April, 2019

The Latest From Our Critics: Ian McEwan, Zelda Fitzgerald and Good News for Bookstores

by Carolyn Kellogg | Apr-22-2019

NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work can be highlighted in this roundup; please send links to new reviews, features and other literary pieces, or tell us about awards, honors or new and forthcoming books, by dropping a line to NBCCcritics@gmail.com. 

Man Booker-prizewinning novelist Ian McEwan may be unaware of decades of science fiction stories, books, television and film, as he told the Guardian that “There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future, not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas of being close up to something that you know to be artificial but which thinks like you." Indeed, he tackles the idea of robots and sentience in his new novel Machines Like Me. NBCC member Julian Lucas reviews it for the New Yorker, noting McEwan's "penchant for moral geometry," while former board member Ron Charles goes to the Borg in his Totally Hip Video Book Review of it at the Washington Post. 

NBCC member Kathleen Rooney reviews Make Me a City, a "whopper of a debut novel" by Jonathan Carr set in nineteenth century Chicago, for the NY Times. 

New homeowner and NBCC member Ryan Chapman writes about two slightly terrifying books about home being breached by strangers: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay (2018) and W. F. Hermans's An Untouched House (originally published in 1952, in a new translation from the Dutch published in 2018). 

Artist Chris Rush recounts a singular, sometimes dangerous youth in his "stunningly beautiful, original memoir" -- The Light Years -- which is "driven by a search for the divine," writes Kate Tuttle, former NBCC president and current board member, at the L.A. Times. 

NBCC board member Madeleine Schwartz revisits Zelda Fitzgerald for the London Review of Books, writing that in considering her sole, uneven novel Save Me the Waltz against husband F. Scott Fitzgerald's counterpart, Tender Is the Night, she found she missed Zelda's "energy and fizz." 

In the May issue of the Atlantic, NBCC board member John McWhorter writes about the joy of (often childish) neologisms and playful evolutions of language (because kids). 

The spring issue of Ploughshares, out now, was guest edited by former NBCC board member Rigoberto González

The Akron Poetry Prize, open now for submissions, is being judged by NBCC board member Victoria Chang

At the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, current NBCC president Laurie Hertzel writes that while three local bookstores have recently closed, another three are opening or coming soon to the Twin Cities. "The three new bookstores will not take their places," she writes, "but are carving out new niches." Including candy! And beer! 

ICYMI: the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas went viral with a Twitter thread about why readers should buy books from their local indie, not massive online retailers. Convinced? Visit an old favorite or new on Independent Bookstore Day, Sat. April 27. 

Photo credit: Ian McEwan speaking in Paris in 2011 by Thesupermat via Wikimedia Commons.

Critical Notes: The Sandrof Award, Susan Choi, Miram Toews, and More

by admin | Apr-15-2019

We Need Your Help Selecting the Next Sandrof Award Honoree

Each year, the NBCC board selects a person or institution to win the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, and we’d love to have your help choosing the next winner.

The Sandrof Award, named after the first president of the NBCC, is given annually to a person or institution — a writer, publisher, critic, or editor, among others — who has, over time, made significant contributions to book culture.

Past winners of the award have included Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, PEN American Center, Studs Terkel and Wendell Berry. The most recent honoree, Arte Público Press, received significant national media attention for their win, including articles in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the San Antonio Express-News, Texas Monthly and NBC. They even received a special citation from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in honor of their victory.

Any institution or living person can be nominated for the award, and a list of previous winners is available on the NBCC website. If you know of a person or group who you think is deserving of the award, please send their name and a 1-3 paragraph nominating statement to Sandrof Award Committee Chair Michael Schaub at mschaubtx@gmail.com. Nominations are open until Dec. 1, 2019. We’d love to hear from you!

And Now for Some Member Reviews…

Heller McAlpin says that your book club’s next selection should be Susan Choi’s buzzy Trust Exercise in a review for NPR. Over at USA Today, NBCC board member Mark Athitakis concurs.

Speaking of Mark, our man in Arizona puts on his Gen-X flannel shirt and Doc Martens and asks where the great millennial novel is in an essay for the Washington Post.

Also at the Post, NBCC board member Charles Finch considers Isabella Hammad’s debut novel, The Parisian.

