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One Life to Limn by Michiko Kakutani

Dave Eggers, Donna Tartt, and Zadie Smith must be licking their wounds after Times critic Michiko Kakutani's recent drubbing of their sophomore books. But if they want to get back in her good graces, they should stop licking and start limning.


Say what? For those unfamiliar with the word (yes, that included us), it means to outline something "in clear sharp detail." And for Kakutani, it appears to be a critical part of good writing. Though perhaps in her own work, she might consider using it a tad less?

Entire lives:

  • Amit Chaudhuri "limns the trajectory of an entire life in a handful of pages."
  • Alice Munro "has created tales that limn entire lifetimes in a handful of pages."
  • Robert Olen Butler "draws upon [the] ability to limn an entire life in a couple of pages."

Inner lives:

  • Gish Jen "limns the inner lives of her heroes and heroines with authority and aplomb."
  • Oscar Hijuelos's A Simple Habana Melody "showcases his ability . . . to limn [his characters'] inner lives with insight."
  • H. W. Brands "never penetrates [Benjamin] Franklin's placid demeanor to limn his inner life."
  • "None of [Nicholson] Baker's considerable talents as a writer, his ability to reinvent the mundane rituals of daily life or limn the inner lives of his characters, are on display" in The Fermata.
  • Ann Beattie's early works showed her "ability to limn her characters' inner lives with the same authority she brought to descriptions of their daily routines."


  • "The Whale Hunters" by Sebastian Junger "deftly limns the brutal, perilous and harrowing art of killing a 40-ton creature with a hand-thrown weapon."


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