8 Great Questions: Michiko Kakutani

The author and former NY Times chief book critic invites us into her dream book club and relishes resonance.


In The Death of Truth, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michiko Kakutani critiques America’s retreat from reason, offers a provocative diagnosis on our current condition, and points toward a new path for these truth-challenged times.

How did truth become an endangered species in contemporary America? This decline began decades ago, and Kakutani takes a penetrating look at the cultural forces that contributed to this gathering storm. In social media and literature, television, academia, and politics, Kakutani identifies the trends—originating on both the right and the left—that have combined to elevate subjectivity over factuality, science, and common values. She returns us to the words of the great critics of authoritarianism, writers like George Orwell and Hannah Arendt, whose work is newly, eerily relevant.

Recently, Michiko spoke with Read It Forward, cluing us in on how she reads beyond genre, and why it’s always worth another visit to Gatsby’s West Egg.

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti; Author Photo: Petr Hlinomaz

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What’s the book on your bedside table?

What’s the one book you tell everyone to read?

Shakespeare’s plays.

Name three characters from literature or authors (dead or alive) that you’d want in your ideal book club?

Binx Bolling, from Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer; Margaret Schlegel, from E. M. Forster’s Howards End; and Stephen Dedalus, from Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

What word do you love and why? What word do you hate and why?

I love the words resonance and incandescent; I dislike the words ginormous and whatever.

What’s the one book you read as a kid that has stuck with you?

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

What’s the one book that never fails to delight or inspire you?

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

If you could only read one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

I’m afraid I don’t think in terms of genre. I don’t think of le Carré’s novels as "spy fiction,” and I don’t think of Harry Potter as “young adult” reading.

What’s the last book you read on a long flight?

I recently reread on an airplane Some People by Harold Nicolson.

MICHIKO KAKUTANI is a Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic and the former chief book critic of The New York Times.
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