Saturday, January 20, 2018
Books

A look back at the storied career of New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani

It's not often that the comings and goings of book critics make news. But when Michiko Kakutani decided to retire from the New York Times in July, Vanity Fair broke the story breathlessly online, calling her "the most feared woman in publishing."

During her 34 years as a book critic for the Times, Kakutani was indeed influential, and often controversial. She won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1998 and is credited with helping to make the careers of such writers as Mary Karr, George Saunders, Zadie Smith and David Foster Wallace with glowing reviews.

She could also be crushing. Jonathan Franzen called her "the stupidest person in New York" after she panned his memoir, and Norman Mailer (among others) protested that she disliked white male authors, telling Rolling Stone, "I'm her number-one favorite target. ... But the Times editors can't fire her. They're terrified of her."

Some fellow critics and others praised her for her wide knowledge and fearlessness; others slammed her for a thumbs up-thumbs down approach and cliched writing. Her verbal tics, like her fondness for such words as "limn" and "lugubrious," have played into parodies.

Kakutani has a strong sense of privacy; she has been even less photographed than the Times' restaurant critics. I've never met her, and interestingly, the day after her retirement was announced, in a Facebook thread with a group of other book critics, I found that none of them knew her either. Her avoidance of the public eye led to a clever piece on McSweeney's by Colin McEnroe, one of her former Yale classmates, that posited that Kakutani herself was a fictional character, invented by one of those white males who so resented her.

(I'll cop to my own petty resentment: When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, Kakutani got national props for reading the 784-page book and writing a review in one day. I did the same thing, except she got the book a day earlier.)

The fact that Kakutani so often attracted both praise and protest is a sign of how powerful she has been as a cultural gatekeeper — a role that may well be going extinct.

Kakutani reportedly took a buyout from the Times and plans to write about culture and politics.

Comments
‘Year in Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies at 78

‘Year in Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies at 78

Peter Mayle, whose international bestseller A Year in Provence sent countless tourists to the vineyards and lavender fields of Southern France, has died.In an email, Mr. Mayle’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, reported that he died Thursday in a hospital...
Published: 01/18/18

Events: Bob Woodward to speak at Mahaffey

Book TalkAuthor and journalist Roy Peter Clark (Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer) will lead a workshop, "How to Read Like a Writer," at 2 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Tickets $5.Bob Woodward ...
Published: 01/18/18
Notable: Books from those countries

Notable: Books from those countries

NotableBooks from those countriesHere are books by immigrants from some of the countries recently disparaged by the president. Americanah (Anchor) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a brilliant novel set in this country and in the author’s native Nigeria,...
Published: 01/18/18
Review: Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Pope of Palm Beach’ reveals a sweeter side of Serge Storms

Review: Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Pope of Palm Beach’ reveals a sweeter side of Serge Storms

It’s an odd thing to say about a book in the Serge Storms series, but The Pope of Palm Beach is really kind of sweet.Serge might not want to hear that. He does, after all, kill people, in highly creative ways, when he’s not in manic pursuit of his pa...
Published: 01/18/18
‘Fire and Fury’ burns up bestseller lists

‘Fire and Fury’ burns up bestseller lists

When author Michael Wolff was interviewed on the Today show about his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Savannah Guthrie asked him how he felt about President Donald Trump’s attacks on it. Wolff responded, "Where do I send the box of ...
Published: 01/17/18

Events: Writers in Paradise features Banks, Lippman, more

Book TalkThe Writers in Paradise evening readings continue this week. All readings will take place in the Miller Auditorium at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Books will be available for purchase on site. All readings are free and o...
Published: 01/11/18
Notable: Books on Trump, one year in

Notable: Books on Trump, one year in

NotableOne year inWith the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration approaching, here are new books about him. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Henry Holt) by Michael Wolff is the incendiary look at the administration that provoke...
Published: 01/11/18
Andre Dubus III reads to ‘sink more deeply’ into the human condition

Andre Dubus III reads to ‘sink more deeply’ into the human condition

NightstandAndre Dubus IIIEckerd College’s Writers in Paradise conference takes place this week, and one of the returning faculty members is Andre Dubus III. Dubus is the author of six books, including Bluesman, Townie and two novels turned films, The...
Published: 01/11/18
Steph Post’s Florida noir ‘Walk in the Fire’ a sizzling sequel to ‘Lightwood’

Steph Post’s Florida noir ‘Walk in the Fire’ a sizzling sequel to ‘Lightwood’

In Steph Post’s new novel, Walk in the Fire, there’s a young aspiring criminal with a gift for astute observation. Asked to describe the tiny Central Florida town of Silas, where much of the book takes place, he says, "You drive through and it’s like...
Published: 01/11/18
Former Times columnist Klinkenberg named Florida Folk Heritage Award winner

Former Times columnist Klinkenberg named Florida Folk Heritage Award winner

Raise a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and toast former Tampa Bay Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg. This week, he was announced as one of three 2018 winners of the Florida Folk Heritage Awards.The awards honor outstanding folk artists and folk ...
Published: 01/10/18