On the Display of Much Reading
There's an interesting story in today's New York Times on the trend toward bibliographies in modern novels, with Norman Mailer, William T. Vollmann, and Martin Amis being the chief offenders. The trend supposedly started only a few years ago, and is now running out of control, with authors noting every single book they read by way of research and thanking all and sundry who helped them along the way, much the way non-fiction writers do.
According to Sebastian Faulks, it amounts to little more than egomania: “Lots of writers use them [bibliographies] as a way of showing off, saying, ‘Look how hard I’ve worked, look how clever I am, look at all these books I’ve read.’ It’s a plea to be taken seriously.”
“It’s terribly off-putting,” said James Wood, the literary critic for The New Republic. “It would be very odd if Thomas Hardy had put at the end of all his books, ‘I’m thankful to the Dorset County Chronicle for dialect books from the 18th century.’ We expect authors to do that work, and I don’t see why we should praise them for that work. And I don’t see why they should praise themselves for it.”
If bibliographies are foreign to the 19th Century novel, trumpeting the author's vast amount of research certainly isn't.
In fact, you could almost argue that Herman Melville paved the way.