Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

Frogs, secrets and tons of reviews

by Laurie Hertzel | Sep-25-2017

A German frog. Associated Press photo by Jens Meyer


Welcome to autumn, high season of publishing, as well as the heady season of book awards. Hang on! It's going to be busy straight through to New Year's. And heeeeere we go:

NBCC Board member Anjali Enjeti reviews Patrick Ryan's "The Dream Life of Astronauts," for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and writes about trying and failing to get a book deal in The Atlantic.

Board member Kerri Arsenault reviews "Among the Living and the Dead" by Inara Verzemnieks for the Brooklyn Rail.

Board member Laurie Hertzel profiled two Minnesota writers who are up for some big awards: Emily Fridlund, who was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize for "History of Wolves," and poet Danez Smith, longlisted for the National Book Award. Both profiles ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Frank Freeman published a review of the Oxford Classic, On Death and Life by Cicero in University Bookman.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland for The Woven Tale Pressas well as Cloud Farming in Wales by Rhys Hughes for World Literature Today and The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams for Women's Memoirs.

Elizabeth Lund wrote about "Why Poetry" for the Washington Post, in which she gently reminds readers that there is no need to dissect a poem the way one might dissect a frog.And that seems like very good advice indeed.

In time for the Jewish New Year, Erika Dreifus recommended fiction and nonfiction about Israel for Tablet magazine. She also recently conducted a Q&A with Matthew Zapruder about Zapruder's new book, Why Poetry

Paul Wilner writes about Larry McMurtry's "Thalia'' trilogy -- the re-release of his first three novels, "Horseman, Pass By,'' "Leaving Cheyenne'' and "The Last Picture Show'' -- for ZYZZYVA magazine.

Hamilton Cain writes about Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning book, "Stamped from the Beginning," on Chapter 16, Tennessee's premier literary website, in connection with the author's appearance in Nashville. 

Laverne Frith reviews Nicole Sealey's "Ordinary Beast" and Mary Jo Salter's "The Surveyors," both for the New York Journal of Books.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews "A Disappearance in Damascus," by Deborah Campbell, for the Washington Post.

Jenny Yacovissi reviews "Steam Titans," by William M. Fowler Jr., and "Improbable Destinies," by Jonathan B. Losos, both for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

David Cooper reviews Nicole Krauss' "Forest Dark" for the New York Journal of Books.


Awards, events and other good things

Former board member Gregg Barrios just returned from a summer as a Harvard Fellow. He reviewed the PBS series The Vietnam War for The Rivard Report.

Board members Anjali Enjeti and John McWhorter each have notable essays in this year's "Best American Essays 2017," edited by Robert Atwan. John McWhorter's, "Thick of Tongue," was published in Guernica, and Anjali Enjeti's "Identity Lost and Found," was published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

C.M. Mayo's poetry collection, Meteor, won the Gival Poetry Prize and will be published by Gival Press in 2018.

NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel is highlighted on Lit Hub's new Secrets of the Book Critics feature. (NOTE: Do not click on that link unless you are prepared to see a giant head.)

Board member Kerri Arsenault will moderate a discussion between authors Jonathan Dee and Scott Spencer at 7 p.m. Oct 3 at the Center for Fiction in New York. The authors will discuss the often grim reality of the American Dream explored in their latest novels. Dee’s The Locals centers on a rural, working-class New England town that elects a hedge fund millionaire from New York as mayor in the months following 9/11 and the class-based tensions that arise. Spencer’s River Under the Road follows the lives of two couples over twenty years and the fragile balance between triumph and defeat, creativity and commerce.

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. 

Critical Notes Post-Summer Catch-up: Deborah Campbell, Nicole Krauss, Celeste Ng & John Ashbery RIP

by Jane Ciabattari | Sep-18-2017

Labor Day is behind us, September thrums with hurricanes and tempests, the National Book Festival and Brooklyn Book Festival drum up excitement for reading. And NBCC members are busier than ever.

Reviews and Interviews

NBCC's Emerging Critics offered a blog series on summer reading, with contributions from Heather Scott Partington, Paul Gleason, Ismail Muhammad, and  Zack Graham.

Laurie Hertzel, NBCC board member and senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, reviews the nonfiction narrative, A Disappearance in Damascus, by Deborah Campbell, Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, Bernard MacLaverty's novel Midwinter Break and John Boyne’s novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies for the Strib. Hertzel also interviews Sherman Alexie about his hiatus from the road, and his return, and in her weekly Bookmark column writes of the kinds of books people like to bring with them on vacation. She never sleeps.

