Friday, September 11, 2009

You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Post Is About You

Dear Professor Piece-of-Work,

Yes, I'm talking to you. You who wrote that one book with a somewhat controversial and certainly intriguing thesis. It's not anywhere near any of my own research interests, but I assigned it to my grad students, because it's interesting, and has plenty to both agree and disagree with. It's also great for grad classes because it's not overly long, and the writing and ideas are really accessible. I like that book.

But I never really liked you. I mean, to be fair, I only met you once at a conference, when I was a grad student, and you a junior faculty member fresh out of That One School. But you were by turns condescending and rude to me on that occasion, and it stuck with me. This even colored my reaction to your picture on the faculty website -- I couldn't help imagining you thinking "I'll wear this outfit and pose just so; that will make me look intellectual, and possibly just a little dangerous."

Okay, that last bit is probably just me projecting. But the following is not: in the years since your first book came out, you've taken the opportunity to review just about every book even remotely related to your subject, and you've manage to subtly but thoroughly trash every one of them. Sure, there was the obligatory two-sentence paragraph at the tail end of every one saying how people should definitely read the book in question. But everything leading up to that point was intended to disparage the book under review. I haven't read every review you've written, but every one I have read kinda follows this pattern.

Which is why I giggled with unworthy, shameful delight when I read a recent review of your second book. Did you read it? Uh-huh.

Sorry, but even in academia, a little human decency and (dare I say it?) humility goes a long way.


--N. Ph.D.


Anonymous said...

I heart this post. No joke: I used to sing that song in my head whenever a certain junior faculty member would saunter along the hallways of my Alma Mater. Oh yeah, baby. Spot on. Thanks for this (and did *you* write the shamefully delightful review?)

Anonymous said...

I love a little academic comeuppance. It's satisfying even if you don't know which Vain Academic (and aren't their hordes of them?) it refers to.

Susan said...

You are clearly not the only one to notice someone's reviewing style :)

WV: spoodied, which is I think what happened to him.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hey all:

An anonymous poster just posted the full text of Clive James' poem: "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" -- a poem that I actually thought of when writing this post. The full poem is a bit longish for the comments section, but I encourage the more snark minded among us to follow the link below (thanks, Anon!) and go check it out:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

In the natural sciences, the vast majority of critical commentary of other scholars' work occurs under the rubric of anonymous peer review, where you read reviews of your own and other people's shit and you don't really who wrote them for sure. That fact takes this kind of shit to another level of sinister nefariousness and schadenfreude.

Bavardess said...

Oh, I love Clive James' poem. Comeuppance, how sweet it is.

Anonymous said...

As someone who sometimes has to struggle not to be that guy, I have to ask: do you think there's any genuine purpose to writing bad reviews? What if something actually is, to one's mind, a waste of paper?