Those of you on the various rhetoric lists, get ready, because you are going to be seeing multiple iterations of the below announcement. I've been working with the editor-elect of Quarterly Journal of Speech, John Lucaites, to get it out. It's already linked at blogora and will be coming to an h-rhetor and crit-net list near you very soon. Below is the Alliance of Rhetoric Society version, which John L and I worked up with the help of Kathie Cesa who works with RSA and ARS--it'll be 'broadcast' very soon.
I thought of subtitling this post "or, why my life just got busier," because I have agreed to be the new book review editor for QJS. I gave this some thought before saying yes, mostly because I have newly vowed never to agree to anything that will require such a significant commitment before at least sleeping on it. But here's a little secret: even though I formally went through the motions of thinking about my answer for the day, even risking making Lucaites think I was an ingrate, I knew what my answer would be as soon as he asked. My enthusiastic acceptance of the post--ie the why of why my life just busier rather than the how--is largely attributable to Lucaites' vision for the journal. His vision is big, and it's broad, just like he believes rhetorical studies ought to be. "Forget all these conversations about rhetoric's size," JL seems to be saying, "and show me."
And as a former book review editor for QJS, Lucaites also has some great ideas for what book reviews should do in this post-expansion moment. Two conditions motivate us where the book review section is concerned: 1) Rhetorical studies, especially in communication, is rather new to the book culture--only very recent generations of scholars have gotten tenure on books rather than articles--and 2) if rhetorical studies is going to be the interdisciplinary practice people are always claiming it is, then we gotta have a mix of perspectives in among the books being reviewed and the book reviewers themselves. Both of these conditions interest me a good deal, in part because I 'grew up' outside of communication/speech communication departments proper, even though I was something of a 'lurker' as a PhD student and have attended NCA since it was SCA. It is the second condition, though--the one about the scope of rhetorical studies--that made me give such an enthusiastic (though some would say ca-razy) yes, and even that led Lucaites to ask me in the first place.
We'd like to see book reviews--both the lead essays and the single-book reviews--become longer and more engaged. We'd like to have scholars review books from around the humanities and social sciences that bear directly on our field of study, while still of course tending to books by folks in rhetoric (the lead essay is a good place for such a mix to happen, but so are single-reviews). And also, there are so many more ways to engage a single book than just the "here's what's great, here's what's not so great. long live rhetoric" model that we sometimes adhere to. The longer format might make the review of essay collections much more feasible as well.
It seems necessary in what is turning out to be a book review-pushing entry too to offer some arguments for doing book reviews at all, so here are a few: they can be good for the field(s), they're pretty easy to do, and they can give you a low-stakes chance to work on stuff you've been thinking about with a manageable (even transportable) research load: one book. Or in the case of the lead review essay, four or five books. People seem to actually read these things too: I have had folks stop me at conferences to talk about my RSQ review of Wayne Booth's penultimate book. You can experiment as well, a la Prof Gunn.
The biggest objection to doing book reviews is that they don't count toward tenure. I believe this is something that tenure committees should rethink, in part because as soon as they say "book reviews don't count toward tenure," they ask "where and how favorably was this person's book reviewed?" Another in a long list of double standards that executive committees hold dear. Now while I don't think BRs should count as much as an article--they're not as much work!--there's no reason why one couldn't write a good book review while writing an article. (I almost went on a tirade against the zero-sum assumptions about writing that people usually apply to blogging as well, but I'll keep that to myself for now.) I recently reviewed Josh Gunn's book because dammit, I needed to force myself to read the damn thing, to really engage it, because it's the field's first book on mysticism (to my knowledge), and I was writing about Burke and mysticism. Plus I wanted to mark it up, and I learned from our pal Kenneth Burke that a good way to get a copy all your own to mark up is to trade a little reviewing work--work that you would do anyway--for a book to keep. Plus I believe in review karma, and having read an exceedingly kind one of my own by Rich Enos, I decided it was time to give it on up.
So do try to choose your reviews wisely, subject-wise and time-commitment wise. If you can't meet a deadline, don't waste my (or any editor's) time. Just write a book review editor to see if you can review the book. And, importantly, if you're among the folks who are no longer (or not yet) thinking about tenure, then stop listening to the nay-sayers and review a book already. Slammed by administrative work but want to keep a toe in the more publishy side of the field? Do a review! Want to think about how books are structured (as compared to dissertations)? Write a review. In between projects? Think about reviewing. Teaching a graduate seminar? Write a review essay on some of the books you're assigning. In the middle of a project and feeling stuck? Review something. Or just sit there, I don't care.
In subsequent posts I will discuss what it's like to take on a review essay, since I let the current book review editor, Kirt Wilson, talk me into writing one (soon!), and I will also address how to manage the typical obstacles to reviewing books. Two such obstacles can be categorized as a version of an 80s song and a t-shirt style slogan:
1) we don't need another deadline!, and
2) I agreed to write a review, but all I got was a book that sucks (a lot)