Scott McLemee’s piece on the Columbia Journalism Review Web site explores Hubert Harrison’s role as a book reviewer and critic.
Harrison is of course the subject of Jeffrey Perry’s new biography, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, which McLemee previously wrote about for Inside Higher Ed and the Barnes & Noble Review.
As McLemee writes in the article, Harrison viewed himself as “the only ‘certified’ Negro book-reviewer in captivity.” Despite the fact that book publishers of the time often refused to send review copies to black newspapers, Harrison wrote many book reviews over the course of his life as well as editing the first book review section in a black paper.
Here is Harrison on the art of book reviewing:
“In the first place remember that in a book review you are writing for a public who want to know whether it is worth their while to read the book about which you are writing. They are primarily interested more in what the author set himself to do and how he does it than in your own private loves and hates. Not that these are without value, but they are strictly secondary. In the next place, respect yourself and your office so much that you will not complacently pass and praise drivel and rubbish. Grant that you don’t know everything; you still must steer true to the lights of your knowledge. Give honest service; only so will your opinion come to have weight with your readers. Remember, too, that you can not well review a work on African history, for instance, if that is the only work on the subject that you have read. Therefore, read widely and be well informed. Get the widest basis of knowledge for your judgment; then back your judgment to the limit.”