Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ready reference using the web: Edgar Allan Poe

For ready reference using the web, I chose to look up readers’ guides on the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. I chose Poe to coincide with my county’s focus in October on Poe’s works for “The Big Read.”

I used Google to perform a search using the terms “poe readers guide.” It brought back several selections. Some of these were links to purchase a bound readers’ guide but others presented readers’ guides that I could read online.

Those that I viewed as most credible were the ones that identified their authors and attributed the sources for their information about Poe; I would feel confident recommending such sources to a person who needed to compile information for a report for school.

With other sources, this information was not so readily discernible. I would consider recommending them to people who wanted enrichment for a personal reading of Poe.

In order by credibility with the most credible sources first, here is a selection of readers’ guides about works by Edgar Allan Poe:

1. The National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read: The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe:

These guides are a resource to enhance a community’s “Big Read,” a program that is administered by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The objective is to restore reading/literacy to a central place in American society by encouraging everyone in a community to read the same book.

According to the website, the NEA inaugurated the Big Read in 2006. “By June 2011, 949 grants had been awarded to communities in the U.S. to host Big Reads since the program’s 2007 national launch” (

The site notes that 10 communities took part in the pilot project, which initially featured four books. Today, “The Big Read provides communities nationwide with the opportunity to read, discuss, and celebrate one of 31 selections from U.S. and world literature,” according to a press release distributed by the NEA (

The “Big Read” guide for The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe includes an introduction, historical context, “About the Author,” other works and adaptations, discussion questions, additional resources and credits.

The website additionally offers a teacher’s guide and an audio guide.

I feel that this site is reliable because of the reputation of the NEA and the “Big Read,” specifically that 949 communities have taken part in this national program. I also rate it as reliable for the documentation it provides. Series writers and editors are listed under acknowledgements. “Credits” includes lists of works that were cited and consulted.

Similar guides are also available for the other 30 selections in the NEA’s “Big Read.”

2. Edgar Allan Poe

This site offers study guides for a variety of Poe’s stories and poems. These can be read as individual selections online and include a biography of Poe, plot summaries, about Poe’s works, a list of notable characters, summary and analysis of individual works, suggested essay questions and opportunities to test yourself.

There is a “Cite this Webpage” feature at the bottom of the page that identifies the selection’s author and the series editor. The compiled selections can be purchased as complete guides in PDF, book or e-Book formats. I could not find in-text source citations but found a study guide bibliography.

3. Cliffs Notes: Poe’s Short Stories

This website includes sections devoted to biography, “About Poe’s Short Stories” and summary and analysis and original text for individual selections:

“The Fall of the House of Usher,” “Ligeia,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “William Wilson,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” It also includes some critical essays: “Edgar Allan Poe and Romanticism” and “Poe’s Critical Theories” as well as study help.

The authors are listed when employing the tool “Cite this Literature Note.”

This is a commercial site that intersperses display ads within the text. It appears to be created for a college-level audience.

I rate this site more highly than the Cummings guides (see below) for their greater in-depth detail; but I could not find documentation of sources/references used.

4. Cummings Study Guides

This site offers guides specific to a number of Poe’s works. The site is maintained by Michael J. Cummings of Williamsport, PA. It does not list his educational attainments but cites his career as a public school teacher and college-level English instructor as well as a reporter and editor.

The site lists recommendations by the BBC and British Library among others for Cummings’ guides to works by William Shakespeare.

This is a commercial site; there is a banner ad for at the top of the page. Clicking on the link to a study guide also brings up a page with the banner ad as well as a row of ads for individual books and DVDs that are related to Edgar Allan Poe. Additional ads for are interspersed through the text.

There are navigational links to sections of the guide. In the instance of “The Black Cat,” the applicable sections include the Type of Work, Publication, Setting, Characters, Point of View, Plot Summary, Themes, Allusion and Symbolism, Foreshadowing, Irony, Anaphora, Study Questions, Essay Topics, Author Information, Complete Free Text and Other Poe Study Guides.

The guide does not cite any sources for the information it presents.

The site seems designed for a high-school level audience; it offers a free online high school program.

Finally, in No. 5, I give a do-not-use rating because of misleading advertising practices to eNotes: Literature: Edgar Allan Poe

This site offers study guides and online text for several of Poe’s short stories and poems; however to access the complete articles, the viewer must purchase a membership.

The site offers a level of membership that is free of charge but the free membership does not grant access to the complete articles. This fact is not disclosed to the viewer; I learned about this by contacting customer service after signing up for a free membership.

With the portions I was able to view without signing up for membership, some of the subjects included in the analysis include an overview, Poe biography, story characters, themes, style, historical context, critical overview, essays and criticism, “Compare and Contrast,” topics for further study, media adaptations and “What Do I Read Next?”

Like CliffsNotes, this website provides a citation tool that identifies the name of the author. It offers greater detail and also annotates the components of the citation.

I was able to locate references to sources in my viewing of an analysis for “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Sources are also noted in a bibliography.

In spite of these features, I would have reservations about recommending this site given its deceptive practice of offering free membership as an option to “subscribe” but failing to disclose the limitations of the essentially-useless free membership.

Composed in Fall 2011 for Cuesta College LIBT 109
Library Public Services

No comments:

Post a Comment

Robust debate and even unusual opinions are encouraged, but please stay on-topic and be respectful. Comments are subject to review for personal attacks or insults, discriminatory statements, hyperlinks not directly related to the discussion and commercial spam.