Mailer to Sulzberger: ‘Michiko Was First With the Worst’

Before the Internet was around as an tool with which to fight back, or start them in the first place, writers had to resort to, gasp, letter writing. The Beast has a collection of letters penned by the late Norman Mailer to people who took a less than favorable view of his writing. One can only imagine what Mailer could have done with Tumbler (Twitter, come to think of it, may have been a useful exercise for the loquacious writer). Anyway! Here’s part of what he once wrote to then NYT publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger after one-too-many nasty reviews (including one ill-researched one) from infamous critic Michiko Kakutani.

Over the last ten years, Michiko Kakutani has reviewed every one of my books published in that period. In order, they were Oswald’s Tale, Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man, The Gospel According to the Son, The Time of Our Time, and The Spooky Art. All five were given bad reviews (The Spooky Art perhaps the least awful), but three of those five could make the claim that the ugliest review all received came from Kakutani. What underlined the procedure and could give it a willful subtext was that four of those five reviews came out a week to two weeks ahead of publication. Michiko was first with the worst. One of the basic tricks in book criticism is to get out early if you really detest a book. Still, four out of five! Kakutani was abusing her privilege.

Mind you, this is in no way a request that some Times person other than Michiko Kakutani be assigned to me in the future. If I were Janet Maslin, Richard Eder, or any of the other professional daily book reviewers, I would be a hair reluctant to give Norman Mailer a positive review given Kakutani’s control of the bandstand. I expect she has an acute sense of tenfold repayment for any transgressions against her critical dominance. Rather, I choose to put this information on recording the hope that the Times will agree to a quiet meeting with one or two of the people who have received this letter, plus Ms. Kakutani and myself. I must say I hope to receive a reply. I would rather keep all this in camera than disseminate it to the teeming raptors of the Internet. Did I say raptors? I mean raptures, teeming raptures.