In Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread, former New York Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani shared her thoughts on some of her favourite titles. These short reviews, either two or three pages long, surprisingly encompassed few of the classics and focussed on contemporary fiction and a high proportion of new nonfiction. Thus in addition to The Great Gatsby and Moby-Dick, we read about Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Tara Westover’s Educated and Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT? There is none of the caustic evisceration Kakutani is notorious for here, as she is not pillorying authors but rather celebrating them. Her praise was succinct and expressed as carefully as a Flaubert sentence. I credit her for turning me on to some authors I had never heard of, and added their names and titles to my notes.
This collection was a treat for the eyes and fingers, as the illustrations by Dana Tanamachi evoked both centuries-old gilt woodcut bookplates as well as summer of love Haight-Ashbury concert posters. I read a pristine new copy and the page edges were uniform and flush and a pleasure to feel when the book was closed. I am a merciless critic of those who are ignorant of the rules of forming the English possessive. I was thrilled to no end to see Kakutani getting it right every time when she wrote Eggers’s, Camus’s, Borges’s, Richards’s and so on. Of course she would know this. Would she please have a word with the writers of “Jeopardy!”, who belie their intelligence by dropping the S when making nouns ending in X possessive? Thus Max’ and Lorax’. It looks hideous. Yet Kakutani did err in the misspelling millenium on page 80, while she did get it right as millennial(s) on pages 91, 144, 247 and 291. Surprisingly, Douglas R. Hofstadter and Michiko Kakutani in (almost) back-to-back books both made the same spelling error.
To supplement the 1001 Books You Must Read series, read some of Kakutani’s recommendations too.