Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Interest Free

I’m very conscious of the risk of seeming – or indeed becoming – obsessed with one negative review; I’m sure there are plenty more such reviews to come, probably more carefully framed and less entertainingly vituperative. But my sense is that this review is less about my book than what that book is perceived to represent, from someone who feels outraged by it not just on their own behalf but on behalf of an entire scholarly tradition that feels under attack; and so it’s not unreasonable to reflect on what the review tells us, perhaps inadvertently, about that tradition. Especially to reflect on the bits that seem really odd… (more…)

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Bemusement So, my new book Classics: why it matters has been reviewed on the Classics For All webpage by Richard Jenkyns – I’d asked for a copy to be sent to them (I don’t know if they’re on the regular distribution list for review copies) as they’re a worthy organisation seeking to promote the study of classics in state schools rather than keeping it as preserve of the elite, and that’s one of the points of the book. Jenkyns is one of their patrons, so it’s entirely reasonable that they asked him to write the review – and he didn’t like it much… Okay, I wouldn’t have expected my comments on the place of ancient languages to win much favour with an eminent Oxford classicist, but is it really true, as is implied, that the book only shows any liveliness when it’s attacking classics? How must I have failed to express myself clearly, if someone thinks that I’m recommending David Engels’ prophecies of doom as a model for classical studies, rather than offering them as an example and symptom of alarming politicised appropriation of the ancient world? And as for the idea that Thucydides is straightforward to read in translation whereas such an approach in the case of Tacitus would inevitably lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding… (more…)

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It seems entirely possible that there are certain people out there reading this blog and noting the fact that I’m currently managing to post at least once a week on average, and also remarking on my occasional contributions to online book seminars* and other non-academic publications, and thinking to themselves: “Okay, Neville, so where the hell is that book review you should have submitted eighteen months ago?” I try not to think about this too much, as I am genuinely embarrassed and guilty about my large backlog of missed deadlines – not to mention the thought of other colleagues’ reactions when they realise that I’m the reason why their book hadn’t been reviewed – but I’m prompted to do so this morning by discussions on the Twitter in the light of the recent debacle at the American Historical Review (links via @helenrogers19c). Why haven’t I got these reviews written? Not because I’m lazy, and not just because I keep taking on too many things, but because writing a decent academic book review is hard, and boring, and fraught with problems. (more…)

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lorrie mooreI discovered my all-time favourite short story writer, Lorrie Moore, entirely as a result of a quote on the cover of her first collection, Self-Help. I just googled the book to find an image (see left), and was struck by the fact that every other edition has appeared with tasteful and sophisticated covers, whereas the one in my local bookshop… Dear god, that is so 80s. Would I ever have bought such a thing if it hadn’t come with an endorsement from one of my favourite novelists, Alison Lurie (incidentally, if you haven’t read The Truth About Lorin Jones, it’s a perfect exposition of the unreliability and subjectivity of the past, and the dubious motives of those who investigate it)? “Lorrie Moore’s wry poetic stories of love and loss make me want to laugh and cry at the same time”.

This is more than the sober judgement of a reviewer (though for all I know the quote was taken from a review), and far more than the “You listened to Godspeed You! Black Emperor recently. Want to try Crippled Black Phoenix?” algorithms of Spotify and its ilk. It builds on the sense of a shared sensibility with a writer whose books I love; it’s not suggesting that this new work is the same as or even similar to books I already know I like, but rather that someone whom, in a sense, I feel I know through her writing, thought this was the sort of book I might like. There is, I suppose, a sort of implicit claim to authority, that this is someone whose critical judgements ought to be taken seriously, but it’s grounded in Lurie’s own achievements (contrast the way that many reviews are cited by the newspaper or magazine rather than the reviewer; what matters here is the authoritative imprimatur of the publication), and leaves it open to the casual browser to feel that if Lurie likes it then it’s definitely not for them – in the way that I would never buy a book if I thought there was any risk that Jeremy Clarkson or Toby Young liked it, even if they hadn’t actually supplied a quote for the cover.

All of which leads me to wonder about the increasing prevalence of pre-publication blurbs on academic books; not the old practice of quoting from suitably positive reviews when the paperback edition appears, but – since so many books are published simultaneously in hardback and paperback these days – the quotes that come from people who’ve been sent the proofs to read so their glowing testimonials can be used for the initial publicity campaign. Am I the only person who finds this all slightly odd?


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