In the capacity of general editor for this journal, I have supervised a few book reviews by fellow scholars and have written two myself: this one and another for the next issue (Teaching Japanese Popular Culture, edited by D. Shamoon and C. McMorran, AAS 2016). Through these experiences, I realised even more now than ever before how scholars share certain ways of thinking about edited books. A considerable number of academics, myself included, who have reviewed edited books—e.g. the reviews in this and in the upcoming issue—implicitly divide collections into two overarching groups: those which have an organically, ex ante designed structure, and those which are put together ex post (there are also “hybrid” cases). In the first, ex ante group are collective works organised around a theme proposed by the editor(s), which can be based either on an open but very specific CFP, or on ad personam invitations to contribute on the basis of a project designed a priori by the editor. The latter composition strategy is by far the best to follow for an edited book. It is also the criterion used for so-called “handbooks”, reference texts with a somewhat encyclopaedic organisation but which are far beyond the classic idea of knowledge listed in alphabetical order and, on the contrary, possess a certain agility, transversality, and scholarly dynamism in the display of their contents. In the second, ex post group we find, for the most part, collections stemming from conferences and symposia. It is not per se that collections based on this criterion are ipso facto worse than or inferior to the ex ante structure. The distinguishing trait is not quality; there are organically edited works in the ex ante group whose chapters oscillate from mediocrity to greatness, and miscellaneous collections in the ex post group whose chapters, however detached from each other, are all of good-to-outstanding value. But in my experience as a reader and a scholar, it is much harder for unorganised collections to reach the same standard and orderly structure compared to the collections of the ex ante group.
I shall explain this further later on, but first [...]