Michiko Kakutani to step down as Times lead book critic

Discuss whatever you want here ... movies, books, recipes, politics, beer, wine, TV ... everything except classical music.

Moderators: Lance, Corlyss_D

Post Reply
jserraglio
Posts: 3391
Joined: Sun May 29, 2005 7:06 am
Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Michiko Kakutani to step down as Times lead book critic

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jul 27, 2017 5:16 pm

VANITY FAIR
by Joe Pompeo
Also see his related VF article on the turmoil and angst caused by the restructuring at the Times. https://www.google.com/amp/www.vanityfa ... -times/amp

Kakutani, who helped make the careers of writers from Foster Wallace to McEwan, and put fear in the hearts of Mailer and Vidal, will leave her post as one of the most formidable critics in the Times history.

The novelists of the world will sleep a little easier tonight.

Vanity Fair has learned that Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times chief book reviewer and Pulitzer Prize winner, who has been, by a wide margin, the most powerful book critic in the English-speaking world, is stepping down. Her final review, on the debut novel by Nigerian author Ayobami Adebayo, was published on Tuesday. Reached by phone Wednesday night, Kakutani said that she could neither confirm nor comment. But sources familiar with her decision, which comes a year after the Times restructured its books coverage, told me that last year’s election had triggered a desire to branch out and write more essays about culture and politics in Trump’s America. One of her most most influential pieces of the past few years landed in September, when Kakutani impishly reviewed Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, in a style that sounded as if she could have been writing about another demagogue who was at that very moment consolidating power on the U.S. political scene. “Hitler,” Kakutani wrote, “was often described as an egomaniac who ‘only loved himself’—a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a ‘characteristic fondness for superlatives.’ ”

Kakutani’s departure will instantly change the shape of the publishing world. She wielded the paper’s power with remarkable confidence and abandon. During the course of her nearly 40 years at the Times (she joined as a reporter in 1979, before switching to criticism in 1983), Kakutani, 62, helped make the careers of many literary namebrands, from George Saunders, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, and Jonathan Franzen, to Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, and others. Just as often, and more memorably, she tore apart some of the book world’s sacred cows—often ones whose earlier work she had praised. She slashed away at Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, who ranted about her in a 2005 Rolling Stone interview. (“I’m her number-one favorite target. . . . But the Times editors can’t fire her. They’re terrified of her.”) Three years later, Franzen called her “the stupidest person in New York City,” presumably for her pan of his memoir, The Discomfort Zone. One wonders what Franzen thought of her, years later, when she wrote about his novel Freedom: “This time, in creating conflicted, contrarian individuals capable of choosing their own fates, Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet—a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times.”

Kakutani was a fearsome and unpredictable gatekeeper, more so because she has been a singularly private person, almost never seen or heard from outside of her reviews. She is said to be close friends with Maureen Dowd and Alessandra Stanley, part of a long-standing clique of empowered and influential women at the Times. "No one has played a larger role in guiding readers through the country's literary life over the past four decades than Michi," Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet wrote in a memo to the staff after the story was published. A new chief book critic has not been appointed, but the Times announced that Parul Sehgal, a senior editor and columnist at the Sunday book review, will join the paper's team of book critics.

Kakutani didn’t stay for long in her literary lane. She wrote prolifically on topics like the Iraq War and 9/11, as well as tackling the ex-statesperson memoir genre. (George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, the Clintons, etc.) Not to mention her Barack Obama exit interview, in which the outgoing commander in chief regaled Kakutani with a thorough discourse on his reading habits.

Her reviews were news. Scoops have been as important to her as to any Times person. One Kakutani anecdote that was relayed to me involved her July 2007 review of the final Harry Potter novel. As the story goes, a Times Company employee happened upon a pre-publication copy of the highly anticipated children’s tome in some random Manhattan drugstore, the staff of which was apparently oblivious to standard embargo protocol. He picked it up, phoned the newsroom, and promptly saw that the book was delivered into Kakutani’s hands by early afternoon. She plowed through all 700 some-odd pages and filed her piece in time for the next day’s paper.

Kakutani joins dozens of other Times employees who have opted to take voluntary buyouts as the Times implements a plan, as I wrote about earlier this week, to free up budget for some 100 additional reporters. While the buyouts, which are to be finalized today, were primarily aimed at copy editors, both writers and other editors were eligible to apply for the exit packages, too. Kakutani is the most high-profile taker to emerge so far, but other notable Times figures, including Charles Duhigg, Ian Fisher, LaSharah Bunting, Bruce Headlam, and Fernanda Santos, are also on the list.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 13 guests