Tools for Readers
There are all sorts of useful resources on the internet, and I often begin with wikipedia. But I have also accumulated some good reference books over the years, and it’s often easier and more convenient to consult them. So here are some suggestions for resources for the curious reader…
General reference, useful for looking up authors:
Penguin Companion to Literature (4 volumes, from the 1960s)
Guide to Modern World Literature (4 volumes, Teach Yourself Books, 1970s)
Oxford Companion to English Literature
Cambridge Guide to Literature in English
J A Cuddon: A Dictionary of Literary Terms (this is an invaluable guide, and the best of its kind I’ve come across)
on Jane Austen:
J David Grey: Jane Austen Handbook (Athlone Press)
J Ross: Jane Austen A Companion (John Murray)
on Joyce’s Ulysses;
Harry Blamires: The Bloomsday Book (this is basically a key or companion to the text, great to have open alongside the novel text when you’re reading).
Oxford Companion to Shakespeare
Crystal: Shakespeare’s Words
For reading Shakespeare plays themselves, I’d always go for one of these editions: Arden Shakespeare was the gold standard for many years, especially the second series; the new third series isn’t as good, I don’t think; New Cambridge Shakespeare is very good, as is the Penguin Shakespeare series.
on Sherlock Holmes:
Redmond: Sherlock Holmes Handbook
New York Review of Books
London Review of Books
You can access some of each issue of these two free online. The Times Literary Supplement is behind a firewall, and the Literary Review isn’t very good. If you read French, Magazine Litteraire is quite good and there’s some stuff freely accessible on their website.
Publishers’ websites can be very useful for keeping up to date with forthcoming publications, and sometimes there are good special offers – I’ve had a couple from the Penguin website.
Nice books: if, like me, you like a book to look and feel good, and haven’t come across the latest incarnation of the great Everyman’s Library, it’s well-worth looking up; all the great classics are there, and some great 20th century literature too, in well-produced and reasonably priced hardback editions.
Free stuff: if you have an e-reader, there are vast amounts of free literature out there for the downloading: look up Project Gutenberg, or the Internet Archive. Anything that is out of copyright (this generally seems to mean pre-1923, for some reason) will turn up there eventually.
Audiobooks: you can pay a lot for commercial recordings, and you can get a wide range of titles (again, out of copyright only) from the Librivox website, in several languages. There’s also a new French-language equivalent website called litteratureaudio or something like that; a search will turn it up.
Critics: if anyone wants any recommendations more specialised than on this list, leave a request via the comment section & I will try to help.