. But I still loved the story.

What these two books have in common is a girl protagonist who feels alone and friendless, much as I felt as a child. I could escape into their stories and see that they came out of lonely childhoods into a brighter maturity—a message I very much needed in those years.

Since my daughter has no interest in keeping these books, I guess her tastes in books are different than mine. Maybe the passage of the generations has made the books I loved less relevant. Maybe my daughter had more friends as a child than I did (I think so). Maybe she just doesn’t want to be encumbered by “stuff” in her new home.

Whatever the explanation for why she doesn’t want them, I welcome the opportunity to treasure them again. I want to dive back into another time when life was simpler, if not always happier.

What things from your childhood do you treasure that your children don’t care about?

Haunting Book: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Goldfinch coverThe Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, haunts me because I hated it so much. I know it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. I also know I hated it.

Earlier this year, I wrote a review of the book on Goodreads that read “While this book is well written, the only character I cared about was the painting.” I intended to write more, but got distracted. Still, that one sentence pretty much sums up my feelings about the book.

Oh, I could say I liked the dead mother also. (That’s not a spoiler, because you learn the mother dies in the first fifty pages or so.)

SPOILER ALERT – THE REST OF THIS POST DISCUSSES THE PLOT AND THEMES IN THE GOLDFINCH.

Ms. Tartt created a few unique characters—the Russian boy Boris comes to mind. But many of her characters were stock types—Theo’s friend the nerdy Andy Barbour; the rich, depressed Mrs. Barbour; the kindly friend James Hobart (“Hobie”) who later takes Theo in without asking too many questions about his past; the bitchy stepmother Xandra. None of these characters were very likeable.

Even the protagonist Theo, comes across as the epitomical shell-shocked orphan, thrown into a cruel world through no fault of his own. Theo’s world is modern and crosses many social strata, but it is no less squalid than Dickens’s 19th century London slums. But Theo doesn’t rise above his world, he sinks into it. He wallows in it. I tried to like Theo, but I just couldn’t drum up enough sympathy for him to make The Goldfinch worthwhile. And certainly I didn’t have enough sympathy to last 800 pages.

I was entertained by Boris’s shenanigans and manipulations, but I couldn’t sympathize with his and Theo’s drug and alcohol use and shoplifting. I chuckled when Boris first came on the scene, but within a few pages I wanted to throw the book across the room each time he conned Theo into another bad act.

I could see that Ms. Tartt wanted us to sympathize with all these characters as products of their environment, but I couldn’t help wanting to shake them into taking responsibility for themselves. Theo becomes the addicted thief his father was, despite despising his father.

You’d think Theo would have developed just a little self-awareness through the years, but he didn’t. He only came to his senses after he is almost killed, again as the result of Boris’s manipulations. Even then, his first reaction is to hole up in drug-induced oblivion in a foreign hotel.

Ms. Tartt’s language is often beautiful, but she goes on ad nauseum. One article said that the book had been acquired by its publisher in 2008, yet not published until 2013. Ms. Tartt must have added fifty to one hundred pages of extraneous text each year in between.

One of my friends gushed about the book when she was about 200 pages into it. By the time she finished, she agreed with me—the book is at least 300 pages too long. I really wanted it to be over long before Theo left Las Vegas to return to New York.

But I had to find out what happened to the painting. That’s all that kept me going until the end.

What books have you thought you should like, but you just couldn’t?

Haunting Book: The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

This month I’m writing another series of book reviews on “haunting books.” I haven’t read that many really good mysteries or thrillers by new authors this year, though I recommend to readers that you try any book by Tana French (see review of In the Woods here) or William Landry (see review of Defending Jacob here). Therefore, my reviews won’t necessarily be of haunting books in the traditional sense. But they are reviews of books that have stuck with me for some reason.

luminaries coverMy first “haunting book” post this year is on The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2013. I first heard about The Luminaries last fall, about the time it won the Booker award. It sounded intriguing—a story of New Zealand during its Gold Rush years in the 1860s. I was hard at work drafting my novel about the California Gold Rush in the 1840s. Could The Luminaries offer me any inspiration?

But I was daunted by the 800+ page length of Catton’s novel. My reading time was limited, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to so long a book. When I start a book, I intend to finish it.

I put my name on the hold list for The Luminaries at my local library—both for the hard copy version and for the ebook—and waited. My name came up shortly before Christmas, and I checked it out.

When my son came home for Christmas, I had just started reading the book. He was also reading it for his book club and was further along in the story than I was. He raved about how wonderful the novel was, so I got more serious about plowing through it.

