Step Aside, Limn. This Is Michiko Kakutani’s New Favorite Cliché.

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 7 2013 6:21 PM

40 Things Michiko Kakutani Has “Deeply Felt”

131008_BB_BookCollage
Just a few things Michiko Kakutani has "deeply felt."

Collage by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photo of Mariano Rivera by Mike Stobe/Getty Images.

Thanks to her fondness for the relatively obscure verb to limn, Pulitzer-winning New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani has been called a “limnphomaniac” and “The First Lady of Limn.” But as New York (and former Slate) music critic Jody Rosen recently pointed out on Twitter, Kakutani has a new favorite cliché: These days, she judges books not by what and how they limn, but just how deeply they are felt.

This tic did not come out of nowhere: Kakutani has been rating books’ deeply feltness for almost three decades now. Nor in the world of book reviews is it exclusive to her. Her colleague Janet Maslin has used the phrase a couple times in the last few years. But Kakutani’s use of the phrase has been accelerating lately at an alarming rate. In the last three years alone, Kakutani has used the phrase at least 19 times, including once (last month) to describe baseball and once just as I was writing this post. If she continues at this rate, 2013 will soon be the most deeply felt year of all time.

Below we’ve rounded up more than 30 years of Kakutani’s “deeply felt” books and people, spanning at least 39 different titles and one baseball player. Please note: We may not have found all of them.

1. The Book Class by Louis Auchincloss: “Mr. Auchincloss implies that such rules were once the glue that held together a stern, but deeply felt system of ethical values.” (July 26, 1984)

2. Family and Friends by Anita Brookner: “In her finest work, in this reader's view, Look at Me, Miss Brookner has used her keen sense of irony to limn this deeply felt, if somewhat limited, theme with clarity and moral vigor….” (Oct. 12, 1985)

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3. Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son by Adam Hochschild “By turns nostalgic and regretful, lyrical and melancholy, Half the Way Home creates a deeply felt portrait of a man and a boy….” (June 21, 1986)

4. Riven Rock by T. Coraghessan Boyle: “Although two powerful stories in his 1989 collection If the River Was Whiskey point to his ability to write about deeply felt emotions, he has thus far failed to explore this territory convincingly in his longer fiction.” (Jan. 20, 1998)

5. The Hunters by Claire Messud: “The first, which recalls Cynthia Ozick's story Rosa, is a limpid, deeply felt account of a former war refugee's life in Toronto....” (Aug. 14, 2001)

6. Atonement by Ian McEwan. “Indeed Atonement emerges as the author’s most deeply felt novel yet….” (March 7, 2002)

7. Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee. “A result… is a keenly observed, deeply felt story of familial love and loss….” (April 23, 2002)

8. You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers: “There is a similar sense of grief buried deep within Velocity… but it's depicted in such melodramatic, cartoonish terms that it never acquires the deeply felt emotion of the events in Staggering Genius.” (Oct 8, 2002)

9. The Chrysanthemum Palace by Bruce Wagner: “[H]is portrayals of Bertie, Clea and Thad's day-to-day struggles to come to terms with their families’ complicated legacies remain deeply felt and meticulously drawn.” (Feb 22, 2005)

10. Memorial by Bruce Wagner: “[T]he result is a panoramic if sometimes unwieldy novel that showcases Mr. Wagner's ability not only to write savage, often very funny satire, but also to create deeply felt, sympathetic characters….” (Sept 5, 2006)

11. Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips: “Jayne Anne Phillips’s intricate, deeply felt new novel reverberates with echoes of Faulkner, Woolf, Kerouac, McCullers and Michael Herr’s war reporting….” (Jan 6, 2009)

12. Things I’ve Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi: “In her deeply felt new memoir….” (Feb 12, 2009)

13. A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: “It is a novel that illustrates just how far Ms. Moore has come in the last two and half decades from her keenly observed but jokey 1985 collection of stories, “Self-Help,” which showcased her gifts as a writer but also underscored her—and her characters’—emotional reticence, their reluctance to open themselves to deeply felt experiences.” (Aug. 27, 2009)

14. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem: “It is coy where Solitude was earnest, juvenile and mannered where Solitude was deeply felt.” (Oct. 12, 2009)

15. Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving: “And yet, at the same time, it evolves into a deeply felt and often moving story….” (Oct. 26, 2009)

16. Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout: “This belief in music as a deeply felt and personal expression is one reason Armstrong avoided using musical terminology when speaking about his work….” (Nov. 23, 2009)

17. True Compass: A Memoir by Edward M. Kennedy: “The late Massachusetts senator writes movingly in this deeply felt autobiography…. “ (Nov. 27, 2009) (This article was co-written with Janet Maslin and Dwight Garner, but presumably the “deeply felt” was from Kakutani, who also reviewed the book separately.)