Post fever: catch it! The paper’s poetry columnist, Elizabeth Lund, writes about new books by Jericho Brown, Yanyi, Emily Skaja, and Naomi Shihab Nye. And John Domini reviewed Now, Now, Louison” a fictional biography of Louise Bourgeois, for the D.C. newspaper.

Newsday books editor and past NBCC president Tom Beer was astonished by Miriam Toews’ Women Talking.

The always busy David Canfield loved Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise and was conflicted about Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and Wanted. He also profiled Normal People author Sally Rooney for Entertainment Weekly.

Zach Graham also weighs in on Lost and Wanted for Epiphany, as does Michael Lindgren at On the Seawall.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Lia Purpura’s All the Fierce Tethers for the Woven Tale Press.

At the National Book Review, Michael Bobelian reviews Robert A. Caro’s Working.

Hamilton Cain took a look at Nathaniel Rich’s Losing Earth for Chapter 16.

Heather Scott Partington has been making the rest of us look like slackers. She reviewed David Means’ Instructions for a Funeral at On the Seawall, Jennifer duBois’ The Spectators at USA Today, Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and Wanted at Newsday, and Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End at the National Book Review. She also interviewed JoAnn Chaney at Charge Magazine.

Also keeping busy this week was Katharine Coldiron, with reviews of Mieke Eerkens’ All Ships Follow Me at NPR (her first for the radio network), Brice Matthieussent’s Revenge of the Translator at the Carolina Quarterly, and Molly Dektar’s The Ash Family at the Arts Fuse. She also wrote a recap of this year’s AWP conference for Book & Film Globe.

Rebecca Foster has reviews of Carrianne Leung’s That Time I Loved You for BookBrowse and Amy Hempel’s Sing to It for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

NBCC board member Ismail Muhammad thinks Bryan Washington’s short story collection Lot is “a debut that announces a writer of uncommon talent and insight.” Read his review at Bookforum.

NBCC board member Michael Schaub reviewed Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans for the Los Angeles Times.

In the mood for a memoir? Jenny Shank has your back. She wrote about five spring memoirs for the Barnes & Noble blog.

Bridget Quinn reviewed Karl Ove Knausgaard’s So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch for Hyperallergic.

Michael Adam Carroll wrote about Hernán Díaz’s In the Distance for Ploughshares and Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

NBCC Emerging Critic J. Howard Rosier reviewed the reissue of Raymond Queneau's The Blue Flowers for Kenyon Review.

Olga Zilberbourg writes about four recent books in translation from Russian in World Literature Today.

Christoph Irmscher just published an essay on Audubon and Haiti in the Public Domain Review.

And Here’s Some Member Interviews and News...

Ryan Chapman interviewed The Old Drift author Namwali Serpell for Bomb.

Celia Bland was interviewed about her new book, Cherokee Road Kill, by David Salvage at the Southern Literary Review.

Harvey Freedenberg interviewed Jennifer L. Eberhardt about her new book, Biased, for BookPage.

Meg Waite Clayton’s forthcoming novel, The Last Train to London, received a prepublication notice in Library Journal. It will be published in 12 countries.

Randall Mann has a new book: The Illusion of Intimacy: On Poetry is being published by Diode Editions.

NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. 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. We do love coffee, but that’s neither here nor there.

Critical Notes: Ingmar Bergman’s Novels; Édouard Louis’ ‘Who Killed My Father’

by David Varno | Apr-07-2019

First, Some News About a New Way to Support the NBCC's Mission:

The National Book Critics Circle is thrilled to announce the creation of a new partnership category: Sustainers.

Founded at the Algonquin Hotel in 1974 to encourage a sense of community among book reviewers and honor each year’s best books, the NBCC has for many years offered membership exclusively to working critics, scholars, and students.

The Sustainer category has been designed to include a wider range of literary citizens in the NBCC’s activities, including editors, writers, publicists, agents, and readers.

 At a tax-deductible annual cost of $250, this new tier serves two purposes:

  • first, to increase the involvement of publishing industry colleagues in the NBCC’s programming and events 
  • second, to offer crucial backing to the NBCC’s unique existing programs, including the John Leonard Prize for best first book, the Ivan Sandrof Prize for lifetime achievement, the Nona Balakian Citation for excellence in reviewing,  NBCC programming at AWP, and the Emerging Critics Fellowship, which seeks to identify and nurture the next generation of critics – along with, of course, our annual reading and awards ceremony

Sustaining patrons do not have members’ voting rights, to avoid potential conflicts of interest, but have access to discounted tickets to NBCC events, including the annual awards after-party, and are honored by name in NBCC materials should they wish to be.
 
