1. My implicitly snarky list of quotations from yesterday aside, I think Naomi S. Baron's essay conflates two very different issues: the potential decline-and-fall of "serious" reading habits; and actual student displeasure with using etexts in the classroom. I have no doubt at all that the latter is correct: my students who use etexts also find them irritating for a number of reasons, especially their clumsiness during actual classroom use. We've also had a number of problems that go beyond "nobody is on the same page," like the electronic edition of Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho that eliminated all the poems. (You...you can't do that. Really. You can't.) The difficulty with the decline-and-fall narrative, though, is that there's no evidence that a majority of the population has ever had any enthusiasm for reading really long books, or done it easily. The classroom environment, in which one, say, reads Bleak House in three weeks, has nothing to do with any of the ways in which one of Dickens' original readers would have encountered the book. (Serial? One volume at a time? Read aloud in the family circle or in a workshop? Read alone for recreation?) As Dad the Emeritus Historian of Graeco-Roman Egypt pointed out, reading long books in a college environment is a learned skill. In addition, it's hard not to notice the proliferation of bestsellers that are, whatever else they are, of a non-short nature.
2. Although Rebecca Schuman's suggestion for fixing peer review--"what if in order to be eligible to submitan academic article to a journal, a scholar had first to volunteer to review someone else’s article for that same journal?"--sounds interesting, there may be a logistical problem. Namely, that there are many fewer people writing and submitting articles than we think there are. Much as we tend to over-exaggerate the number of people on the job market with two books and twelve articles, we also tend to over-estimate how many people are desperately attempting to beef up their CVs. It's hard to tell if the submissions numbers in the MLA Directory of Periodicals bear any resemblance to reality. Who audits these numbers? Academic scuttle-butt suggests that many journal editors are, if not starving for material, not overwhelmed by what they're receiving, either. Modern Philology receives "100-120"submissions annually, according to the Directory, but when I worked for Modern Philology in the late 90s, we had so few articles in the hopper that things were getting rather nerve-wracking by the end of my tenure. Moreover, as a generalist journal, despite its early-modern focus, it would have been impossible for us to insist that an eighteenth-century specialist wait around to submit until something on Alexander Pope appeared (five years from now...) for them to review. And many journals do peer review in-house, via the editorial/advisory board (this is how Neo-Victorian Studies works, for example). Moreover, there's the question of alternative publishing outlets. Some day, somebody will do a serious assessment of how the explosion of edited collections (especially those put out by commercial academic publishers like Routledge) has affected submission patterns to peer-reviewed journals, especially by authors in the UK. Dr. Schuman's suggestion might work for those journals genuinely under siege--PMLA, which claims "200-320" submissions annually, comes to mind here--but most journals would be unable to support this model, I suspect. Now, that being said, demanding that peer reviewers review on time is an entirely different matter, and I don't see why banning someone who abuses another author (by writing a frankly abusive review or by not writing the review in, say, six weeks) should be off the table.