18. My Ear at His Heart: Reading My Father by Hanif Kureishi: “[T]he bulk of the book … is raw, deeply felt and often moving.” (March 22, 2010)

19. Spoken From the Heart by Laura Bush: “The first is a deeply felt, keenly observed account of her childhood and youth in Texas….” (April 28, 2010)

20. Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross: “Many of the imagined scenes from Sam and Marilyn Sheppard’s marriage are also rendered with a deeply felt sense of emotion.” (June 21, 2010)

21. My Hollwood by Mona Simpson: “Ms. Simpson … uses her mastery of psychological detail to create a deeply felt character….” (Aug. 9, 2010)

22. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: “Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet….” (Aug. 15, 2010)

(Top 10 Books of 2010) “The author’s most deeply felt novel yet….” (Nov. 23, 2010)

23. My Father at 100 by Ron Reagan: “Now, on the occasion of what would have been the former president’s 100th birthday, his youngest son, Ron Reagan, has written a deeply felt memoir….’” (Jan. 27, 2011)

24. Stone Arabia: A Novel by Dana Spiotta: “Ms. Spiotta lavishes on Nik all her eclectic, deeply felt knowledge of music and pop culture.” (July 11, 2011)

25. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harblach: “Mr. Harbach … has the rare abilit[y] to write with earnest, deeply felt emotion without ever veering into sentimentality….” (Sept. 5, 2011)

26. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson: “Mr. Johnson does an agile job of combining fablelike elements with vivid emotional details to create a story that has both the boldness of a cartoon and the nuance of a deeply felt portrait.” (Jan. 12, 2012)

27. The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger: “Unlike her synthetic partnership with George, these are real, complex, deeply felt connections that have both endured and changed over time….” (April 24, 2012)

28. Canada by Richard Ford: “[T]he second half of this novel lacks the organic momentum and deeply felt emotion of the preceding pages.” (May 21, 2012)

29. Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie: “Although this volume can be long-winded and self-important at times, it is also a harrowing, deeply felt and revealing document….” (Sept. 17, 2012)

30. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: “The reader can only hope she doesn’t try to flesh out the Muggle world of Pagford in any further volumes, but instead moves on to something more compelling and deeply felt in the future.” (Sept. 27, 2012)

31. Who I Am by Pete Townshend: “He makes a powerful case for that argument—and the Who’s contribution to the cause—in the pages of this deeply felt but often ungainly book.” (Oct. 8, 2012)

32. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan: “The result is a clever but annoying novel that lacks … the deeply felt emotion of this author’s dazzling 2001 masterpiece, Atonement.” (Nov. 4, 2012)

33. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor: “[T]his account of her life is revealing, keenly observed and deeply felt.” (Jan. 21, 2013)

34. The Force of Things: The Marriage of War and Peace by Alexander Stille: “He leaves us … with a deeply felt understanding of how they were shaped by their very different lives and times….” (March 21, 2013)

35. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo: “’When things fall apart, the children of the land scurry and scatter like birds escaping a burning sky,’ NoViolet Bulawayo writes in her deeply felt and fiercely written debut novel.” (May 15, 2013)

36. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan: “By its not-that-surprising conclusion, The Panopticon has evolved from a self-conscious debut experiment into a deeply felt and genuinely affecting novel.” (July 15, 2013)

37. Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon: “With the exception of the wonderful title characters in Mason & Dixon, who emerged as deeply felt, genuine human beings, Mr. Pynchon’s people have always verged on the cartoonish….” (Sept. 10, 2013)

38. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri: “What turns this novel around and ultimately seizes the reader’s imagination is Ms. Lahiri’s deeply felt depiction of Subhash’s relationship with Bela….” (Sept. 19, 2013)

39. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees: “Such outpourings of love are a testament to the intimate and deeply felt karmic relationship that has developed over two decades between Rivera and Yankee fans, and New York City.” (Sept. 28, 2013)

40. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. “Ms. Tartt’s theatrical, almost willful dwelling on the gothic in The Secret History has given way here to a deeply felt awareness of mortality and the losses that define the human condition….” (Oct. 7, 2013)

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

Emma Goss is a Slate intern.

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