LITERATURE LOVER'S COMPANION

NONFICTION EDITED BY PRENTICE HALL PRESS

Prentice Hall Press, 2001
ISBN: 0-0-7352-0229-X
In the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon made the comment: “Of making many books there is no end.” Those words have never been as true as they are in the age of e-books, mega-bookstores, and countless writing genres of which Solomon would never even have dreamed. With such a massive number of books to choose from, readers can only welcome guides that give them some idea where to start.
         Prentice Hall's Literature Lover's Companion is yet another guide that claims to be absolutely indispensable to the serious reader. It includes entries on authors from about 1000 BC to the present. The book is eclectic but not wilfully obscure, including writers of a truly “literary” nature as well as those who belong more to the realm of pop culture. Its author biographies are clear and concise. However, the guide has failings as well as advantages.
         An excellent feature of the Companion is the short description of the author that appears by each name, telling the reader where the author comes from and what genres they write in. For example, A.S. Byatt is listed as “English novelist, biographer, and critic,” while Dean Koontz is an “American horror writer.” Dates of birth and death are also included. The short biographies contain some interesting anecdotes and insights. Readers may not have known that the science fiction writer Harlan Ellison sometimes likes to write short stories while seated in a shop window. The biography of the 19th century horror writer Ambrose Bierce offers the bizarre fact that his father gave all 13 children in the family names beginning with ‘A.’
         Unfortunately, the brevity of the entries sometimes results in errors and omissions. For instance, Chrétien de Troyes is said to be "the first to write down the legendary stories of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table." In fact, Chrétien was preceded by other Arthurian writers, including the well-known Geoffrey of Monmouth. The lists of published works are useful, but incomplete, a fact which not everyone might notice. They tend to give too much emphasis to the authors’ best-known works, forgetting lesser-known books which are just as good or better. The list for Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish writer of books for children, includes her famous Pippi Longstocking books but overlooks her hard-to-find masterpiece The Brothers Lionheart. The entry for Arthur Conan Doyle includes only his Sherlock Holmes stories, and none of his other fiction or non-fiction.
         The Literature Lover's Companion is a good basic guide to world literature. It might lead the reader to other authors that he or she would not otherwise have found and it is generally clear and well-written. Like many reference works of this sort, however, it is best consulted alongside other, similar guides, so as to get a more complete picture.