I like kind and intelligent reviews, positive or negative, and dislike mean and stupid ones. Let me try to sort them out.
The only negative review of my work in Japan, from 1984 when my first book was published to 1998 when I left, turned out to be a gift. Quoting a sentence with a high-falutin French word in it, the reviewer charged that my anti-stereotype ideas were betrayed by a smugly overstated contrast of my own. As it happened, it was one of about 30 sentences rewritten by a sleep-deprived editor who had studied French with a bad habit of adding deconstructionist phrasing into the books he proofed. A non-Japanese I needed heavy editing and the publisher had editors more than capable of doing a good job, but circumstances stuck me with a pompous light-weight. I discovered the problem months before the review and begged the chief editor to let me make corrections when the book was reprinted but was told it was too costly for the company was close to bankrupt, etc. . It hurt to think people thought I thought as the quoted passage suggested. Having that review for proof that I was not the only person who found those sentences a problem and it would hurt sales if more such reviews came out helped me get permission to fix my book, which subsequently went four more printings. So a reviewer who really read closely did me and my readers to come a great service by taking the book to task.
The only mean review I recall lauded a different book of mine that eventually went pocketbook and sold tens of thousands of copies. It took a couple passages where I criticized something Inoue Hisashi, a famous writer I had met more than once, had written about the first-person pronoun out of context and made it seem that I had put this dastardly titan in his place. As a careful reader, Inoue knew I chose passages from his work as they were well-written and served to dramatically example a concept I was debunking.. But, when I called his house for a blurb for my next book, his wife who had read that review tore into me for “attacking” her husband, "the Shakespeare of Japan," etc. and came close to hanging up on me before realizing what I desperately shouted into the mouthpiece, namely, that he had already read and liked the book and I had his postcard to prove it. Why the disconnect? The magazine was rightwing while Inoue was leftwing. The warped review made it seem like he and not the antithetical stereotypes of the English and Japanese language were my target. It is possible the reviewer was not consciously mean but a victim of cognitive dissonance in which case, maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was stupid, as part of intelligence is the ability to realize when we are giving in to our prejudices.
Since 2003, I have begun publishing in English and already have 3 negative reviews. One was at Amazon and, regretably, lost, for it was removed by the author after I chewed him out for his mean-spirited comments and neglecting to mention one word about what was in the book, content-wise. He did mention one detail about the style. He was horrified to find Orientalism & Occidentalism had not only had copious notes but many of those notes had notes some of which had notes. Now that is just the sort of thing that might attract a curious reader, so that criticism actually pleased me. The second was at LYNX, a magazine from “Aha!,” which is to say Jane Reichhold, who loves my books. She was under the weather and delegated a book review to a man who is a good poet in his prim manner, but was so nasty and irrational toward me that I ended up posting the review at my website to point out its weird contradictions. Here are a couple examples of what I mean:
" Gill, however, is quick to disavow any notion that he is compiling a saijiki or haiku almanac: “IPOOH is too limited to be called a proper saijiki, because only 200 themes (40 per season) would be insufficient to fully flesh-out the year even if they were chosen for their importance, which they are not (p.19).” " [Author: Ahem! To say my book is not a “proper saijiki” is not to say it is not a saijiki! Is the critic dizzy from riding the Chinese “white-horse” (“Is a white horse a horse”)?]
Or, to restate this for my Redroom readers, how odd for one who carefully selects and lines up words in exceedingly neat meter to take a qualification for a complete disavowal. Maybe I am being to picky, myself, but there was something in the reviewer’s demeanor, his attitude that bothered me. He also claimed
" Gill’s format mirrors that in Blyth’s Haiku: commentary as well as occasional editorializing, some translated haiku, further comments, and yet more haiku. If Gill’s general model is Blyth, Gill shares something of Blyth’s maverick style and iconoclastic manner: his scholarship and broad reading as well as a cozy self-assuredness and quirky impatience with opinions that contradict his own. " [Author: I like Blyth but Blyth is hardly my model. He chose conventionally good haiku and interpreted them in terms of Zen. I choose haiku, many of which he would have avoided like the plague, to develop themes and interpret them from multiple perspectives. I do try to follow Blyth, remembering that it is better to be wrong than to bore the reader, but, if anything, I still qualify things too much. Because I often introduce many possible interpretations, only giving an opinion as to my favorite and readily admit to being unsure, I have been criticized with justification for not exercising enough authority more than once, so I wish this curmudgeon would explain just what he means by my “cozy self-assuredness” and “quirky impatience with opinions that contradict his own”! Until I see examples of what he means, I cannot help but suspect he conflates fact and opinion.]
