Are book reviews important?

This is the second time I’ve received an email from Amazon congratulating me on the fact that my book review has helped someone else to buy the book. The first was the book on Isaiah 53 that the lovely and talented people at Kregel Academic provided me; the second was for a book that is something like the 81st book in my canon.

As a note, John Hobbins, fellow United Methodist (so I know he must be saved) will present on the topic of a better review system for blogs at SBL this year:

The Advantages of Reviewing Books Online and the Need for an Industry Standard

The experience of biblical bloggers and the example of the online Review of Biblical Literature points to the advantages of reviewing books online if one’s target audience is the ever-growing number of people who research a topic via an electronic search engine without wanting to be limited by the confines of ATLA or JSTOR. Online book reviews by bloggers and electronically available book reviews in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, precisely because they are at everyone’s fingertips with no money down and no logins required, are among the most-read and frequently accessed secondary literature in the field of biblical studies. Moreover, thanks to the fast-and-furious nature of blogging, a number of threads document responses to a book as presented in a book review with unparalleled immediacy. Finally, the elastic nature of the electronic medium has meant that very long book reviews face, technically speaking, no obstacles; at the same time, tweet-length book reviews have become commonplace. Where do we go from here? In the paper, in addition to recounting amazing episodes from the annals of the biblical blogosphere, I argue in favor of an industry standard for electronic book reviews and present a proof of concept in that sense. A proposed standard is important not because it should or will become the norm, but because the existence of a proposed standard will raise the bar on several fronts and encourage the more intrepid to put it in practice and help the field of academic biblical studies realize the full potential of electronic media for research and teaching.

There is also a new review site going up shortly, it seems – The Marginalia Review.

My hope is that Hobbins will speak about the ethics of book reviewing online – but if not, maybe I can do this next year.

But that is not the point of this post. The point of this post is this – if you have books to review, review them. Review them honestly, fairly, and consistently. And if they are mine, give them fine stars and nothing but nice words.

Seriously, though, for those who review books on a regular basis, remember that they do serve a purpose beyond that of filling your bookshelves with free books. It is to tell others to buy or not buy this book. It is to spread the word about good, decent, books. It is to promote sound scholarship – theological or otherwise.

So, go – review. To borrow words from John Wesley – You are blessed (with books to review) to be a blessing.

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