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Encyclopedia of Literature.

Reference Books

We rarely review reference books, but several have appeared recently that can be recommended to the student of contemporary literature. (And believe me, after eight years of editing a scholarly journal, I can tell you that critics don't use reference books nearly enough - to verify names, spelling, dates, etc. - and would be well-advised to pick up one of the following books instead of some newfangled excursion in literary theory.) The reference book having the greatest use is Merriam-Webster's new Encyclopedia of Literature (1,236 pp., $39.95). This has everything: concise, intelligent entries on authors, titles, characters, critics, literary terms, mythology, movements, prizes - everyone and everything from Jeppe Aakjaer to the Zuo zhuan, with an impressive number of contemporary writers (e.g., Sorrentino, Mosley, Brophy). It also gives the proper pronunciation of names, so if you've always wondered how to pronounce Kazantzakis or Saint-Exupry, this will set you straight. The book is nicely illustrated - there's a pretty photo of Nancy Mitford, for example, and one of Pirandello typing with one finger - and beautifully designed. This should be on every critic's bookshelf, and in every literature major's working library, right next to that compact edition of the OED.

As comprehensive but focused on a single subject, The New Oxford Companion to French Literature (865 pp., $49.95) is an authoritative guide to every aspect of French literature, including francophone writing from outside France. Contemporary authors are well represented: Jacques Roubaud has an entry as long as Dumas fils. There are numerous extraliterary entries as well, such as cinema and painting. Edited by Peter France, this is an invaluable aid to studying French literature.

More specialized yet is HarperCollins's Reader's Encyclopedia of Eastern European Literature (605 pp., $50.00). Consisting almost entirely of author entries, the book ranges from medieval Bulgarian authors to contemporary postmodernists like Peter Esterhazy. Authors who have been translated into English have separate bibliographies at the end of their entries, which also lists anthologies and any critical studies. Following the authors is a section devoted to anonymous works, and three indexes. A pronunciation guide would have been useful, but anyone interested in Eastern European literature will find this book essential.

The reference book with perhaps the most relevance to readers of this journal is Peter Parker's Reader's Guide to the Twentieth-Century Novel (748 pp., $35.00, Oxford Univ. Press). The book is organized chronologically, with 500- to 1500-word entries for the most interesting novels written in English published in a given year Cup to 1993). It can be enlightening to have certain books set in a context of what else was being published at the time. The year 1955, for example, has entries for Beckett's Molloy, Bowen's A World of Love, Donleavy's Ginger Man, Gaddis's Recognitions, Greene's Quiet American, Lewis's Magician's Nephew, Mitchison's To the Chapel Perilous, Moore's Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Nabokov's Lolita, Powell's Acceptance World, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Waugh's Officers and Gentlemen. The entries are critical as well as informative, giving proper due to innovators like Firbank, and while one could carp about omissions of certain favorite writers or books - specially American writers, given the British bias of the editor - there are enough unfamiliar titles here to keep one reading for a lifetime. [Steven Moore]

Back in Print

Alexander Theroux's 1981 masterpiece Darconville's Cat has just been reissued in paperback (Holt, 16.00). I've exhausted my superlatives on this book - see my introduction to our Theroux/West issue (Spring 1991); it's a Gothic cathedral of a novel, unparalleled in contemporary fiction. This edition has the added attraction of a few revisions by the author. [Steven Moorel
COPYRIGHT 1996 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Moore, Steven
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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