September, 2016

Critical Notes: Ann Patchett, Nicholson Baker, Affinity Konar, Jonathan Safran Foer, and more

by Carmela Ciuraru | Sep-18-2016

Your reviews seed this roundup. Please send items, including news about recent publications and honors, to (Current members only.) Please send links that do not require a subscription or a username and password.


Gerald Bartell reviews "The Accidental Life" by Terry McDonell for the San Francisco Chronicle.

NBCC Board Member Jane Ciabattari's latest columns for BBC Culture ("Ten Books You Should Read This September") and Lit Hub ("5 Books Making News This Week").

Steven G. Kellman reviews Affinity Konar's "Mischling" for the Dallas Morning News, and "Here I Am," by Jonathan Safran Foer, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

NBCC board president (and Newsday books editor) Tom Beer reviews Ann Patchett’s "Commonwealth" for Newsday.

"The Idea of Ancestry," the first installment of NBCC Board Member David Biespiel's "21 Poems That Shaped America" series, appeared in The Rumpus.

Michael Leong reviews Alejandro Zambra’s "Multiple Choice" (Penguin Books) and Matías Celedón’s "The Subsidiary" (Melville House) for Hyperallergic

Joe Peschel reviews "Substitute" by Nicholson Baker for the News & Observer.

Former NBCC Board Member Mark Athitakis reviews "The Nix" by Nathan Hill for the Star-Tribune.

Kerri Arsenault interviews editor Nan Talese: “Interview with a Gatekeeper” for Lit Hub.

NBCC Board Member Carmela Ciuraru reviews Imbolo Mbue, Lisa McInerney and more in her latest "Newly Released" column for the New York Times.

Former NBCC Board Member David Ulin's "Southern California, End of the Line," on Gregory Halpern’s new photo book, “Zzyzx,” appeared in the New Yorker.

Michael Magras reviews Robert Olen Butler's "Perfume River" for BookPage, and Jonathan Safran Foer's "Here I Am" for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviews Ann Patchett's "Commonwealth" for the Kansas City Star.

NBCC Board Member (and books editor of the Star-Tribune) Laurie Hertzel interviews Elizabeth Alexander. Hertzel's essay on how she learned to read also appeared in the Star-Tribune, as did her reviews of “Counting the Days While My Mind Disappears,” by Ben Utecht and “Tell Me Exactly What Happened,” by Caroline Burau

August, 2016

Reminder: Sign up for #NBCCLeonard Award Committee, Blog Series

by Admin | Aug-30-2016

Calling all voting members of the National Book Critics Circle. This fall you'll be nominating books for the fourth year of our #NBCCLeonard award for best first book in any genre, named for longtime critic and NBCC founding member and Sandrof award winner John Leonard. Unlike our other awards, the recipient of the Leonard Prize will be chosen by a direct vote of all NBCC members.

This year's new Leonard judging process is explained here.

To generate more discussion this year, members can write a short blog post about a favorite 2016 debut for the NBCC blog, Critical Mass. If you're interested in contributing, please contact Online VP Jane Ciabattari ( We hope this will be a lively forum for getting the word out about John 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.
This year, for the first time, we're inviting members to join an all-volunteer committee of Leonard readers who commit to read the entire slate of Leonard finalists (probably 5-7 books) and vote for the winner, to be announced in January. The Leonard committee is open to any NBCC member, and there is no cap on the number of members who may join it - all are welcome. We encourage you to participate actively in this important prize, which in a few short years has achieved serious recognition in the literary world.

If you're interested in joining the Leonard committee, please email board member Dan Akst (, who is chairing the committee,


Critical Notes: Colson Whitehead, William Giraldi and Patient H.M.

by Elizabeth Taylor | Aug-29-2016

Board member Colette Bancroft reviews Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad for the Tampa Bay Times.

Mike Lindgren reviews William Giraldi’s The Hero’s Body for the Washington Post

Julia M. Klein reviews Luke Dittrich's Patient H.M. for the Boston Globe.

Joe Peschel reviews A. S. Byatt's Peacock & Vine for the News & Observer.

Frank Freeman reviews Germaine de Stael: A Political Biography by Biancamaria Fontana for Washington Free Beacon.

Rachel Mack reviews Bull and Other Stories by Kathy Anderson for Necessary Fiction.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

In her series of Second Acts essays, Lisa Russ Spaar writes about books by Linda Gregerson and Rachel Richardson for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

For the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Lauren LeBlanc reviews Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi and Riverine by Angela Palm.

In other news, Fred Setterberg's Sam Maloof:  36 Views of a Master Woodworker (Heyday Books) has been selected as a finalist for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association 2016 Glenn Goldman Award for Art, Architecture, and Photography books.


Your reviews seed this roundup. Please send items, including news about recent publications and honors, to (Current members only.) Please only send links that do not require a subscription or a username and password.

Critical Notes: Jacqueline Woodson, Colson Whitehead, Jessica Valenti, and more

by Michele Filgate | Aug-22-2016

Newsday books editor and NBCC board president Tom Beer interviews Jacqueline Woodson about Another Brooklyn, her new novel for adults.

