Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

The 2017 Leonard Award

by Kate Tuttle | Oct-17-2017

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), and Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" (2016) - 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 2017.


To generate more discussion, members are invited to write a short review about a favorite 2017 debut for the NBCC blog, Critical Mass. If you're interested in contributing, please contact board member Kerri Arsenault. 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.


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.


Last year, for the first time, we invited members to join a panel of volunteers who committed to read the entire slate of Leonard finalists (probably 5-7 books) and vote for the winner, which was announced in January. It went well except for difficulties with holiday season book distribution to our 50 panelists. So we're doing the same thing this year-except this time there will be ebooks only. 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 5 pm NY time 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 board member Dan Akst, who is chairing the committee. And as always, you're welcome to email me with questions and comments.

Happy reading, and we hope you'll be actively involved in the John Leonard Prize this year.



Kate Tuttle

NBCC Board President

Great Reads for a Harvest Moon from Jeffrey Eugenides, Jennifer Egan, Salman Rushdie & more

by Anjali Enjeti | Oct-09-2017












Reviews and other news:

The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Kazuo Ishiguro, whose 2005 novel
Never Let Me Go" was an NBCC finalist in fiction.

NBCC board member and former president Tom Beer wrote about new books from Ta'Nehisi Coates, Dan Brown and Jeffrey Eugenides for Newsday and offers some insight into book reviewing for Lit Hub's new "Secrets of the Book Critics" series. 

NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari interviewed the co-founders of Litquake, a San Francisco Literary Institution. Her BBC Culture column features NBCC fiction award honoree Jennifer Egan & multiple NBCC fiction finalist Jeffrey Eugenides.  

NBCC board member Anjali Enjeti reviewed "Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance and Revolution in Trump's America" edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding for Rewire News

NBCC board member and VP/Secretary Mary Ann Gwynn reviewed Masha Gessen's "The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia," recently named a National Book Award finalist, for Newsday.

Steven G. Kellman, former NBCC board member and Balakian recipient, reviewed Roger D. Hodge's "Texas Blood" for the Texas Observer.  

Former NBCC board member Steve Paul is the author of "Hemingway at Eighteen: The Pivotal Year That Launched an American Legend," published in October by Chicago Review Press. In 2016 he retired from The Kansas City Star after a career of more than 40 years, including long stretches as book review editor and arts editor.

Katha Pollitt, who was honored with an NBCC award for "Antarctic Traveller," writes about Hugh Hefner for her column in The Nation

Longtime NBCC member Jonah Raskin published a new noir murder mystery set in Sonoma, California, titled “Dark Land, Dark Mirror” and published by McCaa Books.

DeWitt Henry reviewed Margot Livesy's "The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing" and Beth Ann Fennelly's "Heating and Cooling" for The Woven Tale Press. 

Clea Simon’s latest mystery, "World Enough," will be published in the US by Severn House on Nov. 1. Kirkus Reviews called it “a fascinating reminiscence of sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” and Publishers Weekly called it “an intriguing series launch,” adding “readers with a taste for noir are sure to want to see more.”

Olga Zilberbourg reviewed "Knots" by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson for The Common.

Jim Ruland reviewed Elizabeth Hand's "Fire" from PM Press' Outspoken Author series for San Diego CityBeat

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Salman Rushdie's "Golden House," Jennifer Egan's "Manhattan Beach," and Bill Goldstein's "The World Broke In Two: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature" for the National Book Review.

Heller McAlphin reviewed Jeffrey Eugenides' "Fresh Complaint" for NPR.

Maureen Corrigan reviewed Jon McGregor's "Reservoir 13" for the Washington Post

Michael Lindgren wrote about Jennifer L. Liebermann's "Power Lines: Electricity in American Life and Letters, 1882-1952" for Empty Mirror Books.

Former NBCC board member David Haglund wrote about Kazuo Ishiguro's 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature for The New Yorker. 

Hamilton Cain reviewed Nathan Englander's "Dinner at the Center of the Earth" in the October issue of O, the Oprah Magazine and reviewed Bolivian writer Rodrigo Hasbún's "Affections" for the New York Journal of Books.

David Nilsen interviewed Carmen Machado about her debut novel, "Her Body and Other Parties" for The Millions.  

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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From the Critical Mass blog

The 2017 Leonard Award

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

Great Reads for a Harvest Moon from Jeffrey Eugenides, Jennifer Egan, Salman Rushdie & more

                      Reviews and other news: The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Kazuo Ishiguro, whose 2005 novel Never Let Me Go"

Critical Notes: October Launches, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Eig, Sally Rooney & More

Member reviews and interviews: Jennifer Egan, who earned the NBCC Fiction Award for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad,  has a new novel out

President’s Letter for NBCC Members

Dear NBCC Members: I hope summer treated you well, and that you're enjoying nice fall weather, wherever you may be. The NBCC board met in New York