Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Analyses

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Called the "Biography Series," the first three volumes of this set consist of bio-bibliographic profiles of more than 400 fiction writers, from Chinua Achebe to Roger Zelanzy. Coverage emphasizes contemporary American authors, many of whom are best-seller types not usually included in such works, e.g., Tom Clancy, Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Helen MacInnes, Harold Robbins, and Danielle Steel. Also treated are major novelists of the past, both American and foreign, including such giants as Emily Bront (but not Charlotte), Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, and Erich Maria Remarque. The profiles, which average five pages, furnish brief material about the author's life and career, list the major works, and conclude with selected annotated references. The remaining eight volumes, called the "Analyses Series," explicate 1400 individual titles, from Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist to Nikos Kazantzakis's Zorba the Greek. Except for a few short stories, e.g., W. Somerset Maugham's Rain, all the works analyzed are novels. Analyses treat such aspects as characters, social concerns, themes, techniques, and literary precedents and usually end with "Ideas for Group Discussions," a valuable feature. Plot summaries are not offered. A dozen appendixes such as "Themes Grouped by Title," "Titles Grouped by Social Concerns and Themes," "Authors Grouped by Genre," and "World Wide Web Sites for Authors" add much useful information. An index by author of analyzed titles and a master index round out the set. The 227 contributors are mostly American college professors, and all entries are signed. The encyclopedia represents a reworking and updating of the four-volume Beacham's Popular Fiction in America (LJ 6/1/87), the four-volume Popular World Fiction (Beacham, 1987), and the two-volume Beacham's Popular Fiction 1991 Update (LJ 9/1/91). This new set is a quite respectable production, offering a constructive if sometimes uneven critical overview of the world of popular fiction. Some users will wonder why certain writers are included while others are omitted. To correct such disparities and keep the set fresh, the publisher promises one or two supplements each year. Obviously, the Masterplots series and various Gale multivolume publications (e.g., Contemporary Authors, Contemporary Literary Criticism, Dictionary of Library Biography) dwarf Beacham's. But smaller libraries unable to afford the larger sets will find Beacham's a serviceable addition to the reference collection.-Ken Kister, author of "Kister's Best Encyclopedias," Tampa, Fla.
Library Journal
These three new volumes continue the 11-volume set published in 1996, which contained three volumes of author biographies and eight with analyses of specific works. In the introduction, the publisher announces plans to expand the series continually, not only with authors already included but also by broadening the scope to include world literature and writers from previous centuries. The wide range of authors covered suggests that "popular" literature might be a misnomer; the set seems to include any author whose work might be assigned to a student or chosen for a report. Arranged alphabetically by title, the volumes range from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov through Stephen King's lesser-known titles to dated but perennial favories like Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain. Each title is examined under headings such as social concerns, themes, characters, techniques, related titles, adaptations, and ideas for group discussion, making it useful for teachers as well. At over $800 for the entire 14-volume set, it's an expensive purchase, but these three continuation volumes could stand alone and will be appreciated in general libraries frequented by students. [The publisher is offering a special discount of $650 for the 14-volume set.--Ed.]--Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up--A compilation of analytical essays on mostly American authors who have attracted either a large audience or significant critical attention. Written by college faculty, this ambitious endeavor covers a multitude of people, from Pulitzer-prize winners such as Booth Tarkington, to authors of "girls fiction" such as Gene Stratton Porter; from European writers who have influenced the development of the American novel at the beginning of the 20th century, to the strong impact of the Latin American novelists in the 1960s. Future volumes are planned. Three volumes cover biography and resources and eight volumes are devoted to analyses. A typical analysis of a novel contains several columns of text on characters, social concerns, themes, techniques, literary precedents, related titles, adaptations, and ideas for group discussions. Twelve appendixes (including web sites on individual authors) are designed to help readers identify titles, authors, and themes for research. Unlike more traditional literary sets like American Writers (Scribners, 1991) or The Chelsea House Library of Literary Criticism, aimed at university-trained readers, the writing here is lively and accessible with bold judgments and conversational asides. With its annotated lists of resources for further research, this set is a useful tool for beginning researchers and a handy ready-reference source for book-selection ideas for librarians.--Mary H. Cole, Polytechnic Preparatory Country Day School, NY
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