Notes on Michiko Kakutani & the Man Booker Prize Longlist

Michiko Kakutani

“Any intelligent person can review a book.”  This kind, generous book review editor believed in “buying local”before it was a trend, and assigned reviews to local writers, among them literary housewives, teachers, and advertising (mad)men.

“We’re not doing criticism here,” (s)he said wryly.  “We’re not the New York Times.”

Reviews and criticism are different.  Criticism is the job of Michiko Kakutani.  And now Kakutani has announced she is leaving her job as Chief Book Critic at the New York Times.

Kakutani is irreplaceable.   Who knows more about the  trends in fiction and nonfiction from 1983 to the present?  (My own erratic reading, mainly of fiction, identifies yuppiebacks  through wispy millennial fiction, with  many, many gaps.)   Kakutani could write an entire critical history.   And , by the way, I do respect a critic who appreciates Mary Karr and disparages the overrated Jonathan Franzen.

At The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz wrote about Kakutani’s toughness:

A good review brought on elation. “It was like having the good fairy touch you on the shoulder with her wand,” Mary Karr told NPR. A bad one incited rage, sometimes despair. Nicholson Baker compared getting a negative Kakutani review to undergoing surgery without anesthesia; Jonathan Franzen called her “the stupidest person in New York.” (She had deemed his memoir “an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass.”) What made her scary to writers made her reliable to readers: you couldn’t easily predict where her favor would fall.

Well, I shall miss her. This is a sign of getting older, I know!  but the New York Times Book Review on Sunday seems  more “pop”  than it used to.  I do like pop, but if I go to The New York Times I want something intellectual. That’s why I hope the daily critics continue to thrive.


Although I haven’t read a Man Booker Prize winner since 2010, I love the Booker longlist.  It was great fun when the blogger Kevin from Canada read the complete longlist every year and posted his reviews, along with his blogger friends. (We all miss Kevin from Canada.)  Has the blogger tradition continued?  I am not sure.  But I  still read a few books on the longlist  every year.

Last year I loved David Means’ literary SF novel, Hystopia, an alternate history of the 1960s. (I posted about it here.)

This year’s list has some great names on it:  I already love Sebastian Barry and Zadie Smith.  And Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which Bruno actually mentioned on Dancing with the Stars in the spring, just won the Arthur C. Clarke Prize.

Naturally, there are holds on most of these books at the library, and I would buy them except…you know…too many books.

Here is the list:  and if you’ve read any of them, do let me know.

  • Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1
  • Sebastian Barry, Days Without End
  • Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves
  • Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
  • Mike McCormack, Solar Bones
  • Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13
  • Fiona Mozley, Elmet
  • Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
  • George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
  • Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire
  • Ali Smith, Autumn
  • Zadie Smith, Swing Time
  • Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

6 thoughts on “Notes on Michiko Kakutani & the Man Booker Prize Longlist

  1. I also admire Auster. But the only book on the list I’ve read so far is Roy’s second novel. It’s a fairly difficult read as it meanders about India, focusing finally on Kashmir. It’s intensely political and provides a devastating sense of what is actually happening there with the rise of Hindu nationalism and the continuing caste conflicts despite the new wealth. It’s the kind of modern novel that really merits a second read. Before doing that, however, I really want to read The Underground Railroad and then perhaps Ali smith’s Autumn. I love the way she writes.


    • I am very interested in Roy. I did love The God of Small Things. Somehow when something gets a lot of publicity I wait to read it–but the Booker list sends me that way.
      I’ve heard nothing but good about Ali Smith but did strike out on one of her books.


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