Thursday, April 13, 2006

Yagoda to Kakutani via Boone and Lewis: kill more adjectives!

Alice beat me to the punch by linking to Ben Yagoda's calm takedown of Michiko Kakutani in Slate.

I had planned to point out that it's not exactly a sporting challenge to trash Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times book reviewer who writes like she's taking a midterm exam for a class she's been sleeping through and needs to hide behind a sea of vocab words and vague metaphors. And that Yagoda wrote one of the big books about the New Yorker, as well as a scholarly paper called "Heavy Meta". He has a forthcoming book called If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse, so I imagine the Slate editors who gave him the assignment were looking for a bit of hatchet in the job.

A highlight of his review:

In her world, books tend to be masterpieces or rubbish; in the real one, they're almost always somewhere in between. She also (characteristically) sets up a bogus dichotomy between [Nick Hornby's] A Long Way Down and the "good" Hornby books. In fact, an artist's works almost always have more similarities than differences; if the disjuncture here were really as big as she claims, it should be the main subject of her review. The core question is how the current piece fits into the oeuvre, and we expect reflective reviews to address it. In this case, I'd be curious to see a critic consider Hornby's oft-stated and almost obsessive pledge to write books that are entertaining and ultimately uplifting—and how such a project could be expected eventually to encounter artistic and philosophical difficulties.
Alice quoted Yagoda quoting CS Lewis. Here's the other CS Lewish quote he uses:
"If we are not careful criticism may become a mere excuse for taking revenge on books whose smell we dislike by erecting our temperamental antipathies into pseudo-moral judgments."
Of course, I am morally judging Kakutani based on tempermental antipathy too... Now might be a good time to end this post!