Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Performance Review

Most individuals in the American work force are used to the ritual of a performance review, in which one or more supervisors speak to the strengths and weaknesses of one's work-related activities. Your performance reviews began, as most students in America begin theirs, with report cards, where you're given a midterm letter grade and a final, as well as grades in such personal areas as Cooperation, Deportment, and Reliability.

The gold standard in K-12 grading would be an A for achievement in a particular course, say Social Studies or Geometry, followed by N for needs improvement, S for satisfactory performance, and R, which you cannot recall the superlative for which it stands, thus no surprise that you cannot ever recall being awarded one.

There is always some binary associated with review of any sort. One semester during your hated middle school tenure, your home room teacher, who was also your math teacher, wanted to know "What is it with you, Lowenkopf, that you get As and Bs in all your other courses?" his emphasis on other. Not his.

In your capacity as editor there were reviews of various sorts, not least among them quarterly sales figures on titles you'd acquired, as well as stray newspaper and magazine reviews. You were expected to spend at least some time each week in the presence of the publisher to discuss titles you wished to acquire, strategy for dealing with subsidiary rights, or, in the case of one particular author, how some profit could be made for selling a cantankerous author to another publisher who had no idea of his cantankerousness.

Being summoned into a publisher's office otherwise meant you were going to be rewarded, rebuked for some real or imagined offense, or fired. Often you had no idea where on the spectrum the summons lay. 

In one such case, you were asked to rationalize--the very word used by the publisher--wearing a regimental striped necktie with a houndstooth jacket. Another time, you were called to rationalize--there's that word again--why you arranged the lease of North American massmarket rights to a title under your oversee, a discussion that grew quite heated until the publisher realized the advance of $50,000 from the massmarket publisher was to be split equally with the author and the publisher who employed you.

Being summoned to the department chair or dean's office as a teacher more often than not meant you were being given some opportunity to volunteer for a task of negative interest to you, although it could have been to confirm and, thus, promise not to repeat your classroom statement that every building on campus, starting with the library, had been named for a crook. It could also have been the time you were invited to the dean's office to satisfy his, linguist background curiosity about how you had passionate feelings about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

In many ways, the most significant performance review comes, not as one might expect, from prestigious sources as, in your case Library Journal Los Angeles Times, rather from yourself after looking at something done back in the past and still being able to respect it. Close to that is coming to a sheaf of pages obviously in your own hand (who else writes in brown ink?) and finding yourself caught up in the force of its direction.

Such moments are memorable, if rare; they cancel out those times when you were mistaken for another writer, possibly a writer not of your liking, whereupon you are told how life altering your work was to your in-person reviewer. This has happened more than once and you understand, from other events in your life, how you feel the responsibility not to in any way embarrass the reader who has mistaken you. 

Thus you become the other writer, thanking the reader on his behalf because although you may wish to amuse or addle or disturb a reader, you do not wish to humiliate or embarrass.

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