My Favorite Research Books: A Field Guide to American Houses, by Virginia & Lee McAlester
This book is mindbogglingly detailed, so much so that my eyes cross slightly whenever I reference something from it. Don’t get me wrong. I love how every page is filled with minutiae that can keep my brain swimming for hours and hours, but there’s a limit to how many details about dentils, modillions, and other classical moldings found in Neoclassical and Italian Renaissance architecture that the mind can safely absorb without flatlining. Unless, of course, you’re an architect and adore such things. I, for one, am not and do not, and so I like to limit myself with such descriptions. Less is more, as they say, but a few such details nicely sprinkled throughout can certainly add some rich texture to one’s writing.
A Field Guide to American Houses truly is a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you’re a historical writer and find yourself in need of such information. The sections are vast and varied: Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Georgian, Creek Revival, Gothic Revival, Tutor, Neoclassical…you get the idea. There’s even a pictorial key that you can reference roof lines, walls, windows, chimneys, porch supports, and other decorative details. If you’re writing a novel that takes place in 1828, and you want to describe the residential street in which your heroine is jauntily strolling down, you certainly don’t want to make the blunder of describing spindlework that would be found on Queen Anne houses built from 1880-1910. That’s just sloppy research right there!
Interested in learning about cantilevered porches or pediment windows to add authenticity to your next novel? A Field Guide to American Houses is still available for sale on Amazon by clicking here.
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