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Posts Tagged ‘Michiko Kakutani’

Michiko Likes Fiction Again!

A few months ago I did an impromptu search through the New York Times archives to find empirical evidence that lead book critic Michiko Kakutani has, indeed, developed a distaste for fiction. And for all of 2006, the only two novels she liked were Dana Spiotta‘s EAT THE DOCUMENT and Dave Eggers‘ WHAT IS THE WHAT. But 2007 must be a better year already because Michiko’s in a much better reviewing mood of late: this month alone, she’s alloted rave reviews (you know it’s a rave when “stunning” and “dazzling” are overused) to Richard Flanagan’s THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST and Michael Chabon‘s THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION. Earlier, she had good things to say about Lionel Shriver‘s THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD (about “an idiosyncratic yet recognizable heroine about whom it’s impossible not to care”) Lauren Fox‘s STILL LIFE WITH HUSBAND (“a delightful new voice in American fiction”) and Martin Amis‘s THE HOUSE OF MEETINGS (“arguably his most powerful book yet”). Of course, the crank-meter was still way high for reviews of books by Yasmina Reza, Howard Norman and Jane Smiley, but even in those pieces the vitriol seemed somewhat muted.

What’s going on? Could Michiko be changing her tune about fiction? Is her editor giving her better books to read? Because this happy critic mood is a little unnerving, frankly…

Convergence of Chabon

We needn’t remind regular readers, let alone sporadic readers, that Michael Chabon‘s new novel THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION is out as of today. After all, look in a national newspaper and there’s Michiko Kakutani‘s glowing review in the New York Times or Deirdre Donahue‘s more muted take in USA Today, or the Christian Science Monitor’s Erik Spanberg falling somewhere in between. Expect the non-stop coverage to continue through the weekend and beyond.

It also continues today as the LA Times’ Scott Timberg meets Chabon and showers him with all manner of descriptive phrases (“leonine good looks” and “Prom King of American Letters” being some of the more purple ones) while also getting the author to admit he’s frustrated by some of the early notices which concentrate on the more hardboiled aspects of the novel. Genre fiction’s struggle for respect is one of Chabon’s fiercest causes. “There’s something so tired about it,” he said, his body collapsing in mock exasperation. “I thought we figured that out already.” Not as long as there are still people ready and willing to fight – fairly and unfairly – on both sides of the so-called debate…

The Perils of the Misblurb

Though we at GalleyCat have taken issue from time to time – okay, often – with Henry Alford‘s contributions at the New York Times Book Review, I must say up front that I quite enjoyed his recent piece on how publishers take a perfectly neutral or negative review and mine it for any and all positive words in order to fashion a blurb out of it. Take what happened to Time Magazine book critic Lev Grossman, who was “quite taken aback” when he saw a full-page newspaper advertisement for Charles Frazier‘s novel THIRTEEN MOONS that included a one-word quotation – “Genius” – attributed to Time. Grossman was confused, Alford reports, because his review “certainly didn’t have that word.” Eventually, he found it in a preview item he had written a few months earlier, which included the sentence “Frazier works on an epic scale, but his genius is in the details.” As Grossman put it, “They plucked out the G-word.”

Alford continues with many more examples (including one from his own reviewing past, when Little, Brown transformed his “tour-de-farce” about David Sedaris‘s NAKED into “tour-de-force) and explanations from the publishing world. “We get tempted and we get desperate,” Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove/Atlantic, said. “We publish over 100 books a year. I know we make mistakes. But we try to obey the rules.” To him, that means not changing the wording or the meaning of reviews. Paul Slovak, the publisher of Viking, says part of what keeps the house honest is the desire to maintain “good relationships” with book reviewers. “Michiko Kakutani wouldn’t be happy if we pulled two words of praise out of a negative review,” he said, referring to the chief book critic of The New York Times.

And as for what happened to Grossman, I am sooooo not buying Random House associate publisher Tom Perry‘s denial of any misblurbing. “We were being very short and punchy,” he said. “We have limited space.” Sure, see that pig overhead? Its flight patterns don’t like misappropriated blurbs, either…

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