For her weekly Lit Hub column, NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari tracks books making news, including NBCC fiction finalists Colson Whitehead's new novel The Underground Railroad, and two first books from writers with promise.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Katie Haegele reviews Mark Haddon’s The Pier Falls and Moby’s Porcelain for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Jim Ruland writes about Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa for San Diego CityBeat

Michael Magras reviews Joe McGinnis Jr.’s Carousel Court for BookPage.

Michelle Lancaster reviews Yvonne Georgina Puig’s A Wife of Noble Character for Lone Star Literary Life.

Your reviews seed this roundup. Please send items, including news about recent publications and honors, to (Current members only.) Please only send links that do not require a subscription or a username and password.

What Are You Reading This Summer? [Part III]

by John Freeman | Aug-16-2016

My summer reading has been a mixture of happenstance and preparation. I spent five weeks in Paris teaching at a program for NYU and I used to pass a little bookshop on the way to class. A woman in her eighties worked there and seemed to have picked out all the best books to display. Svetlana Alexievich. Herta Muller, Jacques Prevert. Chimamanda Adichie. Colm Toibin. Anyway, I picked up a copy of a tiny book of essays on writing by the Belgian writer Jean-Phillippe Toussaint which was a great way to ease into the language spoken around me. Each day I read one of the essays right after I woke up. He's a fantastic writer - if Gary Winograd photos could speak they might sound like him.

Later in the summer, I was in Sarajevo on stage at a literary festival with Rabih Alameddine, so I reread Koolaids, his extraordinary first novel, which bears a lot of resemblance to the one he is publishing this fall. It's one of the most discursive and brilliant novels I've ever read. I also reread novels by Kamila Shamsie, Aleksandar Hemon, and Rawi Hage, who I had sessions with in Sarajevo. Similarly, there have been some launch events for the new issue of Freeman's with Joanna Ravenna, Valeria Luiselli, and Edouard Louis, whose debut novel, Finishing Off Eddy Belleguelle is coming out in English later next year.

Finally, after reading Colson Whitehead's new novel, which is simply a masterpiece - the comparisons to Marquez are so apt --  I've been doing some reading to try to grapple with the way traditions within African-American writing are being yoked forward into the present by some writers - tilted and re-examined. Refreshed and renewed. I'll be on stage in Australia in about ten days with Tracy Smith, who has a poem in the new issue of Freeman's, and I'm curious about how to talk about a history of life-writing if you will which emerges out of - or touches - slave narratives. Another one of the writers in the new issue of Freeman's - Honoree Jeffers - is writing poems from a fictional character back and forth to Phillis Wheatley, one of the earliest American poets. Wheatley is proof that American literary tradition is inseparable from African-American literary art. That they are in some ways one and the same. I've been trying to figure out how to write a piece around this and I keep reading and rereading more because so much great work has already been done in this space.

Odes, by Sharon Olds
I Wonder as I Wander, by Langston Hughes
Ordinary Light, by Tracy Smith
The Grey Album, by Kevin Young
Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy
A Field Guide to Reality, by Joanna Kavenna
Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie
Koolaids, by Rabih Alameddine
DeNiro's Game, by Rawi Hage
The Making of Zombie Wars, by Aleksandar Hemon
Ninety-Nine Stories of God, by Joy Williams
Ema, by Cesar Aira
Walking on One Leg, by Herta Muller
Cristina and Her Double, by Herta Muller
Poems, by Adisa Basic
Jack, by Maxine Kumin
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Citizen, by Claudia Rankine
Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, by James Weldon Johnson
The Sidewalks, by Valeria Luiselli
Voyage of the Sable Venus, by Robin Coste Lewis
The Fire This Time, edited by Jesymn Ward
The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stille, by Alice Oswald
Enfin de Eddy Belleguelle, by Edouard Louis
L'Urgence et la Patience, by Jean-Phillipe Toussaint

John Freeman is an executive editor at Literary Hub and a former president of the National Book Critics Circle. He teaches at the New School. The second issue of his anthology series (Freeman's Family), has just been published

Helen Gurley Brown, Teju Cole and Romance of Latin

by Elizabeth Taylor | Aug-15-2016

Post-conventions, mid-Olympics, pre-Labor Day, and plenty of time for summer reading. Board member Carmela Ciuraru has been surveying a set of smart readers, so check out the marvelous series-- or take your chances at at the beach. 

Julia M. Klein reviews Gerri Hirshey's Not Pretty Enough for the Forward and she reviews Nathan Stoltzfus's Hitler's Compromises, also for the Forward.   

For the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Lauren LeBlanc reviews Marrow Island by Alexis Smith, Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn and Swallowed by the Cold by Jensen Beach.

For the BBC, NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari writes about 10 books to read in August and for LitHub, she writes about the 5 books making news this week and includes a shout out to Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

VP/Awards Michele Filgate reviews Riverine by Angela Palm for the Washington Post and for Lit Hub, she writes about book emergencies. 

Joe Peschel writes about Odie Lindsey's We Come to Our Senses for the News & Observer.

