I’ve finally realized that if I post the assignment to the blog before class, I can use it to teach class! (If the projector is working.) Boy, these blogs are useful things. (EXCEPT when they eat your work.)
This week’s special bibliographic category is “book reviews.” One point to make about book reviews is that there are two main reasons to use them: first, to check the reputation of a book you’ve heard of; second, to discover brand-new books that you’ve never heard of.
Neither the MLA Bibliography nor Google Scholar will allow you to limit specifically to book reviews. A “Cited Reference” search on a book title in Web of Science will sometimes bring you book reviews of that work, but it’d dicey. The most useful databases for book reviews are Project Muse and JSTOR, which both allow you to limit to reviews. Go to the Advanced Search and look around for this limiter, toggle it, then plug in the book title, and voilà: book reviews of that book.
Cindy Levine has put together a guide to book reviews that is particularly helpful at pointing you to print sources that help you find older book reviews. This can be helpful for both scholarly books (secondary sources) and works of literature (primary sources). Book reviews can also have a scholarly purpose for us, of course, helping us assess a work’s contemporary reception.
Remember, too, that many periodicals exist for the sole purpose of reviewing books as they appear: The New York Times Book Review has a free weekly e-mail, and it looks like the horribly expensive Times Literary Supplement (which I covet) has instituted an RSS feed. I definitely plan to check that out. Specialized reviews such as the Women’s Review of Books can also be terrific. Keeping up with contemporary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry is (I personally believe) necessary for an academic even if you’re studying Old English.
Scholarly journals are the best source for highly specialized book reviews, of course. Also, Amazon and Powell’s have become rich sources of less formal reviews; you might be surprised how many academics have enthusiastically adopted these online reviewing mechanisms. See, for example, the Amazon reviews of Terry Eagleton’s After Theory, which came out in 2004.
(And look! Amazon has citation links, too! I either forgot about that or didn’t know about it. Evidently that feature debuted in late 2004.)
For this week’s assignment, please try to find:
- A book review of a very recent scholarly book (2005-2006), a book you’ve never heard of before, that might be useful for you. Browse through recent issues of scholarly journals and/or mainstream reviews such as the TLS for these. You need not annotate this book review; just include the full citation for the book review and the title of the book being reviewed.
- As many book reviews as you can find of a book you’ve already found for your topic. Please list these and write a single paragraph summarizing what they say — the general critical reception of the book.
If you can’t manage to find a recent book review that points you toward a useful book, don’t worry about it: just do the second part of the assignment. Also, as I mentioned, by “book” I mean any book — scholarly editions and anthologies and reference works as well as single-author mongraphs.
UPDATE: Domenica Vilhotti found a terrific open web resource called Scirus ETD Search that searches the Electronic Theses and Dissertations repositories of many institutions, including ours. Great for full text theses and dissertations; Dissertation Abstracts doesn’t give yo ufull text.