Perhaps most importantly, patrons in this new category are supporting the NBCC, a non-profit which has no endowment, no corporate partnerships, and holds just one annual fundraiser. At a difficult moment for books coverage, the NBCC hopes that support offered by members in the Sustainer category will be both an opportunity for a more formal alliance between critics and non-critics within the book world who have long been supportive of the NBCC’s mission, and a vital source of income.
 
We hope you will consider joining us!

On to Member News and Reviews...

NBCC autobiography and Balakian winner Daniel Mendelsohn published an essay on Ingmar Bergman’s novels in the April 18 issue of the New York Review of Books

Heller McAlpin reviewed Claire Harman’s Murder by the Book for The Washington Post. She also reviewed Mary Norris’ Greek to Me and Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and Wanted for NPR.

Former board member and Balakian finalist David Biespiel offered an appreciation of W.S. Merwin at The Rumpus.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed two books published in translation from the French by New Directions for NPR: Édouard Louis' Who Killed My Father and Jean Frémon's Now, Now, Louison, for NPR. Kamil Ahsan also reviewed the Louis for The Masters Review

Speaking of translations, new member Bridget Quinn reviewed Karl Ove Knausgaard’s So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch for Hyperallergic.

Former VP/Online Jane Ciabattari's April BBC Culture column includes new novels from Nell Freudenberger, Ian McEwan, Ann Beattie and T.C. Boyle. Her recent Lit Hub/Book Marks column features an exchange with Christian Kiefer about Mothers Who Are Also Human Beings, which draws comparisons to Yiyun Li and Evan Connell's Mrs. Bridge, and Nathan Englander on Transformations (of worlds, of people).

NBCC Emerging Critic Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers reviewed Rabindranath Maharaj’s Fatboy Fall Down, Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhattan, Rin Chupeco’s YA fantasy, Shadowglass, and debut novelist Mathangi Subramanian’s A People’s History of Heaven, for Foreword Reviews. 

New NBCC member Michelle Ainsworth reviewed Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes by Kevin Young and Hoax: A History of Deception by Ian Tattersall and Peter Nevraumont for Skeptic

Tobias Carroll talked with Namwali Serpell about her new novel The Old Drift at Longreads and chatted with Duncan B. Barlow about his new novel A Dog Between Us for The Brooklyn Rail.

Matthew Jakubowski continues his ongoing series of experimental reviews with a review of Ksenia Buksha’s novel, Freedom Factory, for The Critical Flame.

Joe Peschel reviewed Ian Frisch's Magic is Dead: My Journey into the World's Most Secretive Society of Magicians in The Brooklyn Rail.

Grace Lichtenstein's review of the debut novel by Melissa Rivero, The Affairs of the Falcóns, is in the New York Journal of Books.

Pam Munter's review of Big Fella by Jane Leavy was up last week on Fourth and Sycamore.

Priscilla Gilman reviewed Amy Hempel's Sing To It for the Boston Globe.

Sarah McCraw Crow recently reviewed Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone for BookPage.

Edward Guiliano’s book Lewis Carroll: The Worlds of His Alices has a pub date of April 30.

Emerging Critics Series: Chelsea Leu

by Chelsea Leu | Apr-03-2019

In this 2018–2019 Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics Q and A series, curated by Jonathan Leal, Emerging Critics offer short takes on big questions: What makes good criticism? How might one arrange one’s life to produce it? How do discrete critical interests relate? And if given the chance, what assignments would one pursue immediately? Applications are now open for the third class of NBCC Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics. Deadline April 3, 2019. Details here

What are your current critical interests? How have these developed or evolved over time? Are there particular genres or themes to which you are committed? What sorts of issues or concerns have animated your work? *

Starting out, I used to be interested in whatever people would pay me to opine about. That’s still sort of true—I’ll read pretty much anything. But I have a special fondness for novels and nonfiction, and I especially love writing that teaches me something new or surprising about people or the world we live in. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of seeing both clearly, and I think reading is one of the best tools we have to do that.

