When Book Critics Stop Being Polite

Books

Welcome to Today in Books, where we report on literary headlines at the intersection of politics, culture, media, and more.

Looking for your next great read? Check out this exclusive excerpt of Hope Ablaze by Sarah Mughal Rana, a YA novel about a young Muslim woman who finds her voice after one of her poems goes viral.

The Met Gala Gets Lit(erary)

Inspired by a 1962 short story by J.G. Ballard, the theme for the 2024 Met Gala will be “The Garden of Time.” <Miranda Priestly voice> “Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking.” This being the Met Gala, though, and Anna Wintour being Anna Wintour, it’s not quite so straightforward. This year’s gala will celebrate an exhibition called “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion,” and the dress code calls for “clothing and fashion so fragile that it can’t ever be worn again.” Somewhere, there is a designer crafting a dress out of the pages of a very old book. Read the full text of Ballard’s story here, and pop over to the Today in Books home to leave a comment and tell me: what would you wear?

That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

Michiko Kakutani, the once-feared New York Times book critic, is no stranger to the hatchet job. Now, on the publication of her new book, The Great Wave: The Era of Radical Disruption and the Rise of the Outsider, the critic has become the criticized. In a review for Slate, Dan Kois goes full turnabout-is-fair-play, devoting the first half of the piece to citing Kakutani’s own scathing reviews before issuing the verdict that her attempt to make sense of recent history is “190 pages of synthetic, Resistance-y culture crit with a hint of literary flair—Thomas Friedman for people who like Pynchon.” Ouch. A generous reading it is not, but I can’t fault Kois for punching up, which is a consideration Kakutani rarely extended to her own subjects. This is the harshest literary burn I’ve seen in a while. 

Putting the “Auto” in Biography

The latest predictable and disappointing use of world-changing technology appears to be a nascent trend in which, shortly after the death of a public figure, AI-generated biographies appear for sale online. Chita Rivera, Henry Kissinger, Toby Keith, and former New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld are among the celebrities whose recent deaths were followed by a wave of unauthorized publications. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service requires that authors disclose if a work is AI-generated, but plenty folks seem willing to flout the rules and see if they get away with it. And for what? 

…their publication does not appear to be a robust business. Few of them had any customer reviews, and those that did fared poorly. Disappointed readers described one book as “a 60-page pamphlet,” another as “a glorified brochure” and a “rip-off.”

But that won’t necessarily always be the case, especially as both the technology and those who wish to exploit it become more sophisticated. Here’s my sincere hope that regulators and retailers give this close attention. 

Bookish Candles for Romance Fans 

Whether you’re going for cozy canoodling or scorching-hot vibes, you’ll find something to fit the bill in this round-up of candles for romance readers. Folks who make bookish crafts are so creative and fun.


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