The book starts out conventionally enough. A stranger comes to town on a dark and stormy night and insinuates himself into a suspicious group. It could have been an Agatha Christie mystery. But such was not the case.

I could tell as I read that there was a complicated structure to the book—a structure so complicated it was beyond my abilities to fathom as a reader or a writer. I read that Catton based her novel’s structure on the zodiac and astrological symbols. Each character was designed to represent either one of the twelve zodiac signs or a planet. Supposedly, the characters interact based on the relative movements of the constellations in the heavens, and the decreasing length of the chapters corresponds to the waning of the moon.

I know nothing about astrology (beyond reading my daily horoscope for amusement), and I didn’t understand any links between the characters and the zodiac signs or planets. Even when I read that Te Rau Tauwhare, the Maori native, was linked to Aries, for example, I still didn’t know what to make of it. The star charts for each chapter were meaningless to me.

So I read the book as a murder mystery set in an intriguing time and place. I learned about the Hokitika goldfields in New Zealand in the 1860s, and had a good time doing so.

The prose in the book was lovely. The plot was intriguing. But it started off so dang slow. I like a book—particularly a murder mystery, which The Luminaries is at heart—to move quickly. As has been widely reported, the first chapter in this book is 360+ pages.

The novel is dark, like watching a movie filmed mostly in shadows. The characters are grim and tortured. But I still enjoyed the book. The pace picked up after I got through the grueling first chapter.

It took me a couple of months to read the book, rotating from hard copy to ebook, depending on my library’s check-out demands. At one point, I had to stop for a couple of weeks, when I had to return the copy I had and no other version was available.

A more committed reader would have purchased the book.

Nevertheless, despite the slow trudging that reading The Luminaries required, the novel makes my “haunting book” list for several reasons:

  • My awe at Catton’s ability to structure such a complicated book and still make it a good story. As I said, I could tell something was going on with the book’s structure, though I couldn’t understand it. Nevertheless, it was a good read, despite its length.
  • The Dickensian prose, detailed and lush and often macabre, which painted a picture of unfamiliar lives and times. I’ve read many Victorian novels by Dickens and others. The Luminaries is reminiscent of them in style, but the complex structure of the book takes it out of the Victorian genre.
  • The history, which taught me about New Zealand’s colonial days and the Hokitika goldfields, the harshness of gold digging in the mid-nineteeth century, and the intricacies of English law. Who knew property, inheritance, and shipping laws could be so intriguing?
  • The characters, each compelling in his or her own way, from the opium-addicted prostitute to the cruel sea captain to the devious shipping agent. The large cast of characters presented a microcosm of their time and place. I felt that I came away with a feeling for the many classes of people that flocked to New Zealand to seek their fortunes in gold.
  • The plot, which in the end was simply a good murder mystery, with a romance at its core. It had all the twists and turns that a mystery should have, complete with mistaken identities, illegitimate children, forgeries, stolen gold, and betrayals intended and unintended.

I recommend The Luminaries. But set aside a long period in which to read it. And you might even consider buying it.

What long books have you enjoyed?

Fact and Fiction: A “First Hand” Description of San Francisco in April 1848

Henry Vizetelly, an English publisher who was in San Francisco at the time of the 1848 gold discovery, wrote a novel entitled Four Months Among the Gold-Finders in Alta California: Being the Diary of an Expedition from San Francisco to the Gold Districts. He used the pseudonym J. Tyrwhitt Brooks.

Fiction or not, the novel was published in 1849 and was written by someone present in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. The descriptions of the condition of San Francisco and other places in 1848 are likely to be more accurate than later accounts.

The book is written as a series of diary entries by the doctor, J. Tyrwhitt Brooks, who arrives in San Francisco in late April 1848, intending to offer his medical services to the U.S. Army in California in the waning days of the Mexican-American War.

San Francisco Harbor 1846-47

San Francisco Harbor 1846-47

Our fictional Dr. Brooks describes the ship’s passage through the Golden Gate and into the bay and town:

… I felt heartily glad to hear that we were then clearing the Faranolles [sic, these are the Farallon Islands, just off the coast of San Francisco] and soon hurried up on deck, but we continued beating about for several hours before we made the entrance to the Bay of San Francisco. At length, however, we worked our way in between the two high bluffs, and along a strait a couple of miles wide and nearly five miles long, flanked on either side with bold broken hills – passing on our right hand the ricketty-looking fortifications erected by the Spaniards for the defence of the passage, but over which the Yankee stars and stripes were now floating. On leaving the strait we found ourselves on a broad sheet of rippling water looking like a great inland lake, hemmed in on all sides by lofty hills on which innumerable herds of cattle and horses were grazing, with green islands and clusters of rock rising up here and there, and a little fleet of ships riding at anchor. On our right was the town of San Francisco.

