Michiko Kakutani’s Most Savage Literary Reviews

Michiko Kakutani Most Vicious Book ReviewsWiki Commons / Pictured: Michiko Kakutani

In late July, it was announced that Michiko Kakutani, the Pulitzer Prize-winning chief book critic of the New York Times was stepping down from her post after 38 years. Once called “the most feared woman in publishing,” Kakutani was famous for her savage takedowns of literary superstars, refusing to allow their awards and accolades to grant them immunity from her critical eye.

Though well-known and feared for her negative reviews, she also acted as a champion for new authors she discovered. In fact, receiving praise from Kakutani was once likened to “having the good fairy touch you on the shoulder with her wand.”

Here’s a look at some of Kakutani’s most legendary criticisms of some of the biggest names in publishing.

1. Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone

“In his new memoir, ‘The Discomfort Zone,’ Mr. Franzen turns his unforgiving eye on himself and succeeds in giving us an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed.”

2. Bill Clinton, My Life

“The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.”

3. Zadie SmithNW

“Its narrative feels at once perfunctory, jerry-built and weirdly contrived.”

4. Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City

“Like so many stoned exchanges, these observations might seem terribly significant to the participants at the moment, but in sober retrospect, they are revealed to be nothing but a lot of pompous hot air. Unfortunately for the reader, this is true not only of this one scene in Jonathan Lethem’s new novel, ‘Chronic City’ but also of the entire book, which pretentiously — and clumsily — tries to create a kind of virtual-reality game version of Manhattan.”

5. Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

“While it contains moments of shattering emotion and stunning virtuosity that attest to Mr. Foer’s myriad gifts as a writer, the novel as a whole feels simultaneously contrived and improvisatory, schematic and haphazard.”

6. Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“Is it really a revelation that a picture can sometimes be worth a thousand words?”

7. Norman Mailer, The Gospel According to the Sun

“A silly, self-important and at times inadvertently comical book that reads like a combination of Godspell, Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ and one of those new, dumbed-down Bible translations.”

8. Kazuo IshiguroNocturnes

“They read like heavy-handed O. Henry-esque exercises; they are psychologically obtuse, clumsily plotted and implausibly contrived.”

9. Haruki MurakamiThe Wind-up Bird Chronicle

“For most of us, art is supposed to do something more than simply mirror the confusions of the world. Worse, ‘Wind-Up Bird’ often seems so messy that its refusal of closure feels less like an artistic choice than simple laziness, a reluctance on the part of the author to run his manuscript through the typewriter (or computer) one last time.”

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Justine Goode
the authorJustine Goode
Contributing Writer
LA-born reader. English major. Liberal with em-dashes.