Kakutani: The presence of absence

buddhaAfter Michiko Kakutani announced she was stepping down from her book critic post at the New York Times, media outlets treated it like a death.

The pieces that have come out from The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Slate, etc. all have the ring of obituaries which is nice for Kakutani–she’s one of those rare people who gets to hear what people will say about her before she dies.

But the piece I like most is the lead item in James Campbell’s NB column in the TLS (if I had half his voice I’d be a happy man) for August 4.

Campbell’s less interested in Kakutani’s ability to skewer the high and mighty than in her temperament.  When he describes her, he uses a long list of “not’s.”

Kakutani, he writes, lapsing into the past tense, “was not the ideal literary critic… she didn’t give interviews, judge prizes or appear at festivals….In her reviews, she avoided the first person and never opened a review with a dreary anecdote.”

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Want a bestseller? Put a ‘thing’ in it

french bookshop 1940

I think I’d rather have people find a cure for cancer, or figure out if Mars will be inhabitable one day for our species … but some are spending considerable effort, and time, to produce books like The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers.

This book appeared six months ago and I’m just getting to it: I’ve been spending some summer free time reading issues of the TLS that have been piling up since January.  (It’s the literary equivalent of binge-watching shows on Netflix, I guess.)

Daisy Hilyard’s TLS review of this code book – along with a few other books about the craft of writing – caused me to draw a few conclusions:

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Throwing John Fowles

A long time ago, my sister threw John Fowles across the room.

MAGUS MOVIEOk wait, yes, she was a powerful little Italian – rest in peace, dear Sis – but I don’t mean that she actually  lifted up the man from Lyme Regis and tossed him like a sack of potatoes.  It was his book, The Collector, that took flight in my sister’s family room and smacked against the wall.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the same way about another Fowles’ novel, The Magus (which inspired the 1968 film with Candice Bergen, Anthony Quinn, Michael Caine, and Anna Karina), probably for the same reasons.

The ending.

When I look at the bestsellers lists of the New York Times and other outlets, I realize how far away is the world that celebrated and raved over Fowles’s books and made him wealthy enough to be a writer and only a writer.  Everything on the bestsellers lists today with a few exceptions — Colson Whitehead probably — smells of symmetry and neatly-resolved endings.

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