23 April, 2015

Thoughts on Pulitzer, Toni Morrison, and Michiko Kakutani

First edition collection of Toni Morrison's work as of April 2015; missing God Help the Child and The Bluest Eye.
--- "Time, it seems, has no future."

So there were two highlights in April: the Pulitzer Prize and Toni Morrison's 11th novel - God Help the Child. The Pulitzer fiction went to Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, "an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology." My wrong bet was on Marilynne Robinson's Lila that did not even make the shortlist. So much for my tesseographic talent. I haven't read Doerr's work and hope to do so soon.


Toni Morrison needs no introduction, and the publication of her latest novel is a much-watched event. I'm still waiting for the book to arrive, but reading Michiko Kakutani's review is a delight in its own right. If Anna Wintour is the dowager of haute couture then Kakuatani must be the high priestess of literary critics. The Pulitzer Board gave her a criticism prize in 1998 "for her passionate, intelligent writing on books and contemporary literature", although some authors who she trashed had labelled her as, amongst others, "a weird woman who seems to feel the need to alternately praise and spank" and a "one-woman kamikaze".

I almost always find Kakutani's compendious, sometimes scathing, always pointed, and never homiletic reviews enjoyable and educational at the same time. Consider, for example, the opening sentence of her review on Morrison's new book: "One of the great themes that threads its way through Toni Morrison's work like a haunting melody is the hold that time past exerts over time present." Such felicitous and gracious prose. That single sentence, likely a distillation from years of close reading, is both delectable (like Yamazaki's Sherry Cask 2013) and light (like Holly Golightly floating around like a scarf). And it belongs to the class of proclaimation that graciously enlightens. For one, it helped me make sense of the very interesting Jefferson Lecture that Morrison gave in 1996, which I have only recently come across. Here's an extract:
"Time, it seems, has no future. That is, time no longer seems to be an endless stream through which human species moves with confidence in its own increasing consequence and value. It certainly seems not to have a future that equals the length or breadth or sweep of even the fascination of its past." (read the full transcript in PDF here)
Michiko Kakutani's book reviews are worthy reads, even if you have no interest in the books reviewed.

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