Author gets too personal with Michiko Kakutani

New York Times book critic puts the kibosh on flirty classifieds.

Topics: The New York Times, Books,

When novelist Leslie Epstein sent mash notes to New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani through the small classifieds at the bottom of the Gray Lady’s front page, he intended them, he says, in a playful spirit. The critic, however, didn’t want to play.

Epstein’s first feeler, which ran Oct. 29 on the front page of the Times, pleaded: “DEAR SWEET MISS MICHIKO K. — Call your Leib Goldkorn.” On Thursday, the Times’ advertising acceptability department received a call from Kakutani. She was upset about Epstein’s campaign and demanded that the paper squelch his Nov. 15 ad, which was to read: “YOO-HOO! MY CUTE KAKUTANI! — Leib Goldkorn is calling.” Two other ads bit the dust as well.

Goldkorn is the bumbling 94-year-old protagonist of three of Epstein’s books, most recently “Ice Fire Water,” which received warm reviews in the Los Angeles Times and the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Kakutani had given her own stamp of approval to Epstein’s 1985 “Goldkorn Tales.”

“Apparently she was unhappy and complained here,” said Bob Smith, the Times’ acceptability department manager. “Not to me personally, but complained. As we would do with any other person if their name is in an ad and they object, we got it out of there.”

What if Mayor Giuliani, who also figured in one of Epstein’s ads (“WHO TOOK RUDY GIULIANI’S TOUPEE? — Leib Goldkorn!”), demanded that the newspaper pull his name from the campaign, as he did over a series of New York magazine bus ads in 1997? “We try not to make judgments on hypothetical situations,” Smith said. “Now, if you’re talking about public officials, there’s probably a different slant on it. But in this case, here was a person who was clearly disturbed to have her name used this way, so we took it out.”

Did whoever initially signed off on the ads in October recognize Kakutani’s name? “I can’t speak for them,” Smith said. In any case, if they didn’t know who she was then, they do now. “Needless to say, at the time the ads were approved, we didn’t have any idea that anyone would be disturbed by them,” Smith went on, adding that he hadn’t seen the ads himself before they were cleared.



Epstein, who spent nearly all of his $10,000 advance on the campaign (despite the suggestion from his publisher, W.W. Norton, that he invest in something more conventional), has been left bewildered, if not bereft, by Kakutani’s response to his publicity stunt. “It’s a parody of the ‘Jewish women light your candles’ ad,” he says. “It’s a parody of the personals ad.”

He expects to get at least $3,000 back for the cancelled ads. Before asking the Times for a refund, however, he suggested a series of replacement ads to Smith, one of which would have read: “MY LOVE — Why do you wish to censor Leib Goldkorn?” The Times turned him down.

Kakutani did not return a call for comment.

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>