- Editors’ Note
The Summer 2014 issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly is a landmark in the history of the journal. After careful and prolonged discussions, the editors have decided that this issue will contain the last installment of our Reviewed Elsewhere section.
We would first of all like to thank the many contributing editors who have made Reviewed Elsewhere possible over the past twenty-seven years. (A list of all forty-five of these editors appears on page 911, at the end of Reviewed Elsewhere.) The feature has grown tremendously since the first installment appeared in the Summer of 1987, and we’ve been profoundly grateful for the editors’ consistently fine work at identifying and then abstracting the thousands and thousands of entries that have appeared over that time.
Several reasons lie behind this decision. The first has to do with profoundly changing times. When our review editor Marie-José Fassiotto began Reviewed Elsewhere, it was designed to provide information about important new biographies and autobiographies that would not be reviewed in the journal, since our review section deals exclusively with critical and theoretical texts about life writing. Over 90 percent of the notices at that time concerned works published and reviewed in the United States, and the bulk of the entries came from three New York publications—the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, and the New Yorker. There was no internet, no e-mail, and the first installment was only twenty-two pages long.
Over the years, as Reviewed Elsewhere grew, it become more international as we added more contributing editors—the first installment had only four!—and more wide-ranging in the print and eventually the online publications surveyed. Gabriel Merle, for example, abstracted the reviews from French publications, and then translated these abstracts into English. With the boom in memoir, and in the publication of life writing texts about people who were not writers, artists, or politicians, the number of pages of Reviewed Elsewhere in each issue steadily increased.
Over the last two or three years, however, we have come to the conclusion that the feature is no longer sustainable. One hugely important consideration was the loss of the two figures essential to its production. For twenty-five years, Michael Fassiotto did a brilliant job abstracting reviews from the major New York publications; he was the anchor for Reviewed Elsewhere until his untimely death in 2013. Then Marie-José Fassiotto, the editor of the feature [End Page v] for its entire run, and our Book Review editor as well, recently retired. So if a change was going to happen, this was certainly the time.
As we thought about the future for Reviewed Elsewhere, however, we became convinced that the original idea for the feature has passed its expiry date. To be internationally representative these days, contributing editors would need to produce abstracts from one or two premier publications in a very substantial number of countries. For many years, Alana Bell has done this admirably for Canada by abstracting reviews from the Toronto Globe and Mail, and Noel Kent and Judith Coullie have done something similar for Great Britain and South Africa respectively. But this model has been undermined by the huge variety of review resources now available to anyone anywhere, and for many new forms of life writing, reviews simply won’t appear in major establishment media. In short, the field has become too diverse and too large for anything to provide a representative sample.
We then considered the feature’s current status as part of the journal. Reviewed Elsewhere can be extremely interesting; it is also highly idiosyncratic. And when we examined usage statistics from our online edition, we realized that the number of times that installments of this highly labor-intensive feature were actually downloaded was extremely small when compared to the other sections and features of Biography.
So what we have decided to do is to end Reviewed Elsewhere with this issue. What will succeed it, if anything? We are currently discussing ways to make Biography a better source of information about trends and developments in life writing around the world, and more information about our initiatives is...