Today’s post is brought to you by the letter
B is for Bibliographies. I find new books to read in the bibliographies of other books. I also gain new friends by admitting to this level of geekiness. True story. My colleague at the bookshop, the Superhero Scholar, likes to gauge the people he works with by how big their library is. How many books do you own? is one of his standard questions. I admitted to not knowing how many books I own, but I told him I knew how many books I’d read from cover-to-cover since June of 1993. Since the Superhero Scholar is much younger than I, 1993 seems like a long time ago, so he was impressed. We wandered onto the topic of how books get put on our respective To Be Found lists. We both admitted to treating bibliographies like some people treat collectable cards: Got it, Read it, Need it. There are symbols for various states of Got It/Need It pencilled into the margins of bibliographies in books I own. I am a Geek. But so is Superhero Scholar. This is why we are friends. Plus we both like the X-Men.
Obviously, bibliographies occur primarily in non-fiction works. Serious non-fiction works. Works of Scholarly Research. I have, on occasion, looked for books mentioned in not-so-serious works of non-fiction – books mentioned in a memoir for example. The bibliography rabbit trail usually gets followed in the midst of research on a specific topic. The trick is following up works mentioned in the bibliography that are pertinent to the work at hand. Of course, true geek that I am, I also like following up works that may not quite be pertinent to the current project, but that I’m interested in for some future project. This is called being distracted. It is especially dangerous when one is writing one’s doctoral dissertation, and can lead to delays in the completion of a dissertation. I am finished that little project though, so now distractions are allowed. Right?
Superhero Scholar and I also use bibliographies to gauge which books are seminal works in fields that we are interested in. A seminal work is one that most people refer to as a standard. In my field, Religious Education, an example of a seminal work is Stages of Faith by James W. Fowler. Fowler’s work is so often assumed in the field, that one must have some kind of idea of his theory to be able to join the discussion. There are similar works in other fields.
Bibliographies might seem like a good place to stop reading, but they end up being pretty interesting. Check out the bibliography of the next non-fiction book you read. This is where the author got their ideas. These are the author’s partners in conversation. Join the discussion! Check out the books from the bibliography.