The wide and wild world of book reviews

By Rachel Ewen, marketing intern

I am an avid consumer of book reviews. I read them voraciously, from start to finish, in publications ranging from Publishers Weekly to the Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin to the European Journal of Psychotraumatology. I appreciate the force and format of the book review, its subtle art and implication.

I should admit: it is my job. When any magazine, newspaper, blog, or scholarly journal runs a review of a JHU Press book, the review gets sent to me. I read each one, log it in our database, and select the snippet of highest praise (“an essential reference for scholars of the Italian Renaissance,” “a revelatory portrait of gender in the antebellum South,” etc.) to be posted on the book’s webpage and the Press’ social media resources. Handling over 100 reviews each month for the last two years has made me pretty familiar with the process, including where to find the most marketable blurb (scan the opening of the second paragraph and final three sentences) and who the four types of reviewers are (those who loved it, hated it, summarized it because they couldn’t decide, or regurgitated the jacket copy because they didn’t have much space). I know the shortcuts and the formulas, but I read and enjoy every review nonetheless.

Here’s why. Last fall, I received a tearsheet from the Wildlife Activist, the main publication for members of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center in Slatington, Pennsylvania. The book reviews page featured four books, including Frogs: the Animal Answer Guide, which I began reading for a website-worthy quote. When I came to the end, I noticed that the reviewer had also reviewed the next book on the page, Princeton University Press’ Frogs and Toads of the World. The review began with the enthusiastic proclamation, “Another book about frogs and toads!”

Never having felt such soaring excitement about the wealth of amphibian literature out there, I laughed. But when I took a second look, I realized exactly what a review like this one really signifies.

Book reviews are the strongest reminder that books matter to the people who read them. Every blog, magazine, bulletin, newsletter, and journal—no matter the size—represents an important field of interest and a thriving intellectual conversation. Their readers, contributors, and editors care about Latin poetry, higher education policy, or urban flora, and when a book contributes to their field of interest, their reviews demonstrate a desire to share the book and discuss its ideas as they make it a vital part of their conversation.

What I love about book reviews is what I love about academic publishing. The JHU Press publishes books on a number of subjects, many of which I’ll admit lie far outside my own capacities for comprehension. But this is one of the most important industries I can imagine: an academic press collects and disperses all varieties of knowledge, ensuring that every author’s exciting new vision reaches the specific and committed audiences that get so excited about the topic that they can only use an exclamation point. There are people, like members of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, who want to get the facts on frogs. I love this job and this industry because it is academic presses like Johns Hopkins and Princeton that follow through, keeping the frog-lovers’ interests satisfied and their conversations alive.

Rachel Ewen has been a student intern in the JHU Press marketing department since 2010. She studies English at the Johns Hopkins University and plans to continue working in academic publishing after graduating this December.

1 Comment

Filed under Behind the Scenes, Reviews

One response to “The wide and wild world of book reviews

  1. coolpikul

    You are a much better writer than Milton.