What do you think makes good criticism? And relatedly: what makes a good critic?

At minimum, I think, it should put forth an incisive, clear argument about what a book is trying to do and why it matters, and feel like it’s written for the reader instead of the book’s various stakeholders. Really great criticism gives you a sense of the book as it relates to the broader intellectual sphere: to history, say, or to similar ideas that other people have written about. Basically, it provides context. Also, I have a soft spot in my heart for criticism that is actively delighted by what it’s doing, which is essentially dishing about a book. Reading is fun, so reading about reading should be fun too. A good critic is anyone who can produce this sort of criticism—usually I imagine them as someone smarter, more articulate, and more well-read than I am but (and this is important) isn’t intimidating about it.

How, if at all, does criticism inform your creative work?

For me, the two are one and the same. I find the real world much more fascinating and capacious and bewildering than anything I could ever make up, and I was drawn to write criticism in the first place to help me understand and explain it, in some small measure, at least to myself. (That, and free books.) So I’m much happier picking apart works of art and seeing how they work than eking out my own (very bad) fiction/poetry.

Given the many demands on your time, how do you arrange your schedule so you can produce good work?

My schedule is dictated mostly by necessity rather than optimization, which basically means it’s a mishmash of ill-considered schemes I’ve concocted to hit my deadlines. But I do try to get enough sleep.

For you, right now: what would be your dream assignment?

There are lots of places I’d love to see my byline, but my deepest, mildly embarrassing writing desire is to write a reading diary column where I sound off about books I happen to be reading in a casual, personal way, free from the dictates of release dates. (This will likely remain a dream because no one would pay me real money to do this.) But I’ve always been curious/interested in/nosy about people’s reading lives, because books don’t exist in a vacuum—we have relationships with them that aren’t always buttoned-up and strictly analytical. I like writing that reflects that.

Chelsea Leu is a writer and critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, Kirkus, and elsewhere.


Emerging Critics Series: Hope Wabuke

by Hope Wabuke | Apr-01-2019

In this 2018–2019 Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics Q and A series, curated by Jonathan Leal, Emerging Critics offer short takes on big questions: What makes good criticism? How might one arrange one’s life to produce it? How do discrete critical interests relate? And if given the chance, what assignments would one pursue immediately? Applications are now open for the third class of NBCC Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics. Deadline April 3, 2019. Details here

What are your current critical interests? How have these developed or evolved over time? Are there particular genres or themes to which you are committed? What sorts of issues or concerns have animated your work? 

I have always been interested in race, gender, and identity. In representation, and how representation is informed by systems of power and fossilized, often harmful, social attitudes. The representations of women, of blackness in western literature have historically been hugely problematic for the very same reasons that racism and sexism exist in the real world. Indeed, representation of all people of color and other marginalized individuals in western literature has always been problematic. Thus, I am vitally interested in contemporary literature.

The modern moment is the one that conveys the most openness and access to diverse writers. The work writers are doing now is so vital and necessary. I need to write about it and articulate the importance of what is being done now. But over the past few years, I have been moving backwards in time. I am now also asking questions of how we got here, to these problematic representations. A few years ago I wrote about the discovery of a novel published in the early 1800s in England by a black woman who had escaped from American slavery. The novel had gone undiscovered until now. This was the beginning of deepening this question for me.

In my own research and creative work right now, I am looking at the legacy of colonization (1400s-1960s) on the global African diaspora to think about the future of blackness and black literature beyond this legacy of violent exploitation. I am fascinated by looking for blackness across space and time where it is often erased--such as nineteenth century France, eighteenth century England, and sixteenth century Scotland.

What do you think makes good criticism? And relatedly: what makes a good critic? 

A good critic understands literature is the window into our culture. Good criticism begins with the book and specific textual analysis, and moves larger to what the book means: what the book is saying in the cultural moment, what the book says in conversation with other texts. Good criticism looks at the text, what it is trying to do, and how well it succeeds in doing that. Good criticism is aware of the tradition(s) the author is in conversation with.

How, if at all, does criticism inform your creative work? 

