On Actually Reviewing Things

I had to write a review of something this week – a review of an academic book, to be published in an academic journal. Book reviews don’t really count as publications, in some ways. It’s not done to put them on your CV, for example. But they count in that people see your name attached to a particular opinion about a particular thing.

I found this particular book review sort of painful to write, because I didn’t think the book was very good. Anyone reading the review will probably come away with this impression, although with luck I will also have communicated 1) what the book is about 2) who might be interested in it and why and 3) what specifically about it I disagree with and for what reasons.

But the point is, it’s a completely different experience than writing about music. I am not expected to be an expert about opera, and I often find this sort of liberating – I am permitted to make mistakes! And not know things sometimes! And it’s fine! Whereas with reviewing things in my field of professional competence I always have this sneaking suspicion that I have missed something crucially important.