The book review has died. It lives. But it is dead. It is an anachronistic zombie. Let me explain.
Perhaps some of you are employed in universities that use Digital Measures? I’m sure you are at least savvy enough to imagine precisely the aims of this wondrous digital panopticon. If you have not yet discovered Digital Measures, then rest assured someone, somewhere, is plotting to bring it your university soon enough. In any case, it is a software that promises to measure and value everything you do. And should you have dared to publish a book review, then it will measure it in a way that values it least of all.
Originally when Digital Measures was introduced at my university, it did not even possess a capacity to enter “Book Review” as “work” into one of the literally hundreds of drop-down menus for measuring academic labor. When the issue was raised, there was complete confusion. “What is a book review?” was a serious question. Some thought we meant “peer-review” and couldn’t understand how they could be published.
Suspicion festered. Everywhere people suspected that some of us were trying to get credit for something twice.
But then it began to dawn on people that were still some odd academics who published weird antiquarian objects of yore, and thus those were probably peer-reviewed in manuscript form and perhaps this was what was meant by “book review”. We then had to explain by invoking reviews of books in The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. We showed them reprints from journals, whereby some evinced surprise that journals looked like books, and they confessed that they had not heard of the publications or thought their activities mere journalism.
Thus, success! Eventually a drop-down menu item was added to the “Professional Service” menu. “Published Book Review” was, however, a bit at sea in the world of “Professional Service,” where there were such serious menu items as “Committees.” For one thing, the book review was published while and everything else was not. That made its location an odd choice. So eventually a compromise was adopted. Published “book reviews” would be entered into the area called “intellectual contributions”. But in the final output of measure, book reviews would not appear anywhere near other publications. And thus it was, at least in Digital Measures, that the genre of “book review” passed into memory. It died, even as it lived.