The first review of my brand spanking new book, Once Were Pacific: Maori connections with Oceania, has appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, the major weekend newspaper at home, and the reviewer wasn't happy. Then again, I wouldn't be very happy either if I read a book by someone who doesn't believe in intermarriage and thinks that the Pasifika Festival is dodgy in the extreme. Um, which is not a self-hating thing of me to say, because I didn't write a book which makes either of these claims.
When I first heard about the review and its limits, I tried to be philosophical about it: it's the Sunday Star-Times! They publish opinion drivel by people like Michael Laws! Who cares!
But, once I read the review I felt a bit differently. I feel sad that the person who reviewed my book clearly didn't bother to take the time to actually read it. I feel grumpy that such a person would then write a review which runs the risk of leaving a lot of people in NZ with strange ideas about what my book is about. And, indeed, what I am about.
I am tempted to engage in rebuttal, refuting points and writing back. But the review engages the very best kind of slipperiness, using great chunks of quoted text from the book and using them completely out of context and with misleading framing comments, and does this with such alarming confidence and with such implied claims that this - this - is what the book is about (despite the points the reviewer makes being rather minor points in the greater scheme of the book), that I'm not sure I could make a convincing point. Or at least, I don't find myself being willing to engage in rebuttal when the basis of the opposing arguments are based on not, well, reading the book. Don't argue with a fool, Grandad used to say, or people can't tell the difference.
And why am I most disappointed? And, well, confused? Because there's actually plenty of stuff I've said in the book which could be inflammatory or, at least, uncomfortable. If someone wanted to be angry about my book I've actually provided them plenty of fodder to work with. I just don't see why they had to make up other stuff, rather than just respond to the claims I've made. Handing, you know, the job of the conservative reviewer to them on a plate.
Oh, and a couple of tips, and this is addressed to the reviewer. If you're reviewing a scholarly book, dude:
a) read the book.
b) establish the last name of the book's author and cite it correctly throughout the review.
c) don't complain that the language of a scholarly book is scholarly; this is, you know, how us scholars roll.
Okay! Got that out of my system. Thanks. Yes, I feel better.