August, 2016

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.

July, 2016

What Are You Reading This Summer? [Part II]

by Carmela Ciuraru | Jul-27-2016


Summer reading from Peter Mendelsund, What We See When We Read (Vintage):

My reading list:
Unforbidden Pleasures by Adam Phillips
Network Aesthetics by Patrick Jagoda
The Bathroom by Jean-Phillipe Toussaint
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Inherent Disorders by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

Summer reading from Mary Norris, Between You and Me (W. W. Norton):

Every Single Second, by Tricia Springstubb (HarperCollins). I don’t make a habit of reading books aimed at eleven-year-olds, but the author is a friend, and her middle-grade reader pairs an old-fashioned tender-hearted heroine with a plot drawn from the evening news. Structured compellingly. If I were a girl joining the library’s Summer Reading Club, this would definitely be on my list.

The Life You Save May Be Your Own, by Paul Elie (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Interwoven biographies of Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Dorothy Day—American Catholics who corresponded with each other—this tome (472 pages, with another 62 pages of notes) will anchor my summer reading as I commute to the office on the A train. Signal malfunction causing delays? No problem. If I can read, I can sit on a train.

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery. Having somehow missed this childhood classic, I plan to remedy that, as it is set on Prince Edward Island, where I am going in August. Maybe I do make a habit of reading books aimed at eleven-year-olds.

Hogs Wild, by Ian Frazier (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Reported pieces by a favorite, some of which I read in the line of duty (Frazier writes for The New Yorker, where I am a copy editor) and others that I missed. For a proofreader, reading something she’s not getting paid to read is the ultimate compliment.

The Relic Master, by Christopher Buckley (Simon & Schuster). A caper, set in 1517, involving the Shroud of Turin? Bring it on!

They May Not Mean To, but They Do, by Cathleen Schine (Sarah Crichton Books/ FSG). A family story set on the Upper West Side, by a writer who is consistently entertaining. This will do very well for the beach, thank you.

Stink, by Romy Ashby (Folio Club). With a vintage photo of Coney Island on the cover, a transgender narrator, a magician, and a mysterious bookseller, this book has elements of a picaresque coming-of-age story, somehow reminiscent of Carlos Ruis Zafón’s “Shadow of the Wind.”

Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond, by Richard Jenkyns (Basic Books). I know it sounds daunting, but Jenkyns writes in a lively style, skipping over the boring parts. This book offers a crash course in the classics for far less than it would cost to go to Oxford.

Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips (Back Bay Books/Little, Brown). Apollo, Athena, Hermes, and the gang share a London town house. I’ve been meaning to read this 2007 novel for years—nine years, to be exact.

The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery (Atria). I hope to satisfy my curiosity about octopuses, after which I will never eat one again.

The Iliad of Homer (Macmillan/FSG). One for the road: The audiobook of the translation by Robert Fitzgerald (my favorite), as read by Dan Stevens, “Downton Abbey”’s Matthew Crawley. I listened to him read the Odyssey last year. Have epic, will travel. Even a traffic jam is easier with Homer.


Summer reading from Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear (Little, Brown):

On my next escape to the greener regions beyond New York City, I’m going to bring The Prank of the Good Little Virgin of Via Ormea by Amara Lakhous.  Algerian born and long a resident of Italy, Lakhous writes with such verve and humor about human absurdities and cultural conflict that the larger, darker truths in his fiction wash over a reader unexpectedly. Last summer, I savored his inventive, internationally acclaimed novel Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio and can’t think of a single book I’ve read in years that’s anything like it.

Also hoping to read this summer:

Yaa Gyasi’s Homecoming

Robyn Schiff’s A Woman of Property

Jung Young Moon’s Vaseline Buddha

Annie Proulx’s Barkskins


Summer reading from Chris Offutt, My Father, the Pornographer (Atria Books):

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
My top favorite of all--Jean Rhys!
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
George Orwell.


Summer reading from Helen Simonson, The Summer Before the War (Knopf):

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi: Just read this stunning debut.  A powerful epic that explores both the Ghanaian and American histories of slavery. 

Roxanna Slade, by Reynolds Price: Vivian Jennings, who owns Rainy Day Books in Kansas City, is the ultimate independent bookseller, and when I visited her on my recent tour she gave me a copy of this as one of her all-time favorite books.  

Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Moue: Cameroonian immigrants to New York dependent on wealthy employers who are about to hit the great recession?  Schadenfreude and guilt all over the Hamptons this summer?

Leaving Lucy Pear, by Anna Solomon: Set in 1917, in Massachusetts--how can I resist a passionate novel of shame, secrets and maternal guilt? 

