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  • General Reference Works
  • Gary Scharnhorst

In recent years we have seen a dramatic decline in the production and publication of basic bibliographical and research tools. To paraphrase Pete Seeger, "Where have all the bibliographies gone?" They have apparently been thrown under the theory bus. No one nowadays, I hazard to guess, earns tenure for an annotated bibliography of contemporary reviews, say, of Nathaniel Hawthorne, much less of Julian Hawthorne. In 2002, after over a century of publication, the Bulletin of Bibliography staggered to a close not with a bang but with a whimper. There have been no new volumes issued in the Cambridge Contemporary Reviews series since 2005. The ever-reliable G. K. Hall has been colonized by Scribner's, and who speaks for the subdivision? The Twayne imprint is defunct. Even though American Literature is still subtitled "a journal of literary history, criticism, and bibliography," when was the last time a bibliographical discovery was announced in its pages? Aside from Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, the bibliographical essays in the annual issues of Resources for American Literary Study, and the occasional book from Scarecrow or piece in a journal such as American Literary Realism, a once-respected field of literary study has dried up over the past decade. Instead, we have author society blogs and a glut of glib "companions" and superficial "literary guides" designed for sale mostly to libraries, all of which distill and consolidate past scholarship but usually contain nothing new. In "Why Bibliography Matters," pp. 9–20 in Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose, eds., A Companion to the History of the Book (Blackwell), T. H. Howard-Hill underscores my concern: [End Page 521] "Without books there is no history, and without bibliography there is no history of books." If poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, as Shelley insisted, then bibliographers are "the good housekeepers of the world of books."

The second edition of a work that originally appeared 14 years ago (see AmLS 1993, p. 314), The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre, ed. Don B. Wilmeth, is unquestionably the most important reference book to appear this year. The volume opens with a useful history of American theater fewer than 50 pages in length, and the hundreds of succinct entries, scores of them updated or new to this edition, are contributed by dozens of scholars. Among other monumental reference books issued this year: the four-volume Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature (DLB 329–32), which contains the expected entries on Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O'Neill, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Toni Morrison, and (ahem) Pearl S. Buck; and American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies, Supplement 16, ed. Jay Parini (Thomson), with 18 entries, mostly devoted to popular contemporary figures such as Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), Garrison Keillor, and George Plimpton.

Continuing the trend of recent years, many of the reference tools that appeared in 2007 are race- and/or gender-specific. Jennifer McClinton-Temple and Alan R. Velie's Encyclopedia of American Indian Literature (Facts on File) is a handy tool with hundreds of entries organized alphabetically from W. S. Penn's novel The Absence of Angels (1994) to a biographical sketch of Zitkala-Ša. Virtually all the entries, in fact, are either biographical sketches or textual summaries, though the book covers a few other topics (e.g., powwow, Ghost Dance, boarding schools, sovereignty, spirituality).

On the other hand, A Companion to US Latino Literatures, ed. Carlota Caulfield and Darién J. Davis (Tamesis), betrays an apparent failure of editorial planning or execution. It "attempts to document the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Latino literary output in the United States for non-specialist readers." However, the volume has no center or focus. Among the 12 chapters is a single essay devoted to a single author: Eva Paulino Bueno's "The Importance of Being Sandra (Cisneros)" (pp. 37–50). I'm surprised by what the contributors and editors neglect as well as what they sometimes include. Hardly mentioned are Oscar "Zeta" Acosta, Rudolfo Anaya, Ana Castillo, Cherríe Moraga, Norma Cantú, Gloria Anzaldúa, Arturo Islas, Américo Paredes, María Amparo...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2125
Print ISSN
0065-9142
Pages
pp. 521-528
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-01
Open Access
No
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