[Milton-L] soliciting of reviews

Hannibal Hamlin hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
Fri Dec 12 11:14:09 EST 2008


For my part, I think Peter is right.  There is a kind of "drowning puppies"
effect that makes many readers a little queasy.  This is not to say that
negative reviews are generally to be avoided, or even that positive praise
should not be balanced with strong criticism.  For me, the reviewer/editor
should consider the status of the author of the book, for one thing.  A
totally condemning review of a first book by a young scholar can be
devastating and career-breaking.  The nature of our tenure system implies,
of course, that some careers should be broken, but this is something to
think about very carefully.  A more established scholar who writes a bad
book is not only less likely to leap from a tall building but should also
perhaps be taken more to task.  Complacency is worse than "greenness," in my
view.  This also connects to Cynthia's concern.  A bad book by an unknown
scholar, perhaps from a minor press, is likely to just pass into oblivion.
And other scholars who take such a book as authoritative deserve what they
get.  A bad book by a scholar of reknown, on the other hand, should, I
agree, be challenged in the public sphere, and by scholars of similar
reknown.

This raises, alas, yet another question -- who should be doing the
reviewing.  Many young scholars, even graduate students, are eager to
review, since this is a relatively easy way of getting publications.  But
this can easily make enemies and damage career prospects.  There is also a
problem of authority.  I confess I get irritated when I read reviews in TLS
or other major journals that are written by graduate students, even when the
arguments seem sound.  Since a review is partly a guide to books that one
hasn't read, one wants to be able to trust the reviewer.  This is not to
deny the argument that we all have ideological bias -- not a very
interesting one, I think -- but rather to assert the need for credentials
and the desire of the reader for a reviewer that can be trusted.

Hannibal


On 12/12/08, Jesse Swan <jesse.swan at uni.edu> wrote:
>
> I'm interested to these responses, but I'd also be interested in responses
> to Peter's observation / feeling that accurate reviews that negatively
> criticize profoundly unsubstantiated works of scholarship, unimaginative
> works of speculation, and / or ignorant works of criticism redound to the
> the discredit of the author of the book review.
>
> jesse
>
> --
> Jesse G. Swan, Ph.D.
> Professor and Chair of the University Faculty
> University of Northern Iowa
> Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0502
> 319/273-2089
>
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-- 
Hannibal Hamlin
Associate Professor of English
The Ohio State University
Burkhardt Fellow,
The Folger Shakespeare Library
201 East Capitol Street SE
Washington, DC 20003
hamlin.22 at osu.edu/
hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
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