Friday, July 28, 2017

Michiko Kakutani to step down as NYT's book reviewer

Michiko Kakutani

WITH THE power to make or break an author, New York Times literary critic Michiko Kakutani was feared and reviled as much as she was admired and praised.

Like many seasoned journalists, she opted to accept a buyout and resign from her throne as queen of the literary world. With Kakutani's departure, along with other journalists at the NYTimes, the newspaper hopes to hire a 100 younger (and lesser paid) journalists.

Without a doubt, Kakutani is one of the most widely read and influential contemporary Asian/American writers.

“No one has played a larger role in guiding readers through the country’s literary life over the past four decades than Michi,” said NYTimes Executive Editor Dean Baquet in a note to the staff.

Kakutani was born in New Haven, Connecticut on January 9, 1955 to Shizuo Kakutani, a notable Yale mathematician. 

She earned her B.A. in English literature from Yale University in 1976, then began her career as a reporter for The Washington Post. She joined Time magazine in 1977. Two years later she moved to The New York Times. 

In only four years she make the leap from a mere reporter concentrating on social issues to a one of the country's most respected literary critic. 

She was not afraid to slice and dice some of the biggest names in the literary world, not just because she deems some of their work as inadequate but because she knows they can do so much better.

The poise, flair and uncompromising integrity of Kakutani's book reviews have earned her the undying resentment of authors like Salman Rushdie, Norman Mailer and J. K. Rawlings. 

Kakutani's influence has survived 38 years of grudges because her delightfully cool discernment is able to ridicule precisely those literary foibles least likely to be challenged by lesser critics.

On Twitter, she wrote: "Thank you to readers for your kind words - i deeply appreciate. I will continue to write about culture, politics and books."

Changing demographics have frightened the dominant Euro American group and the tumult surrounding this sea change is America's greatest challenge today. With the current White House occupant stirring up his base and fighting tooth and nail against tide of change, she will have plenty to write about.

Kakutani's voice will make for some interesting reading. Read what she said about a bevy of books about Donald Trump:

"To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s “Inferno,” where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue."

On a book about Hitler, Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, she writes: “How did this ‘most unlikely pretender to high state office’ achieve absolute power in a once democratic country,” Kakutani asked, “and set it on a course of monstrous horror?”

It was her ability to put the novel, authobiography, or analysis in the context of today's society and the contemporary environment that made her reviews so relevant to people don't consider themselves bibliophiles and who don't consider themselves prolific readers. She will use that same skill to put her observations in her new endeavors.

I can hardly wait.