Tokenism in the attribution of book reviews: a valid idea or no more wokeism?
By GREG MARKLEY
In a recent New York Times magazine article, opinion writer Jay Caspian Kang wrote a commentary titled “The Reductive Practice of Assigning Book Reviews by Identity.” He argued that “it might be healthy for progressives to stop, turn away from the work of making the world a fairer place and ask, ‘Wait, is this specific thing that we are doing? right now will really help? “
Kang’s comment referred to an incident in 2017, when the Kirkus bookstore published a review of a young adult novel, “American Heart.” Laura Moriarty, who is white, wrote the review despite the fact that American Muslims were the center of attention. People on social media were furious that a non-Muslim white woman had been chosen to assess the family saga.
Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, had just finished reading a book whose author was now on the phone. The man asked Churchill, who was then in the restroom (or the restroom, for the British), if he liked the book. Churchill said, âI just got over it, and now it’s behind me. (He meant, in the toilet as a bad example of handwriting.)
Years ago, critics ventured âout of their realm,â the Times noted. But that doesn’t mean that today’s critics are wrong to engage in work in which they don’t fit academically, ethnically, or racially. Now, as a reviewer for the Military History Center, I found an interesting book. It is âCanada’s Mechanized Infantry: The Evolution of a Combat Weapon, 1920-2012â by Peter Kasurak. It’s not directly in my field, but I might end up looking at it anyway.
Based on my MA in History (focus on the Modern United States) and my career as a political writer and adjunct faculty member, I am now evaluating books in these areas, or in education, where I have my second master’s degree. For the Oral History Association, I reviewed oral histories of the war on poverty and the long (and certainly unfinished) fight for a blue Texas. That is, a Texas where Democrats and Liberals are dominant.
Born in South Korea, magazine writer Jay Kang said he understands that pairing writers with people of similar races and family histories is not without merit. But he postulates that there may be another, less pleasant reason for having segregation by race or nationality.
âPublishers, intimidated by the potential for social media outrage, are they doing what amounts to a covered bet? Kang asked. âIf you hire reviewers who look like the authors or have lived the experiences they detail, your chances of facing a wave of criticism on social media are probably much lower. “
That the majority of academic or journalistic book reviews today are “awake” is a loaded word, negatively exaggerated by much of the right and too trumpeted by many of the left. A good guide is offered by Benjamin Butterworth of the British group Guardian.
Woke has reached the top of political and cultural circles in the United States. âSome say waking up is a sign of awareness of social issues, others use the term as an insult,â Butterworth said. In 1962, African-American novelist William Melvin Kelley coined the phrase, “If you’re awake, you dig it.”
Fifty years later, an unarmed black teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Florida by volunteer guard George Zimmerman. The term “awake” has been used a lot to publicize the 13-year-old Black Lives Matter organization. Fortunately, it is unusual for the silent work of book reviews to be involved in the awakening!
What attracts me to writing book reviews? After all, there is no pay and not much cheering. First, I get the books for free and I can keep them. I write two book reviews a year, so I save maybe $ 60 to $ 80. Second, I like the discipline of writing an analysis of 900 to 1000 words; my Observer column is between 750 and 825 words long, but requires more versatility. Third, I like the intellectual part of the review – drawing on my own upbringing and personal background.
Ultimately, readers are advised to educate themselves on who values ââa writer’s post and their quality of thought and writing. It wouldn’t shock anyone to see TV’s latest book Sean Hannity over-praised by Radio’s Mark Levin. They think alike and are close friends!
Likewise, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything negative about TV’s Rachel Maddow in a book review by her MSNBC colleague Chris Hayes. So, wokeism has its disappointments, as well as its attractions. I always hope for a happy resolution on issues like waking up. But this type of shutdown rarely happens.
Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s degree in education and history. He taught politics as an auxiliary in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the military and civilian life, he contributed to The Observer for 11 years. [email protected]