More on Reviews

Yesterday’s post, where I looked at Cameron Parsell’s review essay, got me curious on whether a book review I had written last fall had made it to press. One Google search later and there it was. The American Ethnologist put out my review, in an “online first” format, back in February. You can check it out here. It’s a book by Princeton anthropologist Didier Fassin titled At the Heart of the State: The Moral World of Institutions. It is a collection of ethnographic studies of French institutions. I’m not sure how the editor found me, but it was a good fit as institutions fascinate me. The book takes a look at these from the perspective of a street-level bureaucrat, and at the same time manages some excellent, more structural level insights. Definitely recommend it.

I like writing book reviews. Aside from that you get a free book that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have read, it’s also the closest I get to being able to do a “think piece” these days that someone will publish. In other words, I get the opportunity to be creative in writing this to a greater extent than I usually do writing up longer, empirically based manuscripts. For the last few that I’ve done, instead of the conventional chapter-by-chapter summary and subsequent, perfunctory analysis that describes the format of most of the reviews in a review journal such as Contemporary Sociology, I try to use some kind of a theme as a framework for the review. For the Value of Homelessness review I wrote and mentioned last night, I compared the similar and then diverging career trajectories that I saw between myself and Craig Willse. For this American Ethnologist review, I found a tourism theme worked well. I’m fascinated by the process whereby these themes emerged and unfolded as I wrote subsequent drafts of the review.

The downside to that is that I spend more time than I should writing the review. Most academic book reviews fall into obscurity pretty much as soon as they are published, and one doesn’t get much credit for writing them. Furthermore, I don’t imagine many people read them. Thus they seem to get sucked into the ether pretty much right after I send them to the editor. Hence this review has been out for two months now and I had no idea.

So the reward for me lies in writing the reviews. In the balance between enjoyment and fun, the scales tip toward the latter. If any editors are reading this and have any books they want reviewed, send them my way.

Stephen Metraux