Packaged as a legitimate, alphabetized reference book, Michael Gray's Bob Dylan Encyclopedia is not the 700-page obnoxious trivia orgy it appears to be at first glance, but an utterly absorbing, incredibly rich tapestry of interrelated information. Look up "Tom Petty" for instance, and you could find yourself pinballing between everything from the films of Gillian Anderson to the presence of Lord of the Rings in Dylan's work. Gray, a Brit whose '70s-era Song and Dance Man is considered the first major critical study of Dylan's work, is witty and opinionated, and his massive amounts of data read as breezily as a summer novel.

MERCURY: Why an encyclopedia as opposed to, say, a format that's not completely intimidating?

MICHAEL GRAY: The intention was to go down a thousand different avenues, not into some narrow fanatical tunnel. And of course [it isn't] an encyclopedia in the Britannica sense. I'm a critic, and I prefer some albums to others and some musicians to others.

What did you do for the Encyclopedia that hadn't already been done in your 900-page Song and Dance Man?

One of the things I wanted to do was entries on every musician that's played with Dylan either on recording or onstage. It was fun sometimes because I was ringing up musicians that played on Blonde on Blonde, say, and finding out how they felt now and what was myth and what was true.

Do you have Dylan fanatics worshiping at your feet in response to this book?

The fanatics, who never seem to have time to listen to the great Dylan albums because they're too busy collecting DVDs of last night's mediocre concert, tend to just tell me what's wrong with my book.

Have you heard any reports of someone reading the book cover to cover?

I think most people take the more pleasurable task, which is to browse, to open it up and read about one thing, which leads them to something else, and three hours later they've forgotten to have lunch. Like Dylan's songs, I hope my book works on several levels.