Being a critic makes me a better writer. It shows me where books fail, teaching me pitfalls to avoid. It enriches one's understanding of literature, which is always necessary for writing. And it teaches you about the business of writing, which is necessary for anyone who wants to be a working writer.

Given the many demands on your time, how do you arrange your schedule so you can produce good work? 

I value my time, create schedules, and attempt to follow them. I am working on a book of poetry, a book of nonfiction, writing criticism, and I am an assistant professor at a university. I am a parent. So I have five jobs. And about 12 working hours in my day. For anything that I say yes to, I have to make sure it is worth everything else I am saying no to in that time. I'm still learning.

For you, right now: what would be your dream assignment?

A deep dive into the history, legacy, and importance of Afro futurism.

Hope Wabuke is a Ugandan American poet and writer. She is also an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a newly elected board member of the National Book Critics Circle.


Critical Notes: Emerging Critics Deadline, Laila Lalami, Cesar Aira, and More

by Mark Athitakis | Apr-01-2019

Last call! If you're interested in becoming a member of the next class of NBCC Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics, please submit your application by April 3. Learn more

Member Reviews

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviewed Laila Lalami's new novel, The Other Americans, for the Washington Post.

Board member Michael Schaub spoke with the San Antonio Express-News about the most recent recipient of the Sandrof Award, Arte Publico Press.

Kamil Ahsan wrote an essay/retrospective on all of Cesar Aira's translated novellas, including the newest one, Birthday, for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Dan Cryer reviewed Salvatore Scibona’s novel The Volunteer in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lanie Tankard reviewed The Dancing Other by Suzanne Dracius in the spring issue of World Literature Today.

Board member Mark Athitakis reviewed Namwali Serpell’s debut novel, The Old Drift, for the Washington Post.

NBCC Emerging Critic Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers interviewed Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, editors of Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, for Foreword Reviews.

Michael J. McCann reviewed Preet Bharara’s Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law for the New York Journal of Books.

Grace Schulman wrote a reminiscence of W.S. Merwin for the Paris Review Online.

Anne Charles reviewed Esther Newton’s My Butch Career for the Lambda Book Review.

Marnie Mueller reviewed Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want It: Cat Person and Other Stories for Peace Corps World Wide.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Maxim Osipov's collection of short stories, Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Stories, for World Literature Today.

Hamilton Cain reviewed Emily Skaja's Brute, winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, for Chapter16.org. 

Julia M. Klein reviewed Emma Kuby's Political Survivors for the Chicago Tribune and Nathan Englander's kaddish.com for the Forward

Alexander Kafka reviewed Jamie James’ Pagan Light for the Washington Post.

Hélène Cardona interviewed Dorianne Laux in Plume; Cardona’s new translation, Birnam Wood, (Salmon Poetry, 2018) was reviewed by Thomas McCarthy in Poetry International.

 

Member News

Megan Labrise has been promoted from staff writer to editor at large at Kirkus Reviews

Julia M. Klein's profile of Eva Moskowitz, the controversial charter-school founder and advocate, written for The Pennsylvania Gazette, was named "Outstanding Profile" by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. The story began as a pitch to review Moskowitz's memoir, "The Education of Eva Moskowitz" -- and turned into a 5,800-word feature.

Martha Anne Toll published a new short story in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, “The House With the Plexiglas Frame.” 

Grace Schulman has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She will be inducted at a ceremony in New York City on May 22.

Kirkus Reviews reviewed member Joshua Claybourn’s book Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative.

NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. 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.

March, 2019

Emerging Critics Series: J. Howard Rosier

by Kate Belew | Mar-29-2019

In this 2018–2019 Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics Q and A series, curated by Jonathan Leal, Emerging Critics offer short takes on big questions: What makes good criticism? How might one arrange one’s life to produce it? How do discrete critical interests relate? And if given the chance, what assignments would one pursue immediately? Applications are now open for the third class of NBCC Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics. Deadline April 3, 2019. Details here

What are your current critical interests? How have these developed or evolved over time? Are there particular genres or themes to which you are committed? What sorts of issues or concerns have animated your work?

I think the most difficult/exciting part of criticism is being your own ombudsman. Writing what one feels is inevitably tempered by what one feels is a responsible take on the material, and most issues within criticism appear to stem from writers abdicating such a requirement. Personally, my ears perk up at book discussions that heap praise on books for purposes extemporaneous to their mechanics, so I write a lot about the intersection between art and politics—on how politics shades one's perception of art. This hasn't affected how I read so much as expanded the type of books I'll consider.

