Reviewing a ms.

Medieval Central Asian shopkeeper selling apples, neatly stacked

Another time-waster standing between me and getting back to Book III: I said I’d review a manuscript for a book on Central Asian Food. That sounded interesting! But it’s been pretty difficult to get through. The main problem is that the authors just haven’t finished their work.

They know a good deal about Central Asian food – certainly more than I knew before I started reading, and probably a good deal more than I know now, even after reading their book. But the manuscript reads like they just piled all their research notes together and sent it off. There are long lists of what kind of dumplings they make here, or what kind of stew or naan they make there. There are a lot of recipes. It’s not uninteresting, but for a book, it really cries out for some kind of organization. Some kind of point. Why are we learning all this? What is the bigger lesson?

Dried yogurt balls

About halfway through the tedious process of reading the whole thing, taking careful notes on what was good and what needed work, and checking for major errors, I started to feel taken advantage of. “I’d never dare to send off a manuscript in this condition,” I fumed (silently, since I was working alone in the library). “This is just old-white-men entitlement, thinking they can send off a ms. like this. And not only that, the press asked me to read it! This is unpaid women’s work and I’m doing it for old white men.”

Picking mulberries in Central Asia

I guess one lesson I’ve learned is to think harder before accepting this kind of project. I might from now on accept ms only from women and other marginalized people? And I’m also forming some thoughts about how reviewing academic manuscripts should be paid work.

But I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I’ve pretty much finished reading it now (all but the conclusion). I’ve got a pile of pretty angry-sounding notes that I took while I was reading. I’m letting them percolate a little, and tomorrow I’ll write them up, but in a much kinder and more constructive tone. Nobody hears you if you sound angry. It just adds to the misery in the world. By the time I send the report off, it will explain to the press just what is new and interesting about the research the authors have done, and make constructive suggestions about how it can be improved. I bet the authors still won’t like it anyway, but nobody likes their reader reports. Then I’ll get back to my own book.

(What do people eat in Central Asia? I can’t tell you what they said, but here’s my article on Central Asian food, which is probably why the press asked me to review the book.)

(Also, I’m still tweeting out Study Guide articles every day, in alphabetical order. I just sent out our articles #371 and #372 on coca and coffee, which suggests that we still have a long way to go.)

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