Blog Post

Book Reviewing

Last week I was asked to participate in a series of interviews on book reviewing today by the Canadian blogsite LEMON HOUND, administered by the poet Sina Queyras. The interview can be seen here.

Now, most of the respondents--for example Christian Bok, Ron Silliman, Stanford PhD Annie Finch--were poets. Asked whether they ever write negative reviews, I believe each and every poet said no!  They only write reviews so as to disseminate work they admire.

As a critic/scholar, I found this somewhat disconcerting.  Shouldn't a review provide critique as well as description and praise?  How does  a review differ from a blurb or puff?  

But in academe there is a related problem.  As I said in my interview, reviewing seems to be at a low ebb today. Academics are leery to take on the time-consuming task of reviewing books in their field.  For the untenured, it doesn't seem to pay because reviewing doesn't count much toward tenure and besides, the author you review may soon turn up on a hiring committee and you don't want to have offended him or her.  Meanwhile, the tenured often can't be bothered.  A heroic exception in my field is Arcade's own Brian Reed, who reviews frequently for a number of critical journals.  

But what happens when no one reviews, except on a blog where of course anything goes!  How has this affected our profession?  What does this refusal do to critical discourse?  

As someone who comes from a generation where reviewing was par for the course (I think I've done more than 200--and in journals from New Republic to Modern Language Review) I'd love to hear what Arcade members think about the future of reviewing.  And if there are no reviews of, say, your new book, how will it make its way?