NBCC board member (and former president) and Newsday books editor Tom Beer previewed 12 fall releases.

Maureen Corrigan reviews David Lagercrantz's The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye for the Washington Post.

Former NBCC board member Colette Bancroft, who lost, then found her iPad during Hurricane Irma, reviews Gabriel Tallent's My Absolute Darling and David Abram's Brave Deeds for the Tampa Bay Times. NBCC board member/treasurer Marion Winik reviews My Absolute Darling for Newsday.

Priscilla Gilman reviews Nicole Krauss's new novel Forest Dark for the Boston Globe. Michael Magras reviews Forest Dark for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. And here's Heller McAlpin's take for NPR.

NBCC board member/secretary Mary Ann Gwinn interviews Stanford historian Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands for the Seattle Times. 

Former NBCC board member Stephen Burt writes on the promise and potential of fan fiction for The New Yorker.

NBCC board member Daniel Akst talks to Matthew Zapruder about his Why Poetry Matters for Newsday.

Anita Felicelli reviews Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Michael Lindgren reviews Patti Smith's nonfiction book Devotion for the Washington Post.

Michael Berry reviews The Changeling by Victor LaValle for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Julia M. Klein reviews Antonia Fraser's Our Israeli Diary, 1978, Bruce Henderson's Sons and Soldiers, and Nathan Englander's Dinner at the Center of the Earth, for the Forward, and Mark Regnerus's Cheap Sex and David Friend's The Naughty Nineties for the Barnes and Noble Review. She also reviews Vanessa Grigoriadis's Blurred Lines and Claire Messud's The Burning Girl for the Chicago Tribune.

Hamilton Cain reviews Jonathan Lobos's Improbable Destinies for Barnes and Noble Review, Karl Ove Knausgaard's Autumn for Oprah, and Daniel Mendelsohn's An Odyssey for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviews Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere for the Kansas City Star.

Grace Lichtenstein reviews Brian Merchant's The One Device:The Secret History of the iPhone for the New York Journal of Books.
Hélène Cardona reviews Beautiful Rush by Marc Vincenz and  The Philosopher Savant by Rustin Larson in The Enchanting Verses Literary Review.

David Cooper reviews Nathan Englander's Dinner at the Center of the Earth and Orly Castel-Bloom's An Egyptian Novel for the New York Journal of Books.

Joan Silverman reviews John McPhee's Draft No. 4 and Gabrielle Zevin's Young Jane Young for the Portland Press Herald.

Colleen Abel reviews Edwidge Danticat's The Art of Death and the anthology Little Boxes, edited by Caroline Casey, for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Tara Cheesman reviews Marie NDiaye's My Heart Hemmed In for The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Former NBCC board member and Balakian winner Steven G. Kellman reviews Orhan Pamuk's The Red-haired Woman for the Boston Globe and Salman Rushdie's The Golden House for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gregory Leon Miller reviews Alain Mabanckou's Black Moses for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Soniah Kamal reviews Mandy Len Catron's essay collection How to Fall in Love with Anyone for the Atlanta Constitution Journal. She also reviews Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness for Kabar. And she gave a TEDx talk, Redreaming the Dream, on regrets and second chances and how, despite cultural barriers, she became a writer.

Lisa R. Spaar continues her Second Acts:  A Second Look at Second Books series for the Los Angeles Review of Books, featuring the second books of Amy Clampitt and Richard Deming.

Our Man in Boston Robert Birnbaum offers his latest, "The Crack in Everything."

Dana Wilde reviews Kristen Lindquist's poetry, Tourists in the Known World, for the Island Institute, and Joal Hetherington's poetry and Portland's Cafe Review for her Off Radar column on Maine writers.

Awards and Other News

RIP John Ashbery, whose Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror won the first NBCC award in poetry. He reminisced about the event at the NBCC's 35th anniversary celebration, noting,"My NBCC award, for my fifth collection of poems, happened when I was in my mid-forties, and served to jump-start my somewhat sagging career as a poet."  More, including video, here.

NBCC fiction finalist Zadie Smith wins CCNY's Langston Hughes award.'

NBCC fiction awardee Jennifer Egan talks to PW about her new novel, Manhattan Beach.

Daniela Gioseffi has just published her seventeenth book of poetry, Waging Beauty: As the Polar Bear Dreams of Ice ( Poets Wear Prada Press).

Hélène Cardona's recent poetry collection Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry, 2016) was a finalist for the Lascaux Prize in Poetry.


NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​


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