Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

Critical Notes: Go Set a Watchman, E.L. Doctorow, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and more

by Michele Filgate | Jul-27-2015

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.

E.L. Doctorow, winner of three National Book Critics Circle awards, passed away at the age of 84. David Ulin pays tribute to the writer in the Los Angeles Times. "This quality of looking beyond himself, of seeking stories that were broader than personal testimony, was what set Doctorow apart. Each book was a different experience, with its own set of challenges and expectations." And in the San Francisco Chronicle, Elizabeth Rosner writes: "Although I never studied with him in the classroom, I learned from his books that the words and images and characters I choose as a novelist reveal as much about myself as they do about the world I’m mapping. Doctorow covered vast landscapes of time and place with insight and irreverence, depicting tragedy, greed, poverty, crime, beauty — and all of it, yes, a personal collage of history."

NBCC President Tom Beer reviews Go Set a Watchman for Newsday: "It's the darker, more ill-formed and less compelling book that Harper Lee had to write first before she could produce -- with, by all accounts, an editor's guiding hand -- her masterpiece." For The Quivering Pen, David Abrams wonders "What if Go Set a Watchman was Harper Lee's First and Only Book?" Donna Seaman reviews the novel for Booklist: "Though Lee’s prose is frequently stilted in Go Set a Watchman, her transitions awkward, her descents into exposition bumpy, this is a daring, raw, intimate, and incendiary social exposé." Maureen Corrigan writes for NPR that it "is a troubling confusion of a novel, politically and artistically, beginning with its fishy origin story." David Ulin writes for the Los Angeles Times: "...although Go Set a Watchman comes marketed as an autonomous novel, it is most interesting as a literary artifact." Heller McAlpin writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that the book's "greatest asset may be its role in sparking frank discussion about America’s woeful track record when it comes to racial equality."

For her new weekly Lit Hub "review of the reviews," NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari traces "the evolution of critical consensus re the new Harper Lee novel in slow motion" and follows up with Ten Books Making News This Week: Go Tell a Watchman vs. Between the World and Me. And for her Between the Lines column, 10 books to read in July.

Two other reviews by Heller McAlpin: Patricia Marx's Let's Be Less Stupid for NPR, and Nuala O'Connor's Miss Emily for the Washington Post.

NBCC board member Walton Muyumba reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me for Newsday: "Rife with love, sadness, anger and struggle, Between the World and Me charts a path through the American gauntlet for both the black child who will inevitably walk the world alone and for the black parent who must let that child walk away."

NBCC board member/VP of Awards Michele Filgate interviewed Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Small Backs of Children, for Lit Hub.

Rigoberto Gonzalez writes about three poets and their fourth books for the Los Angeles Review of Books: Quan Barry, Kyle Dargan, and Ada Limon. And for NBC Latino, he writes about "9 Great New Books by Latino Authors."

For Publishers Weekly, Grace Bello wrote about cartoonist Jessica Abel and her new book about radio and podcast storytelling, Out on the Wire.

For Newsday, Marion Winik reviews William Finnegan's Barbarian Days.

Harvey Freedenberg reviews Jenny Offill's novel, Dept. of Speculation and Michael Bamberger's biography of eighteen golf legends, Men in Green, for Harrisburg Magazine.

Piali Roy reviews Aatish Taseer's The Way Things Were for the Toronto Star.

Joseph Peschel reviews Elijah Wald's Dylan Goes Electric for the Boston Globe.

Julia M. Klein reviews Lisa Moses Leff's The Archive Thief for The Jewish Daily Forward.

Gregory Wilkin reviews Tracy K. Smith's Ordinary Light for the New York Journal of Books. David Cooper reviews Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers for the same publication.

Clifford Garstang reviews David Payne's Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story and Curtis Smith's essay collection, Communion, for Prime Number Magazine.

Michael Magras reviews Mia Couto's Confession of the Lioness for Bookreporter.

Joan Silverman reviews Maxine Kumin's memoir, The Pawnbroker's Daughter, for the Portland Press Herald. Laverne Frith reviews the same book for New York Journal of Books.

Roundup: Rachel Cusk, Jon Krakauer, Lidia Yuknavitch, and more

by Mark Athitakis | Jul-13-2015

Check out photos from the NBCC/Zyzzyva event celebrating Bay Area literary institutions and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Balakian Citation recipient Alexandra Schwartz reviews Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline for the Nation.