For example: how does a biography about an artist expand our definition of what artists are capable of outside of purely representational purposes? Is the discourse around a novelist responsible, or tokenizing/slipping into the subtle racism of lowered expectations? Basically, I think it's more important than ever to reevaluate our perception of literature and the arts within the framework of representational justice and the so-called meritocracy. None of these are new problems, of course; Lionel Trilling addressed much of what I'm talking about in "Reality in America," albeit in a different context. But self-investigation is integral as our political climate becomes more contentious and (as Trilling would put it), whether "a 'cherished goal' forbids that we stop to consider how we reach it, or if we may not destroy it in trying to reach it in the wrong way."

What do you think makes good criticism? And relatedly: what makes a good critic?

Long-form pieces have their own logic; it should follow that critics have their own roadmaps for how they approach stories. So I think rigorous, unique readings of a work are pretty high on the list. Also, a curiosity about where a book falls in relation to its contemporaries—the ability to anticipate the implications of a work, either on its field or the aesthetics within its genre.

I have to say, too, that the more I read for the purposes of reviewing, the more I appreciate coming to writers on their own terms and engaging with their "arguments." One of the most dangerous things a critic can do is lionize a book for what one wants it to be, rather than what it actually is. Sometimes succumbing to the reality principle in this way narrows your scope; other times it deflates enthusiasm for work that would've been infinitely consequential if successful. Articulating a lukewarm or mixed response is better than boosterism, though. The number-one objective of good criticism should be to tell the truth (or at the very least one’s personal truth).

How, if at all, does criticism inform your creative work?

I'm not quite sure it does anymore! I cut my teeth on the New Critics, so I used to be very attuned to whether or not literary essays were of use to practitioners. But after a while it sapped my enjoyment. Reading books for an aesthetic purpose—i.e., “This author or this novel will help me with the mechanics of my story or novel”—doesn't make as much practical sense now that I'm out of my MFA program, and freelancing more, on account of my fellowship with the NBCC. So my reading has become very compartmentalized. I've got "Review Reading" over here, and "Pleasure Reading" over here, and hopefully they don't collide and steal enthusiasm from one another.

Given the many demands on your time, how do you arrange your schedule so you can produce good work?

I was fortunate enough to receive two fellowships out the door from my MFA, so the summer/fall was very formative with regards to time I could dedicate to my work. Lots of mid-morning writing starts and reading fever dreams! Now that I'm back working a day job, however, those best-case-scenario days have become fewer and fewer. One of the best things about studying writing in an art school was watching how unconcerned visual artists are with perfection. My standard for writing had been unrealistic; every sentence had to be pristine on the first try, whereas mess to a ceramicist or weaver is part of the process leading to a finished product. Chipping away at a long piece over an extended period of time is essential. When a deadline is approaching, I try to schedule my pages a week or two in advance. Whatever a proper workweek is—let's say five days—I divide the book's page count by that number. Then I take notes on what I'm reading as I go along. About two or three days before the deadline, I start expanding those notes into the actual piece.

For you, right now: what would be your dream assignment?

Too many! I'd love to examine the US's increasing interest in criminal justice reform and how this has affected the literary imagination. It'd be interesting to look at Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and Whitehead's upcoming project, The Nickel Boys, much as it was interesting to look at Beatty’s The Sellout and (Whitehead again) The Underground Railroad in the context of contemporary slave narratives. Some close seconds: an interview with Virgil Abloh about his upcoming MCA show within the context of museums including more contemporary fashion designers; and a profile of the Library of America about their selection process. It's an ongoing literary project that meant a lot to me in my autodidact phase between j-school and graduate studies. Those stark black book jackets look so intimidating on my shelf; I've always wondered about the people behind the series.

J. Howard Rosier's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Criterion, Kenyon Review, Bookforum, and The Believer. He holds a BA in journalism from Columbia College, and an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received the James Nelson Raymond Fellowship for his thesis work, a novel about the death of three swimmers told from the perspective of their community: black residents of the city's south suburbs. Rosier lives in Chicago, where he edits the journal Critics' Union.

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