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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Michiko Kakutani’s Voluminous Stream of Bile

Posted by on April 11 at 12:32 PM

Everyone has an opinion about her. Anyone can do a passing imitation of her. Everyone loves saying her trochaic trimeteric name. It’s practically become an American sport for literary journalists (i.e., people who write about books) to take New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, roll her up into a ball, and shoot baskets with her. And she totally deserves it. Among people who write about books, no individual has more influence than she does, no one is more enamored of her own opinion, and no one is quite as polar. Your book is the best thing since Shakespeare, or your book is not worth the ink it’s printed inówith Kakutani, there’s not much in between. She’s pretty simple that way. She’s infuriating.

The one shooting hoops with her this time is Ben Yagoda, who writes in an aside: Kakutani “has justly been called out for her near-obsessive use of ‘lugubrious’ and ‘limn,’ words that probably have never been said aloud in the history of English,” which is funny, and echoes something I wrote praising Jonathan Safran Foerówhile bashing Kakutaniólast year. I counted the number of times Kakutani has used the the word “limn” since she started at the New York Times. (Although, later in that piece, I now notice, I use the word “lugubrious.” I’d argue that “lugubrious” is used a lot more than “limn” in conversation… But whatever. Could be wrong. Sigh.)

Since I’m on the subjectówill my computer explode if I link to Seattle Weekly’s website?óhere’s a review of the reviews of Zadie Smith’s second novel that I wrote years ago, which includes some Kakutani bashing as well. Enjoy.


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I have heard lugubrious used in conversation, albeit by a very pretentious English guy. Not that I should talk, since I use albeit, but there you go.

What I find interesting is how many critics, even Times critics, are more interesting than she is. Laura Miller, Stephen Metcalf, Alexandra Robbins, Joe Queenan, etc... Every time I start reading her reviews I almost never finish unlike nearly all of the critics I just listed.

It seems like the Times is invested in smart, but deeply boring critics. Doesn't matter if it's film or lit. I mean, Stephen Holden, I can barely type that without yawning.

I used lugubrious just the other day, talking about Abe Vigoda.

"I used lugubrious just the other day, talking about Abe Vigoda."

Best sentence ever.

the thing i think is interesting about m.k. is that she reviews books more like a music reviewer reviews albums and not artists.

where as, most lit reviewers tend to focus on popular writers whole oevre, acting as synchophants in praise of everything they do (see strangers coverage of, say, d'ambrosio) she sticks very hard to an authors most recent work, giving credit when it's good and calling them out when it's bad.

she has written of one book by philip roth with utter disdain and disappointment, then on his next book she's done a 180 and written a very positive review. i've seen her do this a number of times with the various popular american authors (roth, updike...)

i think that's brave, i've also read many a good review of a first time authors work.

those who write of their hatred of her are generally, i think, scared of how she might review them given, if they were ever lucky enough, the chance.

she is nothing if not succint, and that counts for something in this world. i think she is a populist with out pandering to the low brow. i like her.

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