September 17, 2013
Kakutani by the numbers
by Dustin Kurtz
The New York Times has just published the latest review by staff book reviewer Michiko Kakutani — in this instance of Norman Rush‘s new novel Subtle Bodies.
To say that Kakutani is known for her dyspepsia is to say that Usain Bolt is a swell jogger. Kakutani can’t always kill a book where it stands, but not for lack of trying. At this point, writing about this reviewer’s incredible aim with a barb is old hat. We’ve done it a few times ourselves over the years. Instead, let’s break down some of the numbers behind this latest particularly spectacular bout of literary bloodsport.
Total words in the review: 1029
Words that are quoted directly from the book: 193
Insults from Kakutani about characters or the book or its author: 27
Percentage of the words written by Kakutani, therefore, that could be classified as scathing insults: 3%
Words before the first insult: 4
Words after the last: 1
The longest insulting phrase: ‘portentous gibberish’ (narrowly beating out ‘eye-rollingly awful’)
The shortest: ‘flimsy’ (unless you count only the latter word in the phrase ‘pompous jerk’)
Compliments for the author’s work: 3
Number of those compliments referring to the current book: 2
Number of those compliments viciously negated by a preceding ‘not’: the same 2
The closest Kakutani comes to a compliment of the book under review: calling the title a ‘perfect predictor of the novel’s solipsistic tone’
Times Kakutani puts her insults in the mouth of an imagined reader so as to make her opinion seem more universal and inevitable: 2
Readers who, not having read the novel in question, will nevertheless find themselves convinced by the passion it would have required of a normal person to write a review full of such loathing: Most of us? At least, I’m convinced.
Worlds in which that is remotely fair to the author or his work: 0
Damns given by Michiko Kakutani about what I or anyone else think: Wonderfully, not a single one
Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.