Kakutani’s refusal ever to take her eyes off the thumbs up/thumbs down prize, or to lay any of her own prejudices, tastes, or tangentially relevant observations on the table, is dispiriting. One of her favorite gimmicks for ducking subjectivity is to invoke the supposed reactions of “the reader” to a book. This is a rather underhanded device with a tweedy scent of 1940s and ’50s arbiters like Lionel Trilling and Clifton Fadiman—and it’s a perfect emblem of the way Kakutani muffles her own voice by hiding behind a mask. But it provides the only fun I get from her reviews: First thing, I always hunt for “the reader” (whom I visualize as a kind of miniature androgynous Michelin man) the way I used to count the Ninas in a Hirschfeld drawing. Imagine my delight to come upon Kakutani’s January review of Richard Reeves’ President Reagan and find two successive sentences telling us that “the reader turns in eager anticipation” to the book because Reeves’ previous works on Kennedy and Nixon gave “the reader minutely detailed accounts” of their presidencies.
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