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The Reviewerspeak Awards' Michiko Kakutani Limn Watch, Omnibus Edition

Limning the limns, or lack thereof
Limning the limns, or lack thereof
Create a Graph

Many of you--I know--were rather hoping the Reviewerspeak Awards had suffered a quiet and untimely death during the summer.

How pleased I am to disappoint you.

Between orchestrating strange permutations of weather and literature—near sun-stroke while reading Scarlett Thomas’ stormy Our Tragic Universe; shivering misery in a Bodega Bay tent with husband, children, and Christopher Hitchens (Justin Cronin was there as well, but he spent most of the vacation in my bag)—I’ve been plotting the Reviewerspeak Awards’ metamorphosis into a sleeker, sassier, and rather less demanding manifestation.

Even the most stalwart cliché-hater tires, eventually, of graphs detailing the endless rivetings, compellings and thought-provoking rollickings of the, at once, lyrical and eminently readable reviews in, oh, just for kicks, let’s say Publishers Weekly.

Hell, I was sick unto death of the whole thing. I received enough borderline psychotic emails to convince me I could have entered into a murder-suicide pact over the Awards at any time the fancy overtook me. And I realized that reading all of those reviews each month prevented me from occasionally doing some really quality things with my time. Like eating. And sleeping.

I determined that, rather than enter the Witness Protection Program and move to Norway in order to flee my Reviewerspeak Award obligation, I should focus my rabid cliché-hunt on only one aspect each month. It will, very probably, end with me entering the Witness Protection Program anyway simply to flee enraged reviewers, but at least I'll have slept a few hours back to back in the meantime.

Therefore, in my tireless attempt to call down onto my head additional bucketloads of fuku from The Chosen Ones--or, alternatively, to finally say something that will get me fired from Examiner and land me a $2,000,000 contract writing for Someone Else--I present to you this first installment of the new Reviewerspeak Awards, the Michiko Kakutani Limn Watch Omnibus.

As some of you know (and even more have tried desperately to forget) the Limn Watch has been a feature since the Awards' maiden voyage. This was mainly because I received scores of email from readers denouncing me as a charlatan and an idiot for neglecting to include New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani's pet review word "limn" on the Book Review Bingo cards.

As of March 2010, I've scrutinized Ms. Kakutani's limns with the focused concentration of an obsessive lover. The graph up there on the left-hand side (I know, I know, it's annoyingly small. You'll have to click on it to be able to read it without the aid of an electron microscope) shows the hauntingly shocking results: since March, and after writing over 30,000 words of reviews, Ms. Kakutani has used her limns only once.

Once! Not a single use since March! And this from the critic who has been repeatedly and rather savagely derided over her limn-fondness by everyone from Mr. William Safire to New York Magazine to Mr. Ben Yagoda over at Slate.

She certainly had ample opportunities to use the deliciously forbidden word in her recent reviews. In her June review of Mr. David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, she could have easily limned the lost world of Edo-era Japan; in her August review of The Sugar King of Havana, Mr. John Paul Rathbone might have limned pre-revolutionary Cuba. Ms. Kakutani's September review of Ms. Patricia Engel's Vida could have "limned the artsy downtown world of New York and the Miami club scene"; instead, Ms. Engel "captures" it.

"Captures" and "conjures" are the twins that appear to have moved in to take the space left vacant by the absent limn. Mr. Nathaniel Philbrick, author of The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn does a "powerful job of conjuring the fog of war that enveloped Custer and his men," while Ms. Ann Beattie's Walks With Men "conjures New York in the 1980s."

In her post-limn state, Ms. Kakutani seems to have developed a taste for the word compelling, not unlike the devout affection for gin I inexplicably developed after passing the 30 year mark. She also enjoys an every-other-review-or-so indulgence in "readable," "deeply felt," and "mash-ups." And, despite her prowess in reviewery, she, too, falls unwitting prey to the Sunni Triangle Syndrome of Cliché-ness: reviews contain byzantine alliterative triads like "dark, dazzling, deeply flawed" (Mr. Adam Ross' Mr. Peanut) and "supersad, superfunny, superaffecting" (Mr. Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story). She even manages a "nimble, fleet-footed prose" appearance, a phrase that always puts me in mind of gazelles leaping across the savannah.

I should be ecstatic--six months completely limn free?!--but I feel oddly deflated. I am left with a graph that has flat-lined and a succession of boring-ish clichés that lack the mixture of exotic absurdity and intellectual hoitiness that dripped off every sentence limn adorned. How anti-climactic.

Ms. Kakutani, give a girl a break: I beg you, don't sever your limns without grafting in another comparable cliché to flourish under the heat of my disdain. Don't toy with pedestrian clichés like compelling and riveting and epic; leave those to the poor plodding $10/review amateurs. Show some leg, give us something with flair, something timely yet haunting, gritty yet lyrical, hilarious yet heartbreaking. Really, I think there's only one word that could adequately live up to--no, surpass!--such lofty expectations.

The Limn is dead. Long live Unputdownable.


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