Anne Payne reviews Martin Edwards’ study of British crime writers, The Golden Age of Murder, for the Florida Times-Union.

Barbara Spindel reviews A. Brad Schwartz’s Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News for the Daily Beast and Rosemarie Ostler’s Founding Grammars: How Early America’s War Over Words Shaped Today’s Language for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Bill Williams reviews Jon Krakauer’s Missoula for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper.

Elizabeth Rosner reviews Janis Cooke Newman’s novel A Master Plan for Rescue for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Fred Volkmer reviews Elena Gorokhova’s memoir Russian Tattoo for the East Hampton Press.

Gerald Bartell reviews S.K. Tremayne’s thriller The Ice Twins for the Washington Post and interviews Fast Shuffle novelist David Black for Kirkus Reviews.

Gina Webb reviews Ann Pancake’s story collection Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley and Cynthia Barnett’s Rain: A Natural and Cultural History for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Grace Bello profiles YA graphic novelist Becky Cloonan for Publishers Weekly.

Heller McAlpin reviews Jonathan Kozol’s memoir The Theft of Memory for the Washington Post.

Jim Carmin reviews Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel The Small Backs of Children for the Oregonian.

Julia M. Klein reviews David K. Shipler’s Freedom of Speech for the Columbia Journalism Review and Robin Kirman’s novel Bradstreet Gate for the Boston Globe.

Karl Wolff reviews Nikolas Schreck’s The Manson File for the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

Balakian Citation recipient and NBCC board member Katherine A. Powers rounds up five new audiobooks for the Washington Post; reviews Amanda Coe’s novel The Love She Left Behind, two summer reads, and a pair of baseball books for the Barnes & Noble Review; and reviews Ernst Lothar’s The Vienna Melody for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Lori Feathers reviews Octave Mirbeau’s novel Twenty-One Days of a Neurastenic for Three Percent.

NBCC board member Mark Athitakis explores Willa Cather’s trip to Arizona that inspired her novel The Song of the Lark in Humanities.

NBCC board member Mary Ann Gwinn interviews The Cartel author Don Winslow for the Seattle Times.

Megan Labrise interviews The Star Side of Bird Hill novelist Naomi Jackson and Viral short story writer Emily Mitchell for Kirkus Reviews.

Michael Lindgren reviews story collections by Thomas McGuane, Alberto Urrea, and Graham Swift for the Washington Post.

Michael Upchurch reviews Mark Haskell Smith’s Naked at Lunch for the Oregonian, as well as Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron and Charles Kaiser’s The Cost of Courage for the Seattle Times.

Michael Magras reviews Louisa Hall’s novel Speak for BookPage.

Philip Graham writes about emotional wounds and how they’re revealed in the works of James Baldwin, John Gardner, and Rabih Alameddine in the Millions.

Piali Roy reviews Nadia Hashimi’s When the Moon Is Low for the Toronto Star.

Steven G. Kellman reviews Milan Kundera’s novel The Festival of Insignificance for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Your reviews and recommendations help seed these roundups: If you’re an NBCC member with a review you’d like considered for inclusion, please email

Become a Friend of the NBCC

NBCC Awards

See all award winners

Find out how to submit

Read how we select

Frequently Asked Questions

Awards news

Videos and Podcasts

NBCC 2014 Awards Ceremony

Ben Fountain and Amy Tan at AWP with Jane Ciabattari

NBCC 2013 Finalists Reading

NBCC 2013 Awards Ceremony

NBCC Finalists Interviewed at The New School

Video: New Literary Journals

Video: The VIDA Count and Gender Bias in Book Reviewing

Podcast: What Is Criticism? NBCC Winners and Finalists at AWP

All videos and podcasts.


From the Critical Mass blog

Critical Notes: Go Set a Watchman, E.L. Doctorow, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and more

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to Make sure to

Roundup: Rachel Cusk, Jon Krakauer, Lidia Yuknavitch, and more

Check out photos from the NBCC/Zyzzyva event celebrating Bay Area literary institutions and Maxine Hong Kingston. Balakian Citation recipient

NBCC/Zyzzyva Partygoers Celebrate Bay Area Literary Institutions

On the eve of the American Library Association convention in San Francisco, the National Book Critics Circle and Zyzzyva Magazine threw a party to

NBCC/Zyzzyva Partygoers Salute Maxine Hong Kingston

"You changed our lives!" A group of Bay Area Asian American women writers gave a spontaneous salute to NBCC nonfiction awardee Maxine Hong Kingston