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From the Letters to the Editor column in the September 2001 Perspectives

On the Art of Reviewing

Richard Price and Sally Price, September 2001

To the Editor:

We read with sympathy Elliott R. Barkan's "On the Art of Reviewing" (March 2001) and write to put on record a solution that we have implemented as book review editors for an international journal of Caribbean studies, the New West Indian Guide (published in the Netherlands). In 1993, having put up over the years with the very frustrations that Barkan describes, we established an annual "Caribbeanist Hall of Shame." The intent was both to encourage responsible submission of reviews by scholars who had agreed to write them and to provide a sort of backlist of "books received" for titles that had fallen through the cracks because of unsubmitted reviews. Admittedly, the tactic worked by intimidation, but membership in the Hall of Shame was conferred only after a series of collegial reminders had gone unheeded. Early editions attempted to strike a balance between fingerpointing and compassion, identifying delinquent reviewers by the initials of their first and last names. However, when we learned of instances in which these initials were misinterpreted (since some combinations belonged to more than one scholar in the relevant field), we revised the convention and now, following an 18th-century practice, include both the first and last letter of each name, in an attempt to forestall false accusations and protect the reputations of the innocent.

The delinquency rate has dropped precipitously. Early editions typically listed a couple of dozen unreviewed titles; the one now in press has but two. In most cases, our reminder letter, which alludes ever so gently to the prospect of membership in the Hall of Shame, provokes an immediate positive response. We have received many a panic-stricken letter containing (along with the excuses familiar to us from earlier days—sickness, funerals, nervous breakdowns, committee overloads, etc.) pleas for "just a few more days" followed promptly by FedExed reviews delivered to our door.

One problem with the system is that people with middle initials and/or hyphenated names are more easily identified by their colleagues. That is, the author of a book unreviewed by M—l-R—h T—t can be more certain of the offender than if the book had gone unreviewed by R—d P—e. But such is justice.

—Richard Price and Sally Price
College of William & MaryEmory University