Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

Calling NBCC Members: Join the John Leonard Award committee

by Gregg Barrios | Oct-23-2018

It's that time of year again: time to talk about the John Leonard Prize, our annual award based on member nominations and chosen by a panel of member volunteers.

Named for the longtime critic and NBCC co-founder, the prize is awarded for the best first book in any genre. Previous winners - Anthony Marra's "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" (2013), Phil Klay's "Redeployment" (2014), Kristin Valdez Quade's "Night at the Fiestas" (2015), Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" (2016), and Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body & Other Parts” (2017) have all been fiction. But works of nonfiction and poetry are also eligible. All nominated titles must be an author's first-ever book in any genre, published in the United States in calendar year 2018.


To generate more discussion, members are invited to write a short review about a favorite 2018 debut for the NBCC blog, Critical Mass. If you're interested in contributing, please send Leonard posts to with Leonard in the subject line. We expect this will be a lively forum for getting the word out about Leonard Prize contenders. And, as always, please share your suggestions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #NBCCLeonard. You can also find a list of books suggested by the board on Facebook.


In November, you'll receive an email via SurveyMonkey asking you to nominate your top 5 books for the prize. We'll compile those nominations to come up with a slate of the most nominated books as finalists.


We invite members to join a panel of volunteers who are committed to reading the entire slate of Leonard finalists (probably 5-7 books) and vote for the winner, which is then announced in January. The reading committee will receive ebooks of the finalists. If you don't have a suitable device, this would be a great time to get one. 

The Leonard committee is open to any NBCC member, and there is no cap on how many may participate. So please join! To sign up, click here by 6 pm EST Nov. 20. We anticipate you'll have about six weeks to read the books before voting for a winner by Jan. 8. If you have any questions about joining, please email committee chair Gregg Barrios, Happy reading, and we hope you'll be actively involved in the John Leonard Prize this year.

Libraries, surrealism, and Alex Trebek

by Laurie Hertzel | Oct-22-2018

Susan Orlean. Photo by Noah Fecks.


Reviews, interviews, profiles

Rebekah Denn reviewed Susan Orlean's "The Library Book" for The Christian Science Monitor, and she reports that it made her feel better about the world. She also reviewed Philip Pullman's essay/speech collection, "Daemon Voices," for the Monitor. It didn't make her feel better about the world, but she notes that perhaps she shouldn't have tried reading it on a beach vacation. She also did a cookbook roundup for Seattle Metropolitan magazine and wrote about Sara Bir's "The Fruit Forager's Companion" for The Seattle Times. 

Regina Marler reviewed San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's exhibition, "Magritte: The Fifth Season," for the New York Review of Books.

Allen Adams reviewed Susan Orlean's "The Library Book" and "8-Bit Apocalypse," by Alex Ruben, both for the Maine Edge.

Jennifer Solheim reviewed Algerian novelist and journalist Kamel Daoud's "Chroniques" for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

The latest installment of Tobias Carroll's Watchlist column is up at Words Without Borders.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf has reviewed "Lake Success" by Gary Shteyngart, for PopMatters.

Ann Fabian reviews "On Sunset" by Kathryn Harrison for The National Book Review.

Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers--one of the NBCC Emerging Critics--reviewed Anita Fellicelli’s "Love Songs for a Lost Continent" and Lars Petter Sveen’s "Children of God," both for Foreword Reviews.

David Nilsen reviewed Carmen Giménez-Smith's poetry collection, "Cruel Futures," for The Bind. 

Chelsea Leu reviewed "Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World," by Marcia Bjornerud, in Bay Nature.

Lisa Spaar writes about poets who published only one collection in their lifetime for LA Review of Books.

This week's NBCC Reads series offers Lanie Tankard's look at Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables."


And other good stuff


On her her Machberet blog, Erika Dreifus hosts the October iteration of the Jewish Book Carnival, a project of the Association of Jewish Libraries that aims to share news, reviews, and interviews from the world of Jewish books.

Lisa Russ Spaar was interviewed for LitHub's "Secrets of the Book Critics" column. (She confesses a desire to have reviewed "Wuthering Heights.")

Allen Adams will be making his debut as a contestant on "Jeopardy!" on Oct. 30. We wish him all the best and hope he spends all his winnings at indie bookstores.


NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to With reviews, please include title of book and author, as well as name of publication. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​ We love dedicated URLs. We do not love hyperlinks.

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