- Time Out New York / Issue 584 : December 7, 2006 - December 13, 2006
- Critiquing the Critics
- Illustration by Nathan Huang
K=Knowledge S=Style T=Taste A=Accessibility I=Influence AVG=Average score
1. John Leonard
Book critic for Harper’s for the past four years; former editor of The New York Times Book Review and co–literary editor of The Nation; author of six books.
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K S T A I AVG 5.3 5.3 5 4.7 4 4.86
“The best—great taste, great passion, great insight, great prose.”…“Often a far better writer, thinker and stylist than the writer he’s critiquing.”…“Solid, but doesn’t review nearly enough.”
2. John Updike
The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books
Frequent book reviewer, as well as author of 22 novels; won Pulitzer Prizes for Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest.
K S T A I AVG 5.3 5.3 4.1 4.6 4.2 4.7
“Chooses to review books he’s interested in and always writes about them with fluency. Trouble is, I never came away from an Updike review with anything like a reversed opinion. Good critics surprise their readers. Updike almost never does.”…“Looks better as the years go by. Lately—in the last 30 years or so—perhaps a better critic than a novelist.”…“Interesting selection of books, and has the space to consider them closely, but doesn’t write nearly enough of them anymore.”…“They don’t get any better—thoughtful, informed, beautifully written. Of course, if any [other] critics were given similar amounts of space, they’d look pretty good too.”
3. Laura Miller
The New York Times Book Review and Salon.com
Regular contributor to the Times Book Review for the past nine years; cofounder of and regular contributor to Salon.com; edited The Salon.com Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors (2000).
K S T A I AVG 4.7 4 4.7 5.5 3.7 4.52
“That somebody who is merely sensible, clear and honest should strike me as spectacular says a lot about the dismal state of American criticism.”…“She gets around, good spectrum of coverage, but can be hard to take seriously.”
4. Michiko Kakutani
The New York Times
Book critic at the Times for 25 years; before that, worked at Time and The Washington Post; often-controversial reviews have inspired complaints from Salman Rushdie, Susan Sontag and Norman Mailer; won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her criticism.
K S T A I AVG 4.8 3.3 3.4 4.7 5 4.24
“The kind of critic a newspaper editor ought to love: easy style, always ready with a sharp opinion. But there is no human depth behind it. Even when I agree with her, she’s oddly one-dimensional.”…“Has not enjoyed a book in the last 20 years.”…“Still the most influential critic out there, generally solid—though unfortunately, she’s wasting more of her time on current-events titles rather than fiction.”…“Reactionary, mean-spirited. Has a permanent grudge against experiment, playfulness, subversion, perversity and complexity. Her reviews are predictable, dull, ugly, conservative, mocking and trite.”
5. (tie) Adam Kirsch
The New York Sun
Book critic of the Sun since 2003; writes about poetry for The New Yorker, The New Republic and others.
K S T A I AVG 4.5 4.1 3.8 3.9 3.3 3.92
“Every review Kirsch writes is gold. There is a fine modesty: He does not overextend his claims to competence. His writing is an elegant ‘plain’ style. His conclusions are always humane and judicious. For me he’s simply the best critic in New York.”…“Too often too predictably conservative, but tackles serious books well. Always worth reading.”…“He’s a good writer but incredibly conservative in his tastes. Many of his pronouncements are nonsense.”
5. (tie) Janet Maslin
The New York Times
Started as a rock critic, writing for magazines such as Rolling Stone; began working at the Times’ film desk in 1977; moved to the book-review beat in 1999.
K S T A I AVG 4.3 3.5 3.2 4.9 3.7 3.92
“Gets real pleasure from books, which is the first requirement of a book critic.”…“Wastes her (and our) time on pop crap far too much. Hard to really judge her critical talents, since she [rarely] covers any titles worth serious discussion.”…“An example of why the Times’ influence is waning. Very perceptive and insightful, with a nice thoughtful style. But I wish she’d write about books that were after more than entertainment.”…“I’m not sure why she has been anointed the one whose opinion we’re supposed to care about.”
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