Magazine August 28, 2017, Issue

Who Critiques the Critic?

Michiko Kakutani (
On the career of Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani, who retired in July as the New York Times’ chief book critic after 38 years at the paper, never wrote fiction herself. Nonetheless, she is responsible for one of the great fictional characters in recent memory: Michiko Kakutani.

In 1998, citing her “passionate, intelligent writing on books and contemporary literature,” the Pulitzer Committee awarded Kakutani its prize for criticism. The Times, in its nominating letter, had suggested that Kakutani possessed “something close to a pure critical intelligence: fearless, disinterested, and responsive.”

Kakutani’s employer was, perhaps, entitled to its enthusiasm. The year before, “in steady, almost relentless procession, publishers brought out

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