Book Reviewing

Amazon image of the Willis 2014 Action Research book

I’ve recently published a review in BJET of a book about Action Research aimed at doctoral students. I did find Willis & Edwards’ book useful where the SAGE handbook can be a bit intimidating… Amazon are selling it for about £40. Sadly, it’s not in the Lancaster library :/ (at the moment! – but I must say I’ve found the library refreshingly receptive to recommendations in the past).

This sort of highlights the significant perk of getting into book reviewing… You get to keep the book! I know that’s stating the obvious, but I do enjoy a real paper book, on a substantial topic, ‘to have and to hold’ (I do think e-books are very useful, not least for the capacity to search the full text).

But the real value of book reviewing for me has been the discipline of tackling a whole book with a purpose, even though I’m a terribly slow reader and often miss the deadline.

I’ve been reviewing books since 2004. I may be unusual in feeling I need to read the entire book before I commit my review – that’s why I’ve done so few!

Having said that, this title was unusual in that I really didn’t need to read it all to justify writing the review because the BJET audience is educational technology and the majority of chapters were nothing to do with that (it still took me ages!). Yet the chapters I did read, especially in the first section, were very helpful in clarifying this research methodology. I’m sure others reading this will have been bemused by the variety of research projects claiming to be ‘action research’. The authors explain this through a ‘family resemblances’ metaphor, but still concede that the roots, and perhaps the beating heart, of action research are radical and participatory, not just that someone had half an idea that their project would involve a couple of iterative cycles and needed a fancy theory to pin that onto. That approach, for me with my newly deepened appreciation of action research, is just a bit lame, especially compared to the kinds of problems and solutions that action research has targeted.

Some books I’ve read for review have helped shape my thinking in very timely ways. My current project feels a bit weird since it just happens to be a monograph by my Masters tutor, one Prof. Chris Jones, now at Liverpool John Moores. I feel honoured to get my own copy of ‘Networked Learning’ (the conference of that name returns to Lancaster next year) and force my brain through this erudite discourse, the content of which sits directly in line with my research interests.

I’m sure my reviews are nothing special, but without the review as an objective I would never have covered the ground I have. And I’m not saying I remember everything I read, far from it, but the sense of purpose I derive from having to produce a publishable review does force me to think harder about what I’m reading.  Make time for it.

To see a list of my reviews, check this page on my public blog.