6) The book reviews are where the action be. These have the best give-and-take, the most humor (if nerd-jokes can be considered humor), and often have the most interesting content. There are several reasons for this: First, books that end up with panel reviews tend to be by established scholars who have come up with provocative theses (however, I am proof that this is not always true). Second, the planners for these sessions hand pick the respondents from the best and the brightest given the topic; i.e. there is no “open call” for reviewers. Third, you never get the sense that these presentations are “trial runs” for possible publications. Fourth, and most importantly, a thesis that has already been published must be defended… thus the rejoinder by the author is stronger than you might get from other sessions. I, of course, have a vested interested in this, but I promise that it will not disappoint: see here.
7) Food is worth thinking about ahead of time. Chicago has some of the best food on the planet. There are several options by the Millennium Park area, only about a mile from the convention center. But Chicago has a veritable smorgasbord of options on the cheaper side (think Templeton from Charlotte’s Web). Just put
8) The chief virtue of AAR/SBL is networking. I’m not talking about introducing yourself to your favorite author after s/he presents. Nor am I talking about bumping into an old colleague in the book room. The best networking is intentional. If you don’t have an appointment or two planned before the meeting, you’re missing the most valuable element of the conference. It can be helpful to set up an appointment with an established scholar in your field (you normally need to email the person months in advance to make this happen - offer to pay), but it is just as important to meet and establish contacts with “younger” peers (offer to pay). Often, these are the folks with the most original ideas and are most likely to remember you when they are sitting on hiring committees, steering committees, editorial boards etc.
9) Further to number eight: Be content not to become best friends with N.T. Wright. Yes, you’ll see him and a few of your other favorite rockstars. He doesn’t want to shake your hand. He doesn’t want your affirmations. He doesn’t want a lock of your hair wrapped in a love poem (I’m looking at you Mark Almlie). This goes for almost every scholar who has ever published with HarperOne. You’ll respect yourself more in the morning if you don’t attempt to introduce yourself. On the other hand, most of us non-HarperOne mortals like connecting names to faces; John Byron likes to hug complete strangers… just walk right up and hug him. You won’t regret it!
10) If you cannot make a session, most presenters don’t mind being asked for a draft by email. Of course, you should promise not to distribute this draft and you should be open to the possibility that the “draft” is little more than an outline. In this case, you might be turned down. But if the presenter is willing, this can be an extremely helpful addition to a dissertation—you’re demonstrating that you’re up on the absolute latest work being done in the field. I know that John Byron loves to receive emails from complete strangers! Be sure to sign off with an OXOXOXO XXX!