Anyone who reads this blog even occasionally knows that I have been toiling away on book revisions (and related projects) over the last 12 months. I’ve tried to be systematic and not allowed them to take over my life (or my attention to other things).
The book, as you likely know, is on the archaeology of the contemporary American experience and it received rather uneven peer reviews. Of the five reviewers, two were enthusiastic, one was tepid, and two were unimpressed. As a result, I felt like I needed to make some pretty substantial revisions to address the two unimpressed reviewer’s criticism (especially since one of them was one of the series editors!). Mostly, they identified sins of omission and this pushed me expand the scale and depth of my manuscript significantly over the last 12 months. I feel like the book is better (or at very least more substantial) as a result.
Now, I have THREE things left to do with this project over the next 8 weeks.
First, I need to read all the chapter for cohesion and consistency. One of the biggest criticisms about the first draft of the book is that it didn’t always foreground something recognizable as the “American experience.” In other words, I let the trees dominate the forest. Now I need to make sure that the reader can continue to see the forest.
Second, I need to finish the introduction and write a new conclusion (or afterword). In my original conceptualization of the book, I wanted the final substantive chapter to be a conclusion, but as I worked on the book against the backdrop of the BLM protests, the last days of Trump’s presidency, the COVID pandemic, and so on, I felt like my book would be tone deaf if it didn’t acknowledge and address the situation in contemporary America. The resulting afterword was timely, but it already feels a bit dated and this has motivated me to write something that is less anchored in a particular present and more anchored in a general one (as I hope my book itself manages to accomplish).
Finally, I need to review my citations. I’ve become particularly aware of the significance of citational politics especially in a survey work such as mine. I want to make sure that my revisions have continued to produce a more diverse, more inclusive, and more diachronic assemblage of citations. This means not only making sure that my bibliography is updated, but also analyzing it again to make sure that it reflects both the field as it current exists and the field that we all hope one day to see.
I have to admit that these final three tasks are set against a backdrop of growing ambivalence toward this project. Not only do I have personal doubts about whether I was really the right person and up for the task of making these kinds of sweeping generalizations about an emergent field, but also about whether this is something that I SHOULD be doing in the way that I’m doing it.
To be a bit more clear, I think I’ve produced a viable framework for understanding the archaeology of the contemporary American experience. At the same time, I wonder if a book of this type would be more useful in an open format which would not only allow for it to be disaggregated in various ways (for, say, classroom use), but also for people to take what they find useful from this book and, if necessary, expand it, modify it, or re- or even de-contextualize it.
I know that I’m too deep into this project to walk away now, and going through the process of writing a book on a new subject (to me), in a new field (to me), and for a new publisher (to me) has given me a good place to think about how a book like this should have worked and maybe how my next publishing project SHOULD work.
So even if this isn’t the book that I should have or should be writing, it has helped to understand better what I want to do in the future.