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah: Long on the bestseller lists. I swallowed some envy here and ordered my own copy. Can't wait to retire under a tree to read this tale of occupied France in World War II.

The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa McInerney: Just in time for Labor Day. I have the 2016 Bailey's Prize winner on pre-order.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett: I've already read an advance copy (publishing on September 16th), and I can tell you this sprawling tale of family secrets will ease us into fall. 

Critical Notes: Carolyn See, Jade Sharma, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Pamela Erens, and more

by Michele Filgate | Jul-25-2016

Author and former NBCC board member Carolyn See passed away at the age of 82.  

Tom Beer, Newsday books editor and NBCC board president, reviewed cancer memoirs by Paul Kalanithi, Jenny Diski, and Marion Coutts for Newsday.

NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari's weekly Lit Hub column begins with NBCC award winner Juan Felipe Herrera, the US Poet Laureate. Another column includes two book about Helen Gurley Brown, Jennifer Close's satiric political novel, Virginia Heffernan's book presenting the Internet as “the great masterpiece of human civilization,” and VICE fiction editor Amie Barrodale's  first story collection.

NBCC board member Michele Filgate interviews Jade Sharma, author of “Problems,” for the Los Angeles Times.

NBCC board member and 2013 Balakian winner Katherine A. Powers reviews “This Must Be the Place” by Maggie O’Farrell for The Boston Globe

NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel reviews “Vinegar Girl” by Anne Tyler and “The Voyeur’s Motel” by Gay Talese for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She also writes about being drunk on books.

Former NBCC board member Karen Long reviews “Here Comes the Sun” by Nicole Dennis-Benn for Newsday.

Parul Kapur Hinzen profiles Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of “Sarong Party Girls,” for Slate.

Lori Feathers reviews “Eleven Hours” by Pamela Erens for Rain Taxi.

Julia M. Klein reviews Thomas Harding's "The House by the Lake" for the Boston Globe. She also reviews Delia Ephron's "Siracusa" for the Los Angeles Times.

David Nilsen reviews “Bright Dead Things” by Ada Limón for Open Letters Monthly.

Steven G. Kellman reviews “The Noise of Time” by Julian Barnes for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nathaniel Popkin reviews “Dead People” by Morgan Meis and Stefany Anne Goldberg for The Rumpus.

Joe Peschel reviews “The Life of the World to Come” by Dan Cluchey in the Charlotte Observer.

Bob Hoover reviews "Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon" and "William Tecumseh Sherman" for the Dallas Morning News.

Michael Berry reviews “Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Michael Magras reviews “The Return” by Hisham Matar for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Lisa Russ Spaar looks at two books of poetry for the Los Angeles Review of Books: “War of the Foxes” by Richard Siken and “Lynchburg” by Forrest Gander, and interviews Charles Wright for Image.

Katie Haegele reviews Moby’s memoir, “Porcelain,” for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philip Belcher interviews Michelle Boisseau about her five volumes of poetry for Shenandoah.

Karl Wolff continues his American Odd essay series at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography with an essay on “Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery” by Martin Gardner

Rayann Al-Shawaf reviews “The Bones of Grace” by Tahmima Anam for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Andrew Mitchell Davenport interviews NBCC member Paul Devlin about his new book, “Murray Talks Music: Albert Murray on Jazz and Blues.

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.

President’s Message to Membership: Choosing the #NBCCLeonard Awards

by Tom Beer | Jul-24-2016

Dear NBCC members:

With summer well under way, we're once again launching discussions for the John Leonard Prize.
The prize, named for the longtime critic and NBCC co-founder, is awarded every year for the best first book in any genre. Unlike the NBCC's other awards, it is not chosen by the board but by the membership at large. Previous winners - Anthony Marra's "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" (2013), Phil Klay's "Redeployment" (2014), and Kristin Valdez Quade's "Night at the Fiestas" (2015) - 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 2016.
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. 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.
Tom Beer
NBCC Board President

National Book Critics Circle's Brooklyn Bookend Event
September 15, 2016, 7 pm at the Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St. New York City
The Ever Expanding World of Literary Criticism 
Writing about books-- starting 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, books editor, Newsday
Jane Ciabattari (columnist, BBC Culture, The Literary Hub; contributor, NPR)
Michele Filgate (contributor to the Los Angeles Times;  B&N Review; the  Literary Hub; and O, the Oprah magazine)
Michael Miller, editor at Bookforum
Walton Muyumba (contributor to The Atlantic, Dallas Morning News)
Kate Tuttle (contributor to The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, Salon)

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About the Critical Mass Blog

Commentary on literary criticism, publishing, writing, and all things NBCC related. It's written by independent members of the NBCC Board of Directors (see list of bloggers below).



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