Diary of a Visiting Assistant Professor, week 24: I betray unconscious commitments regarding book reviews

As I was updating my C.V. to include my latest book review, it dawned on me that I seem to have an conscious preference for book reviews that appear online. I’m early in my career, and I don’t yet get a lot of requests to review — rather, if I have strong feelings about a new book, I’ll contact a review editor (or just post the review on this blog, which I’ll likely do more). And I seem to prefer places that put the review online, and quickly (in nineteenth-century studies, Review 19 and Romantic Circles come immediately to mind; I haven’t written anything for the latter, but it’s been in my mind this week as they’ve announced updates on the NASSR listserv).

Of course there are many kinds of book reviews, ranging from the popular-press coverage that a lucky few academic books receive to the comprehensive reviews in SEL, which address all the year’s scholarship by historical period. But I’m talking about the single-work (or maybe 2-3 works), long-form book review. These reviews are an essential part of the profession, albeit one for which we’re paid only in the book we’re reviewing. I know I, at least, rely on these reviews to keep abreast of what’s happening in the field. The yearly SEL reviews are terrific for general overview, but only a longer review can tell me about which minor authors are coming up a lot, or what exactly are people saying about particular topics. The problem, as James Heffernan points out in the editorial page of Review 19, is that print publications — even ones that appear online as well, like most academic journals do — are notoriously slow. A review might appear a year or more after the book itself, when it’s no longer as useful.

I definitely read the reviews in the major print journals for my field(s), and simply by virtue of being reviewed there, these books are probably the ones that will have the most impact. But that doesn’t always mean they’re most relevant for me, and sites like Review 19 fill what I think is an important gap.

Where do you find most of the book reviews you read? And are those the places where you submit the reviews you write?

Leave a Reply