Just published is what one might call a ‘new concept’ literary encyclopaedia, ‘THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK: Over a Century of the Greatest Books, Writers, Characters, Passages and Events That Rocked the Literary World’, capably edited by Lucy Daniel and published in London by Cassell (2007). This is an 800-page work of reference consisting of 1000 articles by multiple hands, covering literature from more than 60 countries from the late nineteenth century to the present day. The articles focus variously on key books, writers, passages, characters and events. As well as mainstream literature, more popular genres and children’s writing are also covered.
There are two entries by my late father, Robert Rollason, and three by myself. My father’s are on two iconic modern English writers, John Betjeman (p. 442) and Anthony Powell (p. 553). My own, taking in Portugal, Italy and Australia, are: ‘Key Character: Ricardo Reis’ [Fernando Pessoa / José Saramago / Antonio Tabucchi]’, ‘Key Characters: Oscar and Lucinda [Peter Carey]’, ‘Key Book: José Saramago – Blindness’ (pp. 628, 659, 723 respectively). There are also contributions by a number of friends of mine – Letizia Alterno, Cathy Benson, Rajeshwar Mittapalli and Dora Sales Salvador.
This is an attractively produced and illustrated volume with a very high standard of contributions: the entries, though brief, are lively and informative. Everything is there, from Peter Rabbit to ‘The Waste Land’, and I particularly applaud the full coverage of such less ‘obvious’ areas as Hindi-language or Mexican writing: this ‘book of books’, though published in insular Britain, reaches out to the world and forges durable connections between apparently disparate literatures and cultures.
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