Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Only Way is Ethics

I have an ethical question.  Suppose someone were writing a book report for a publisher?  And that this someone knew and liked the author, and was broadly positive about the book but thought that there were a couple of major issues that needed fixing before it was published?  And felt that the author would probably work out who had written the report?  Given that everyone's first impulse on getting a report like that is to work out who wrote it, and this is not a massive field?  In that case would it be so very wrong, morally speaking, if that someone wrote the report in the distinctive voice of a well-known, some might say notorious, third person?  Would it?

It probably would.  *Sighs, morally.*


  1. I think it would be fine, so long as the third person was a) Miss Piggy b) Lady Gaga c) Lord Rochester. Alternatively, is it completely not done to let the author know preemptively that one had written the report?

  2. Surely you can throw in a comment that is so unlike you (e.g. "Notable for its lack of attention to recent work on gender studies") that it throws the author of track?

  3. I think it would be worse deliberately to try to sound like someone else. The author may be taken in and resent this someone else. Or they may realise who the reviewer is and then be puzzled/hurt at the unusual tone.

    I think anonymous reviewing in small fields is difficult for all the reasons you suggest. Given a generally positive assessment of the TS, if the reviewer is prepared to do so, he/she might tell the publisher that they are very happy for the author to be told who they are so that the author and reviewer can discuss openly what is good and what is not so good about the book. The book as a result should be improved, the author is saved from the frustrating guessing game, and the reviewer can feel better about the process too.

  4. I think the only thing to do is to pretend it's anonymous, but assume it isn't. After all, the internet of recent years has given me plenty of practice at this. Like on this blog. It's a good policy for e-mails too -- pretend they're not public but assume they are, but I'm afraid I don't really do that. I could ask not to be anonymous and deal with the author directly, but I have to say that if I were on the other end I would rather appreciate the illusion of anonymity. But then I'm a pretty uptight person, myself, and rather a fan of formality in social relations.

    It would be so much easier if this were a student's work! I've never written a pre-publication book report before, and I was brought up in the ways of scholarship by people who really didn't mince their words if they didn't like something, so I'm finding it very hard to write.

    Anyway, it was rather a frivolous suggestion, and I know I can't do it really. It's just that I was trying to phrase something politely while still making it clear that it's a really big deal, and I thought to myself "I can just imagine what X would say about that, he wouldn't rein himself in", the words leapt into my head, and the temptation to channel the spirit of X and let him speak for me was very strong. I think there's actually quite a big issue here, in that I was brought up to be a nice pleasant girl, but I'm really not inside, and sometimes it would be such a relief to speak in the voice of someone who doesn't give a damn about being nice and pleasant.

  5. Also isn't anyone going to give me an appreciatory groan for the post title?

  6. Though to be honest, if none of you ever watched The Only Way is Essex, I give you respect for that. I watched the occasional ten minutes out of horror. My favourite bit was when one of them said "I'm no good at geography --- where is North London?"