9 Writers To Follow If You Want To Think More Deeply About The Books You're Reading


Something I love almost as much as reading books is reading what other readers (particularly the seasoned, scholarly, decidedly elbow-patchy kind) have to say about the books I’ve read. In the age of 280-character hot takes, true literary criticism might seem like something left behind in Gertrude Stein’s Saturday evening salons or, at the very least, in your undergraduate English Lit classroom. And that’s kind of a bummer. Because a good lit critic — especially one whose bookish tastes resemble (and challenge) yours — can be your best friend in the book world. They’ll make you think more deeply about the books you’re reading, save you from reading the ones you’d hate (or, at the very least, you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned) and leave you with a half-dozen other books you’ll want to add to your TBR pile, stat. Their jobs aren’t just to criticize — although a healthy dose of that does a reader good — but also to analyze, interpret, and applaud. And when a true lit critic applauds, you can trust that applause is well-deserved (or, at the very least, supported by diligently cited evidence found within both the text at hand and the larger literary canon.)

Here are nine literary critics that all book-lovers should follow (or bookmark, or whatever it is you do.) I guarantee you’ll be a better reader for it.

Elaine Showalter

Have you ever heard the term "gynocriticism"? If so, you can thank literary critic Elaine Showalter. (If not, it’s a style of literary criticism that establishes "a female framework for the analysis of women's literature." Aka: feminist book-reading.) Showalter writes about everything from contemporary fashion to Victorian literature — and she’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers. Check out her recent piece: "Imagining Violence: The Power of Feminist Fantasy," to see what I mean.

Ruth Franklin

I have a hard time finding a magazine I read regularly that Ruth Franklin hasn’t written for. A book critic and former editor at The New Republic, she’s also the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning writer of a biography of American mystery and horror writer Shirley Jackson. Her recent work includes: "The Female Persuasion Should Be a Literary Breakout. Will It Be?" And one of my all-time favorite interviews "Who's Afraid of Claire Messud?" Check her out. (Oh yeah, and her you can find on Twitter.)

Bethanne Patrick

Also known as The Book Maven, Bethanne Patrick is kind of the sh*t. She’s a book critic and writer herself, whose obvious love of literature is I-want-to-squee-all-over-you contagious. She recently took on the work of bestselling novelist Megan Abbott for NPR Books, in "The Science Of Female Anger And Ambition, In Give Me Your Hand." Be sure to give her a heart when you see her.

Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani might be the most famous lit critic (now retired-ish) of all time — mentioned in both Sex and the City and Girls. The former chief book critic for The New York Times, she became known for reviews that were as scathing as they were culture-making. She also, just recently, published her first book The Death of Truth. About Donald Trump. Because, what else?

Zadie Smith

You definitely know her for her novels, like her bestseller, White Teeth, her more recent novel, Swing Time, or her 2018 essay collection, Feel Free. But did you also know that Zadie Smith is has written some equally compelling literary criticism as well? Start with her essay for The New York Review Of Books: Two Paths for the Novel.

Janet Maslin

Former Times film critic and more recently book critic, Janet Maslin is known for being one step ahead of the latest book buzz (in fact, she was the first reporter to review the pseudonymous Elena Ferrante for The New York Times.) Recently she’s tackled the Bill Clinton/James Patterson team-up, The President is Missing, and CNN news anchor Jake Tapper’s novel The Hellfire Club. She’s concise, witty, and not afraid to tell you like it is when it comes to literature.

Carmen Maria Machado

Follow Carmen Maria Machado for the criticism, stay for the essays. And short stories. With totally outside-the-typical musings like her 2013 piece for the LA Review of Books, "Why Alice Munro Should Play "Gone Home": The Video Game as Story and Experience"; her recent piece for Medium, "Unruly, Adjective"; or her 2017 story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, (which has just been optioned for television.)

Jennifer Senior

Though her latest piece is more Twitter-critical than lit critic (although, if Twitter is responsible for the decline of the English language, then isn’t it really all the same conversation?) Jennifer Senior is someone to check out. An author and a former daily book critic for The New York Times, she’s now working on the Times’ Opinion’s first podcast — and she reads like the kind of writer who just genuinely enjoys truly musing over one thing or another

Roxane Gay

Bet'cha didn't know the woman behind bestsellers like Bad Feminist and Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body also wrote about the writing of other writers. I will honestly read anything Roxane Gay writes, but her reviews and critiques are pretty great stuff. You can start by checking out her take on Toni Morrison, here: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison review.