Michiko Kakutani: ‘It is more rewarding to debate than hit delete’

The venerated US critic talks about her new essay collection, the limits of cancel culture and her regard for Muhammad Ali

Michiko Kakutani was chief book reviewer of the New York Times from 1983 to 2017, during which time she won a Pulitzer prize for criticism. In 2018, she published The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump. In her new essay collection, Ex Libris, she recommends more than 100 books, from Experience by Martin Amis to Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

What kind of lockdown did you have? Were you able to read?
In March, New York was in near total lockdown – empty streets, closed restaurants, empty plazas. I wrote an essay for the New York Times about the pandemic and the city, and walked through much of Manhattan. It had a strange, surreal vibe: midtown looked like that dream sequence in Vanilla Sky, where the Tom Cruise character finds himself in a totally deserted Times Square. Lincoln Center looked like a De Chirico painting. Among the books I read were: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré, Unreasonable Behaviour by Don McCullin, H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, and The Great Influenza by John M Barry.

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Michiko Kakutani: ‘It is more rewarding to debate than hit delete’