A heavyweight in publishing whose words could turn a book into a bestseller or a bomb is stepping down. Chief New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani has taken a voluntary buyout and will step down from her post—a move that "will instantly change the shape of the publishing world," reports Vanity Fair. After joining the Times in 1979 as a reporter, Kakutani became a book critic in 1983 and helped make the careers of authors including David Foster Wallace, whom in 1996 she called "one of the big talents of his generation," per the Times. Getting a good review from Kakutani "was like having the good fairy touch you on the shoulder with her wand," author Mary Karr tells NPR. But her words could as easily tear authors down.
Nicholson Baker says Kakutani's reviews of his books were usually bad, and reading each one was "like having my liver taken out without anesthesia." Another of Kakutani's victims was Bill Clinton, whose 2004 memoir My Life she found "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull." Such reviews earned her the title of "the most feared woman in publishing," per Vanity Fair. Still, "no one has played a larger role in guiding readers through the country's literary life over the past four decades," Times executive editor Dean Baquet writes in a memo to employees. In a tweet, Kakutani—who won the Pulitzer Prize for her writing in 1998—says she is "moving on to focus on longer pieces about politics & culture, though I will always love & write about books." (Read more books stories.)