April 4th, 2010

Halloween Redux

"Lisa," I hear you grumbling, "cripes, we're still in the throes of Easter chocolate coma, and here you are bringing up Halloween again!"

Yeah, well...DEAL WITH IT. Because I'm starting on the second edition of The Halloween Encyclopedia. The contract has arrived, and the work has begun.

A lot's changed in the five years since the first edition was released. Several huge studies on just Halloween postcards have been released. Modern Halloween folk art has become its own cottage industry (complete with its own guild!). Halloween retailing continues to boom.

But the biggest change can be summed up in two simple words: Google Books.

Back in 2002-2003, when I was hard at work on the book, Google Books was still somewhere in the future. My research consisted mainly of lots of trips to the downtown L.A. public library, where I endlessly pulled dusty tomes from the stacks, filled out those little slips requesting volumes not on public display, fumbled with twitchy microfiche readers, and fed rolls of dimes into copy machines. Occasionally I bought items off ebay, paid academic institutions for copies of ancient periodicals, or turned up something rare in the Iliad. By the time I turned in the finished manuscript, I really thought I'd pretty much exhausted everything on Halloween pre-1950 or so.

Boy, was I wrong.

By the time I got to my second Halloween book (A Hallowe'en Anthology), Google Books was in place, and I found a lot of new material, but it was still growing.

Now, just a few years later, I am astonished at what I'm finding.

Entire runs of 19th-century periodicals. Very obscure turn-of-the-century folklore books. And a great many full runs of more recent journals and magazines.

It's absolutely amazing, and I'm not sure I'll need to make a single trip to the library this time around. Two hours tonight on Google Books turned up dozens of articles I've never seen, and was just the tip of the iceberg. I even found early 20th-century folklore journals I tried in vain to locate last time around.

In fact, Google Books is such a magnificent research tool that I almost feel guilty about using it. Somehow all those trips to the library and endless digging felt like work; this is almost too easy. But I'm telling myself that the work comes in knowing what to look for, how to look for it, and compiling it into an encyclopedic reference.

And yeah, I know that Google Books hasn't always operated in (ahem) the most respectful manner when it comes to copyrighted materials...but for pre-1923 public domain works and for the researcher like myself, I have to call it the single biggest leap forward in the ability to access information since the printing press. The only drawback is that I won't be able to cull illustrations from what I find here (although the illustrations are present in Google's PDFs, they're not of sufficient quality for reproduction purposes), but otherwise I am in awe, and can't wait to see what I'll find.