The Bibliography: The Original Linky Rabbit Hole


One of my biggest time management problems these days is the “linky rabbit hole.” This is when you go to a website for one quick thing and end up following links to many more things that sound interesting. Your one quick research question consumes two hours of useless surfing. (Although you likely did learn a few things while down the rabbit hole. A few might even be relevant to your work!) Many people think this is a new phenomenon, but I invite you to behold the bibliography!

I always hated compiling bibliographies for my papers in school. (It was the nit-picky formatting more than anything else that irritated me. The teacher would drop your grade for one misplaced comma or period.) However, I appreciate a thorough bibliography in the books (and journal articles) I read.

Growing up pre-internet, a bibliography was the best way to get more information on a topic. You couldn’t simply click a ton of links until you found what you needed. There was no GoodReads or Amazon helpfully pointing you to similar books. You took a few books on the subject, read them, and then checked the bibliography for books/articles that would fill in more pieces of the puzzle. Then you got those books, rinsed and repeated until you knew what you needed to know.

Of course this was required for schoolwork, but I (dork that I was) used the bibliography as a way to build my TBR pile. If a topic interested me, the bibliography was the fastest way to find more on that subject. Librarians could help, too, but even they often didn’t know everything contained in a bibliography.

I still use bibliographies to pad my TBR pile. Yes, even in the age of the internet. Many books/articles cited in bibliographies are so obscure that they never make it online. They come from tiny academic journals with no web presence, or books that are long out of print and not indexed. The only place you’ll ever hear about some of these resources is in a bibliography. (And then you have to go to a university library or use interlibrary loan to hunt them down because a regular library isn’t going to have them.)

It’s a wonderful way to expand your horizons and learn more about a subject. Sure, the information you find online is quick and often “good enough,” but a writer who’s taken the time to thoroughly research a topic will often have amazing information you can’t find online.

Bibliographies are not only for non-fiction. While they’re generally required for non-fiction, there’s nothing stopping a novelist from including “Inspired by,” “If you liked this book, read this,” or “Here are the books mentioned in the novel,” sections at the end of her novel. (While my publisher didn’t put it in the back of the book, I compiled a list of the books referenced in Broken Fate.) I wish more publishers and authors would get behind bibliographies for fiction.

This may not seem that different from what Amazon does in recommending books, but there is one key difference. The books in a novel’s bibliography represent the taste and interests of the author, not an impersonal algorithm. It’s like being able to ask an author for her own recommendations. It’s a way to see the direct influences on that book you love so much. A bibliography in a novel can expand and extend the story-verse for a reader. It’s far more personal than anything Amazon can cook up.

Bibliographies in fiction are a great way to introduce readers to new authors who write in your genre, or who write books that your characters like and read. They can be a great way to help readers get a better sense of your story world and the people who live there. A lot of authors compile music playlists for their books, but I’m in favor of book playlists.

For you writers out there, here are some “book playlists” that might be useful.

“What should I read next if I loved your book?”

“What books do your characters love to read?”

“Which books can teach me more about the setting/mythology of your book?”

“Who writes books similar to yours?”

“What books did you use to research this novel?”

If your publisher won’t put them in the back of your book like a regular bibliography, put them on your website. There are plenty of book nerds out there who will eagerly follow the trail down the rabbit hole and read everything you recommend.

Thorough and interesting bibliographies are still relevant, even in the age of Google. Do your book-loving readers a favor and give them a trail of interesting work to follow. Anyone who loves your book or has a strong interest in the topic will thank you.

(Photo courtesy of klimkin)

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