Those of us familiar with San Francisco Bay can picture the Golden Gate strait, with its lofty hills on either side, and the great inland “lake” of the bay. I used a similar description in my novel about the Gold Rush when my protagonist arrives in San Francisco in 1848.

Vizetelly’s novel continues with an April 29, 1848, journal entry:

. . . This morning we all rose early, and went on shore. The little baggage we had we took in the boat. . . . We made our way to Sweeting’s hotel, which Malcolm and McPhail had visited yesterday, and stated to be the best of the three hotels which have sprung up here since the Americans became masters of the place.

. . .

San Francisco, although as yet but a poor place, will no doubt become a great emporium of commerce. The population may be about a couple of thousands; of these two-thirds are Americans. The houses, with the exception of some few wooden ones which have been shipped over here by the Americans, are nearly all built of unburnt bricks. The appearance of the native Californian is quite Spanish. The men wear high steeple-like hats, jackets of gaudy colours, and breeches of velvet, generally cotton. They are a handsome swarthy race. The best part in the faces of the women are their eyes, which are black and very lustrous. The Californian belles, I am sorry to say, spoil their teeth by smoking cigarettos.

San Francisco, Winter 1848

San Francisco, Winter 1848

Think of San Francisco having only three hotels! Of course, with a population of only two thousand, three may have been sufficient. But that didn’t last for long, as within two years San Francisco’s population burgeoned with gold seekers and their commercial supporters.

Vizetelly’s protagonist Brooks makes no mention of the discovery of gold when he first arrives in San Francisco. Within days, however, he and his companions travel to Monterey, where they first hear rumors. The May 4, 1848, journal entry says:

. . . Mr. Bradley accompanied me to the Governor’s house, where we saw Colonel Mason, the new governor of the State. . . . Colonel Mason then asked Mr. Bradley if he had heard the reports of gold having been found on the Sacramento, as Mr. Fulsom had casually mentioned in a letter to him that such rumours were prevalent at San Francisco. Bradley replied that he had heard something about it, but believed that there was no truth in the matter, although a few fools had indeed rushed off to the reputed gold mines forthwith. With this our interview terminated.

Brooks then returns to San Francisco, seemingly uninterested in the gold. By May 8, however, he hears more:

. . . Captain Fulsom called at Sweeting’s to-day. He had seen a man this morning who reported that he had just come from a river called the American Fork, about one hundred miles in the interior, where he had been gold-washing. Captain Fulsom saw the gold he had with him; it was about twenty-three ounces weight, and in small flakes. The man stated that he was eight days getting it, but Captain Fulsom hardly believed this. He says that he saw some of this gold a few weeks since, and thought it was only “mica,” but good judges have pronounced it to be genuine metal. He talks, however, of paying a visit to the place where it is reported to come from. After he was gone Bradley stated that the Sacramento settlements, which Malcolm wished to visit, were in the neighbourhood of the American Fork, and that we might go there together; he thought the distance was only one hundred and twenty miles.

And by May 10, the rumors are rampant:

. . .  Yesterday and to-day nothing has been talked of but the new gold “placer,” as people call it. It seems that four other men had accompanied the person Captain Fulsom saw yesterday, and that they had each realized a large quantity of gold. They left the “diggings” on the American Fork (which it seems is the Rio de los Americanos, a tributary to the Sacramento) about a week ago, and stopt a day or two at Sutter’s fort, a few miles this side of the diggings, on their way; from there they had travelled by boat to San Francisco. The gold they brought has been examined by the first Alcalde here, and by all the merchants in the place. Bradley showed us a lump weighing a quarter of an ounce, which he had bought of one of the men, and for which he gave him three dollars and a half. I have no doubt in my own mind about its being genuine gold. Several parties, we hear, are already made up to visit the diggings; and, according to the newspaper here, a number of people have actually started off with shovels, mattocks, and pans to dig the gold themselves. It is not likely, however, that this will be allowed, for Captain Fulsom has already written to Colonel Mason about taking possession of the mine on behalf of the Government, it being, as he says, on public land.

13287959 J Tyrwhitt Brooks book coverBrooks and his fellow travelers soon make plans to go to the gold fields, where they spend four months, their tale told in the remainder of Vizetelly’s novel.

As Vizetelly’s book makes clear, the California Gold Rush was the source of great stories, both true and fictional. Novels written close to the time of the history on which they were based are a wonderful source of color for later novelists.

When have you relied on a novel of the times to learn something about history?