Maybe you’ve seen the slogan: “So many books, so little time.” I know the feeling. I’ll never get to all the books on my list. Time for reading is at a premium, so I try to make the most of it. Like an investor who pores over stock charts and business news, I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about what to read.
Before the interwebs, there weren’t a lot of resources for this, especially when it came to genre material. One of my most prized books was The Penguin Encyclopedia for Horror and the Supernatural, published in 1986. This oversize volume became my tour guide to a collection of authors whose work I admired and loved–and have written about since: Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James, Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Russell Kirk, and more. The editor was Jack Sullivan, who also wrote many of the best entries. He attracted quite a team to help him: Jacques Barzun wrote the introduction and other contributors included Everett F. Bleiler, John Crowley, Michael Dirda, Don Herron, T.E.D. Klein, etc.
Over the years, I’ve seen Sullivan’s byline in a few places, usually for articles about music. This week, it was in the Wall Street Journal, atop an excellent article on Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann, and the music of Psycho. When I first encountered The Penguin Encyclopedia, I knew about the sounds of Psycho (who doesn’t?), but I learned about Herrmann, the composer, from Sullivan’s long entry on him.
My bookshelves now creak beneath the weight of reference books, including many on the same subject as The Penguin Encyclopedia: the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers (one volume), Icons of Horror and the Supernatural (two volumes), Supernatural Literature of the World (three volumes), and so on. Yet Sullivan’s book is in many ways the best–a roadmap that I still consult when I’m in the mood to read something creepy.