Reference Question of the Week: Where can I find information about works of literature?

When I’m trying to find information about a work of literature, or about an author, my first stop is to see what books by or about the author we have in the library collection. Since someone told me recently to read James Dickey, I’ll use him for my example. All I know about this author is that the movie Deliverance (1972) was based on one of his novels.

The best book source would be a collection of critical essays about the particular work I’m researching (in this case, the novel Deliverance). But I also want to take a look at other critical works, because they may address certain themes that appear over and over in his work. Using the online catalog I’ll search for the author’s name, and then do another search for the work of literature I’m researching. Using James Dickey as my search terms I see that we carry the book James Dickey by Richard James Calhoun. This is definitely a book I want to get for my research. Even if I can’t tell from the record online if this is a book that will help, I’ll still locate it on the shelf, because there may be a book next to it that I can use in my research.

I also see there is a memoir by the author’s son. I’ll probably check in the index of this book to see if he writes specifically about the book or movie Deliverance. This might be helpful, perhaps giving me some insight to how the author felt about his work. I also see that there’s a collection of interviews and essays about Dickey (James Dickey: splintered sunlight: interview, essays, and bibliography). I’ll spend some time looking over this book as well. I’ll also look to see if we have a copy of the novel and check to see if it has any introductory matter that may help with my essay. I’ll check to see if the library carries the DVD because there may be a documentary, or some commentary on the movie that can give me insight into the work.

Once I’ve looked through the library’s collection of books, then I’ll turn to the databases. (Ubiquitous reminder: log in to Esearch before using the databases.)

One of my first stops for finding information on works of literature is the Literary Resource Center. When I search for James Dickey I get hundreds of results, so I then restrict my search to just peer-reviewed articles (by checking the box ‘peer-reviewed’ underneath the tabs). Then, on the left-hand side I have more options to restrict my search again, this time I choose the link for Deliverance. Now I have 3 papers, two of which are on-target, and one about the parallels between the writing of James Dickey and Coleridge. (This last paper I’ll skim, but I probably won’t read the whole thing since I don’t enough about Coleridge to include references to him in my paper. On the other hand, I’ll skim it because there may be some insight that can help me with my paper.)

The next place I look is Literature Criticism Online. Here I get some substantial information that addresses themes, symbolism, and critical reception.

I’ll also check LION (Literature Online). Here I got a lot of results, but not much full-text.

Three other databases I’ll search are JSTOR, Academic Search Complete, and ProQuest.

At this point I have found quite a few articles, so I need to focus my essay. Do I want to write about the role of nature in Deliverance? Rusticity? Gender? By looking at the criticism that’s been written I can get a good idea of which of these themes are significant to the critics. Then, once I’ve chosen my theme, I re-read Deliverance looking for that theme and thinking about my interpretation of that theme in this work.

Good luck with this assignment! It’s always fun to read a work of literature with a particular theme or idea in mind, and notice how it plays out over the course of the work. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to stop by and talk to one of our reference librarians.

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