By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
Here at the TLS we receive what seems like a huge number of books every week. The photo above shows the office a few days ago. It sometimes feels possible that a member of staff will suffer the same fate as E. M. Forster’s Leonard Bast in Howards End: “Books fell over him in a shower.” We probably review about 5 per cent – if that – of the books sent to us. It’s consequently quite a challenge when publishers, agents or authors contact us to ask us if we have received a particular book – and if so, whether we will be reviewing it. May we get back to you?
Among the most bulky books that come in are in a series called the Oxford Handbooks (published by Oxford University Press, obviously). Generally weighing in at around a thousand pages, and with numerous contributors, they sell for around £100. The books are clearly immense works of scholarship, or industry. As the rubric on the dust jacket states, “The Oxford Handbooks series is a major new initiative in academic publishing. Each volume offers a state-of-the-art survey of current thinking and research in a particular subject area . . . . Oxford Handbooks provide scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives upon a wide range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences”. The covers are handsomely designed and the hardback spines feel solid; they’re heavy.
And OUP have been very busy: in recent months we have received the Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, Volumes I and 2, the Handbook of Propaganda Studies, the Handbook of State and Local Government (this one is actually in an American Politics series, but the format is the same), the Handbook of American Drama, . . . of Interactive Audio, . . . of Process Philosophy & Organization Studies (with a Cézanne cover image of Mont Sainte-Victoire), . . . of The Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers, . . . of Quaker Studies (edited by Stephen C.Angell and Pink Dandelion), . . . of Holinshed’s Chronicles, . . . of The American Revolution, . . . of Qualitative Research in American Music Education, . . . of Public Accountability, . . . of Religious Conversion, . . . of Political Leadership. Alas, none of them will be reviewed, worthy publications though they no doubt are.
But as if to further confound the notion that we are living in a bold new digital age, where books will become a relic of the past, we also receive countless books of the Focused Organization: How concentrating on a few key initiatives can dramatically improve strategy execution variety – not really our kind of thing even though we like to consider all disciplines from Anthropology to Zoology. Nor will we have space for Silent Cinema and the Politics of Space, or Ancestral Encounters in Highland Madagascar: Material signs and traces of the dead, or Arms Industry Transformation and Integration: The choices of East Central Europe, or Corporeality: Emergent consciousness within its spatial dimensions, or Cognitive Iconology. And I’m not sure there’ll be any takers for Transnationalizing the Public Sphere, or for Storyworlds Across Media: Toward a media-conscious narratology. (Authors published by American university presses seem keen on deploying the word “toward” in their titles, but do they ever get there?)
Then there are the quaintly specialized titles: Women and the Counter-Reformation in Early Modern Münster, The Science Fiction Dimensions of Salman Rushdie, Standing Apart: Mormon historical consciousness and the concept of apostasy, Gender Protest and Same-Sex Desire in Antebellum American Literature, Controlling Contested Spaces: Late antique Antioch and the spatial politics of religious controversy (the gerund noun is another favourite in titles).
We’ve tidied up the table a bit since the first photo (see below). But today’s haul hasn’t been sorted yet . . . .
As you can see, we are kept busy here. It’s a kind of battle of the books. And it often seems as though we’re losing. . . .