Michiko Kakutani is retiring. I didn’t realize she was still working.
Ten years ago I’d have said ‘Good riddance’ — I thought she was dull on literature and embarrassing on politics, and I wrote in 2006 (on this blog’s forerunner) that I couldn’t remember ever learning anything from her reviews — but now I feel a little twinge of ohisthat…? sadness. My teacher said she was a fine interviewer in the 1970s at Yale, and the words ‘the 1970s at Yale’ remind me of the nearness of history: there’s another America within living memory, one where books mattered directly to the ‘average Joe’ and the idea of intellectual life wasn’t a sad joke.
My editor at Bloomsbury (yes I do enjoy typing those words) told me only the NYTimes could meaningfully drive sales with a review anymore, though I suppose she wasn’t counting Oprah Winfrey. Kakutani won’t be remembered as an intellectual, but she was part of a world that prized intellectual discourse even if only as fashion. The sadness I feel is for the passing of a world where not just ideas but contemplation itself mattered.