I yearn for a reviewer to criticize my books and suggest improvements. Who doesn't? One friend who is more critical in his e-mail than any reviewer recently told me in no uncertain terms to try removing all first-person singular pronouns not in the translated poems, that is to say, to have less me obviously in the book. What makes doing that difficult for me is that most of my first-person pronouns are intended to qualify my opinion and not to boast. My intent is to say, ‘I think this, but others are free to think that.’ To write without the first-person is to write for the world. “One” is not a mark of humble self-effacement but, rather, authoritarian. But I am trying this “I-lessness” for a short version of MAD IN TRANSLATION right now, all because of negative criticism from that friend (Well, to be honest, I also know he will use the book for a university course he teaches if he likes it).
Back to those negative reviews. The third and last came out about a month ago but I just googled across it two days ago. Unlike the Japanese review, it was of the 100% stupid variety. The reviewer should have written a more literate friend: “Someone sent me this book to review but it is over my head and I am too busy twittering to really read it, could you try it?” But, blithely unaware of her limits, she pontificated in the smug knowing way of those who know not that they do not know. I responded with a full rebuttal at my website shortly after responding off-the-cuff at her website. Wow, you should have seen the response of her fellow twits in such close contact by twittering that their thoughts move in mass like a school of sardine producing what might be called a collective knee-jerk! To have that many benighted people in one day swear they will never look at my books because I do not know how to take criticism -- while furious about my daring to criticize their fellow twit -- was oddly exhilarating, and in its own way endearing. At least it shows they care about something. Maybe they should make a black-list for authors who dare defend themselves from the righteous bloggers with their twittering flunkies.
This is getting too long to give the entire review and point-by-point rebuttal. But I will give the first part and you may see the rest at paraverse dot org. on the page with reviews for Octopussy, Dry Kidney & Blues Spots, also sold as The Woman Without a Hole. Then, after you read that and see the book at Google where it is now 100% readable, you are free to weigh in if you wish.
And now for the real fun. Tis of thee I sing.
A bad review beautifully demonstrates the state of il/literacy in my country (Today is 4 July, 2009)."
"Lost In Books," or Lost To them?
When I was young I read much and wrote little. With the temptation of blogging – and, now, twittering – how can any young person refrain from showing off how much they have yet to learn long enough to really read anything? Such thoughts came to mind when I happened to google across the following review of my book of dirty senryu by someone who professes to be “lost in books” but is actually representative of a generation lost to them.
Rebecca: " The long title of this book is Octopussy, Dry Kidney, & Blue Spots: Dirty Themes from 18-19c Japanese Poems. It also says "or, senryu compiled, translated & essayed by Robin D. Gill" and "Yet another good book the New York Times Book Review will probably ignore." "
Me: “It also says” is an odd way to preface an introduction of the name of the author. If the reviewer read any old books, she might have laughed at the archaic style of the extension of the sub-title and given the page-long title of the 17c book by John Bulwer that is referred to in short as Anthropometamorphosis, or the Artificial Changeling . . . but, has she read anything more than a century old that wasn’t forced on her in school? One wonders. But, from the way she presents the fake “New York Times Book Review,” it would seem she does employ a pre-modern physician of the sort called a barber, for she has obviously been bled so severely that she is devoid of all humour. If she had her mother wit about her and had read enough Mark Twain she might have, instead, written something like, say,
"Gill took a page from Twain, who advertised his speech with a poster promising FIREWORKS written in huge letters accompanied by a disclaimer in tiny letters to the effect that none such would be there. “The New York Times Book Review” is written large on a fake publicity-belt – called an obi and common to Japanese books, but rare in English-language publishing – preceded by “Yet another good book” and followed by “will probably ignore” in tiny letters. Who can doubt that Twain made it up to all who bought tickets with an interesting talk, but Gill’s book sucks."
Had the twit (she tells us we can follow her twittering) written something like that, I would have downed a bottle of wine and cried. It would hurt to think that a truly literate person found my book unworthy of even The New York Times, which, any sensitive person knows, is itself no longer capable of judging what is what.
Causes Robin Gill Supports
I have been told by readers inspired by my books that they went to work for NGO's because they read my book, but I have been a pauper for so many years now...