Elizabeth Rosner reviews Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Natalie Bakopoulos reviewed Jessica Winter's Break in Case of Emergency for the San Francisco Chronicle. In the Summer 2016 issue of the Michigan Quarterly Review, she has a long essay on Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet, entitled: "We Are Always Us: The Boundaries of Elena Ferrante” which should be online shortly.

Steve Kellman reviewed Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin by Ann Patty for the San Francisco Chronicle.    

Michelle Lancaster reviewed The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close for Lone Star Literary Life.      

Anne Morris reviews Monterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton for the Dallas Morning News.

Bill Williams reviews Incarceration Nations by Baz Dreisinger for the Palm Beach Artspaper.

In Lambda Literary, Julie R. Enszer wrote about the lives and legacies of writers Michelle Cliff, Beth Brant, and Stephania Byrd.

Karl Wolff reviews In the Café of Lost Youth by Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano for the New York Journal of Books:

Gregory Wilkin reviews Julian Barnes' The Noise of Time for the New York Journal of Books.

Chuck Twardy reviews Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell for Las Vegas Weekly.

Michelle Newby reviews The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer for Lone Star Literary Life

For the Forward, Erika Dreifus explains the friendship between authors Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Léon Werth embedded into the new film version of The Little Prince.

For the Washington Free Beacon, Frank Freeman reviewed Elaine Showalter’s The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe

David Cooper reviews Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon in the New York Journal of Books.

Carla Main reviews The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians by Naomi Schaefer Riley for City Journal. 

Ellen Akins reviewed Catherine Banner's The House at the Edge of Night for the Dallas Morning News

For the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Michael Magras wrote a review of Ben Lerner's The Hatred of Poetry.

And speaking of poetry, congratulations to Connie Post, 2016 winner of the Crab Creek Review Poetry Prize, and to Helene Cardona, who has just published a new poetry collection, Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry), and also the Hemingway Grant winner Beyond Elsewhere, her translation from the French of Ce que nous portons by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac (White Pine Press).

Your reviews seed this roundup. Please send items, including news about recent publications and honors, to (Current members only.) Please only send links that do not require a subscription or a username and password.

SAVE THE DATE: NBCC Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event

by admin | Aug-05-2016

SAVE THE DATE: National Book Critics Circle's Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event
September 15, 2016, 7 pm at the Center for Fiction, 17 East 47th Street, NYC


The Ever Expanding World of Literary Criticism

Writing about books-- starting a conversations about a novel, a poem, a literary career-- combines passion with dedication. Five active literary and cultural critics, all members of the National Book Critics Circle board, discuss the art of writing about books. These panelists differ in background and experience; some write for legacy newspapers, others for online venues. All represent criticism as an engaging activity that challenges each to be perpetually in search of the new.

Moderator: NBCC president Tom Beer, book editor, Newsday


Jane Ciabattari, Columnist, BBC, the Literary Hub; contributor, NPR

 Michele Filgate, Los Angeles Times, B&N Review, the  Literary Hub, O, the Oprah magazine

Michael Miller, Bookforum

Walton Muyumba, The Atlantic, Dallas Morning News

Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Dame


Tom Beer is the books and travel editor at Newsday, and president of the National Book Critics Circle. He was previously an editor at Out magazine. He has written for Time Out New York, The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Times, and contributed to The Readers' Guide to Contemporary Authors (Penguin, 2000). Find him on Twitter @TomBeerBooks.

Jane Ciabattari writes the Between the Lines column for, a weekly column for the Literary Hub, and contributes regularly to NPR, the Boston Globe, and many other publications. She is VP/Online and a former president of the National Book Critics Circle, a member of the San Francisco Writers' Grotto, and on the advisory board of The Story Prize. She is the author of the story collections, Stealing the Fire and California Tales.

Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub and VP/Awards for the National Book Critics Circle. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Refinery29, Slice, The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, Salon, Interview Magazine, Buzzfeed, The Barnes & Noble Review, Poets & Writers, The Boston Globe, Fine Books & Collections Magazine, DAME Magazine, Biographile, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Time Out New York, People, The Daily Beast, O, The Oprah Magazine, Men's Journal, Vulture, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Capital New York, The Star Tribune, Bookslut, The Quarterly Conversation, The Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. She teaches creative nonfiction for The Sackett Street Writers' Workshop and Catapult.

Michael Miller has held positions at the Village Voice Literary Supplement, Spin Magazine, and Time Out New York, where he was the literary editor and lead book critic from 2005 until 2010. He is currently an editor at Bookforum.

Walton Muyumba is the author of The Shadow and the Act: Black Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism.  His essays and reviews have appeared in Oxford American, The Chicago Tribune, The Crisis, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, New Republic and at, among other outlets.  Muyumba is an associate professor of American and African Diasporic literature at Indiana University-Bloomington.

Kate Tuttle writes on books for the Boston Globe. Her reviews, interviews, and essays have also appeared in Salon, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Rumpus, and elsewhere. A board member of the National Book Critics Circle, she also serves as director of the Decatur Writers Studio, a literary center based outside Atlanta.

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About the Critical Mass Blog

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