I wrote about Michiko Kakutani and lived to tell the tale

Published November 5, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

Deemed a particularly dimwitted form of self-destruction, writer after writer, at magazine after magazine, has over the years declined the opportunity to write about the New York Times' much-feared lead book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani.

"I'm as dumb as a brick. That's why I keep doing things like this. That's why I keep committing professional suicide, again and again," says Paul Alexander, who wrote unflatteringly about Kakutani in last month's Mirabella and lived to tell the tale.

In the profile, Alexander gathers up a nice array of savage commentary on the famously reclusive, famously controversial critic -- including remarks from rival critic Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post, who told Alexander he was so unimpressed with Kakutani that when he heard she won a Pulitzer, he wanted to send his back. Alexander also includes a spicy bit from Gore Vidal, who recalls an interview with Kakutani. "First question: 'You hate the American people, don't you?' 'No I hate the New York Times. They are not, you'll be amazed to learn, the same.'"

To Alexander's surprise, there was no fallout from the piece. "We know they read it over there, oh yeah, but we heard nothing from a soul. It was sort of spooky. I was expecting an angry letter or something." But Alexander might want to time publication of his next book to coincide with Kakutani's summer vacation.

Don't Tom Wolfe's women fall in love?

In the book world, Tom Wolfe may be the ubiquitous man of the moment, but while film rights to his hefty new novel, "A Man in Full," remain unsold, Hollywood is busy snapping up rights to smaller, woman-oriented novels.

Last week Linda Nichols, a 43-year-old full-time mother, snagged $1 million for film rights to "While You Were Out," a first novel about a woman who falls in love with a contractor she mistakes for a therapist.

Meanwhile Danny DeVito's film company, Jersey Films, bought the rights to another first novel, Jane Shapiro's "A Dangerous Husband," a feminist cautionary tale about a woman who falls in love, late in life, with someone who turns out to be a bit of a lunatic.

Earlier this month, New Line Cinema bought rights to "Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale," another first novel, as yet unfinished, by Pamela Ferderbar. This one is about a woman who falls in love with a guy who comes to feng shui her apartment. Next up: "The Personal Trainer," a passionate first novel about a middle-aged divorcie who loses her heart to an exercise coach, after mistaking him for a horse whisperer.

"Reader" meets director

Bernhard Schlink's exquisitely lyrical novel about love, sex, shame and reading, "The Reader," should make a wonderfully beautiful vaseline-lensed movie in the hands of "English Patient" director Anthony Minghella. Schlink's novel tells the story of a teenage boy growing up in postwar Germany, who falls in love with an older woman with a secret past. Though Miramax denies it bought rights to Schlink's novel -- winner of a Salon Book Award -- for Minghella, the director's agent says, though unwritten, it was everyone's understanding Minghella would have a go at the project. But first he has to finish filming "Cold Mountain," winner of yet another Salon Book Award.

MTV holds high the banner of criticism/self-criticism

If Rupert Murdoch can cozy up to communist China, then Viacom magnate Sumner Redstone can practice Maoist-style self-criticism. Viacom's MTV began production this week on a new "Beavis & Butt-head"-like show, "Channel Zero," that supposedly makes fun of MTV. "Channel Zero" takes Beavis and Butt-head-like characters and introduces them to the world of hip-hop.

The show is set to air in March. "Channel Zero" writers come from Loud Records, a hip-hop label, and the Source, the biggest hip-hop magazine.

"'Channel Zero' is really a show within a show," says producer John von Sothen, who is also working on a modern adaptation of a Dostoevski novella. "It's about four kids who get together and have a pirate public access show; unlike MTV, they play the real deal, real dope videos, the dope shit." So is Sumner a dope? Not if the show's a hit.

By Susan Lehman

Susan Lehman is a staff writer for Salon Media.

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