Academic hypersensitivity. I fear it’s on the rise. I know I’ve experienced it myself—that flushing rage and disbelief that someone has written a book on the very topic on which you also published a book, and didn’t cite you. How could they have overlooked your contribution? I’ve seen scholars angered to the point of wanting to ruin someone’s career for not citing them. Now academics can be a sensitive lot. Remember, some of them specialize to a point of general social incompetence. Anyone publishing in their specialization is like making a claim to have slept with their spouse. This subject is theirs! They’ve spent years reading and researching it. How dare some new-comer not know this!
One thing many academics don’t realize is just how much material is published. The flip side of this is just how obscure their work is. Trade publishing and academic publishing aren’t the same thing, and the former are the books that really get noticed. When I wrote my dissertation, back in the early 1990s, I had read everthing I possibly could on the goddess Asherah. When I proposed the dissertation topic there had been a total of about three books written on Asherah that I knew of. Enough to have a research base, but not enough to suggest it was a crowded field. While I was whiling away my time in Edinburgh, another American ex-pat was writing on the same topic in Oxford. The day of my doctoral defense, the outside examiner came in with a book just out on Asherah—in German, no less—and asked how my dissertation related to it. Even today when I see a book on Israelite religion I flip to the back to see if my book’s listed. Generally it’s not. Today it’s impossible to read everything published on Asherah.
In my own case, however, I’m slowly coming to perceive the reality of the situation. Books continue to be produced. Articles are published at a blinding rate. Even Google has to take a little time to find them all. An overly inflated sense of self-importance can be a painful thing when it meets with the sharp pin of reality. Your academic book may well go unnoticed. Even if it’s good. It may be priced at over a hundred dollars—I still pause and fret and kick the dirt a few times before buying any book that costs more than twenty. Silently and slowly, I suspect, the frustration builds. You see a book, then two, then three, that seem to be oblivious to your contribution. A new book for review lands on your desk and Vesuvius erupts—why am I not cited?! Has my work been forgotten? Calm down. Breathe deeply. The book of that neophyte before you will also become obscure in due course.