Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.12.18
Ancona on Roche on Ancona. Response to 2004.11.31
Response by Ronnie Ancona, Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNY (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It is with some reluctance that I write this response to P.A. Roche's review of my book, Writing Passion: A Catullus Reader. It is the job of reviewers to critique and therefore I find it generally inappropriate for authors to take issue with such critiques. However, I would consider myself remiss if I did not point out some ways in which this review seems misguided.
First, Roche (R. hereafter) misrepresents the audience for which the book was written. He/she claims "A. nominates intermediate college students as her intended audience" and then adds "with secondary students as a welcome alternative." In fact, I do no such thing. My Preface makes clear that the book is an AP Latin textbook that may be used at the college level as well (no surprise since AP level work is college level work by definition).
Since my Preface states that the approach I take in Writing Passion is modeled on that of my previous AP text on Horace, Horace: Selected Odes and Satire 1.9, reviewed in BMCR 1999.09.14 along with its Teacher's Guide, it seems strange that R. appears unaware of the scholarly and pedagogical context of the book he/she is reviewing. In addition, a quick look at that earlier review, which covers Horace text and Guide, would have pointed out the benefit of waiting for the publication of the Writing Passion Teacher's Guide without which R. was troubled because my Catullus text did not appear to be a "'do-it-yourself' manual." In fact I can't imagine an AP text or intermediate level college text being used as a "do-it-yourself" book! The teachers with whom I have worked closely over the years as a Reader of the AP Latin Exam, as a consultant for the College Board teaching AP Latin workshops, and as Director of Hunter College's MA program in the teaching of Latin all put in a huge amount of time and effort with their students on top of whatever a particular text might offer them. Teachers are intimately involved in the teaching/learning process at this stage of high school or college instruction, and even teachers rely at times on the added help of a Teacher's Guide which contains, among other things, a literal translation of all of the Latin, including those passages for which R. wanted the students to have more help with translation. In fact, the Guide, which R. calls "forthcoming," appeared shortly after the text, about two months before the appearance of his/her review, and thus is already in the hands of teachers. While I am aware of BMCR's tight deadlines for return of reviews, a bit more initiative and a quick call or e-mail to the publisher would have revealed the Guide's publication was imminent. The publisher assures me they would have gladly FedExed the reviewer a galley copy of the Teacher's Guide and that such requests from reviewers are not uncommon.
R.'s confusion about the targeted audience for the book and his/her assumption that it might be used as some kind of do-it-yourself manual is compounded by his/her blindness to why Latin teachers (and students) might want to have more textbooks available. R. states that my book "cannot be said to remedy a need in the marketplace" because there are many commentaries and student editions of Catullus already and that even within the subcategory of AP Catullus texts there is already another AP Catullus text from my own publisher. While I will leave it to others to judge why another Catullus AP text might have been solicited by the same publisher, I would think that a more conscientious reviewer, having wondered about this, would have followed through by comparing the two. Indeed, there are now three AP Catullus texts available (including mine), not two, and the fact that no comparisons among the three are made in this review is quite surprising. In addition, that one of them, Arnold, Aronson, and Lawall's Love and Betrayal: A Catullus Reader, is included among "student editions" rather than "AP editions" by the reviewer suggests he/she is oblivious to the fact that it is an AP text.
Over the years when I have seen my own books reviewed I have of course noticed first the negative points even in glowing reviews. I think all authors do this. We would prefer, even if we don't expect, universal approval for our books. However that reaction has never led me to even consider writing a response, nor should it have. My disappointment with this review was not in its specific points of praise or criticism (in fact the excellent point that the notes may be "dislodged from their rightful line number," appearing on the next page, is a feature I would like to eliminate in a later edition if the publisher deems it possible within constraints of space), but in how the job was done. I thought this review demonstrated ignorance about the context of the book under review that could have been remedied through the acquisition of some basic information about AP Latin, including a perusal of this journal's own review of my earlier AP text on Horace. With that information the reviewer would either have become educated adequately for writing this review or might have decided that he/she was not the most appropriate of reviewers. In either case the readers of BMCR would have benefited.