Karma’s a critic (in this case)

Karma’s a critic (in this case)

In another post, recently, I wrote about the virtues of Michiko Kakutani of the NY Times — her invisibility except where it counted most: in her reviews.

But even there, she took books to task on their own terms.  She didn’t make it about her.

I used to edit somebody at the L.A. Times who was the opposite of Kakutani in so many ways — every review was always about him.  He was a mid-level critic with enough chops that my boss kept hiring him out … and I had to keep dealing with him.

Every phone call to discuss edits was a long, torturous discussion.  Every edit — even to change an article (which are as neutral, and as trivial, as the stones along a hiking trail) — required considerations worthy of the Talmudic sages of old.

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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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A collapsed sun in your pocket: The poetry of Michael Odom

odomI once wrote in this column that Michael Odom’s poetry reminded me in certain aspects—not in every way, of course, because he is not derivative; his voice is truly original and unique—of the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

Startling imagery, unexpected words yoked together by violence, a certain defiant voice … when I read Odom, I’m reminded of  Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle” and “Sullen Art.”

Some of the poetry in Odom’s recent collection Selene possesses that same defiance, and I think these poems may appeal especially to men of a certain age – either those in their early twenties or those in their late 40s (like me).

Why?  Because these two age groups are connected by their relationship to ideals and the hopes they carry for their lives.

The twentysomethings dismiss the 9-t- 5 treadmill and believe that life holds more for them, that they’ll overcome that treadmill soon enough; the fortysomethings dismiss that same treadmill even as they recognize they’ve been walking on it for the past twenty years.

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