May, 2019

Critical Notes: David Sedaris, Julie Orringer, and Two Upcoming NBCC Events!

by Mark Athitakis | May-13-2019

A Quick Reminder About Sustainers

If you or someone you know wants to support the NBCC’s efforts but isn't a member, we’ve recently launched the Sustainer category. Sustainers are nonmembers who support the next generation of literary writers through our Emerging Critics program and keep our awards, events, and this website humming. More information about becoming a Sustainer is at our membership page.

On to the Links...

So, how’s the book review going? We don’t mean the one you’re working on---we’re sure that one is going just great. We mean the book review as a general endeavor. In response to a recent Harper’s cover story on the alleged death of the book review, Lit Hub invited 14 book critics to weigh in. Among the respondents are NBCC President Laurie Hertzel, VP of Communications Kerri Arsenault, and Emerging Critic Leena Soman.

Speaking of LitHub, we neglected to include a link to board member Lori Feathers’ review of Ali Smith’s Spring---an essay that launches her new column for the site, “In Context.” Ellen Akins also reviewed Spring for the Washington Post.

“When Notre Dame burned, I felt nothing. There’s no shortage of 12th century churches around Europe.” At the Tampa Bay Times, Collette Bancroft interviewed David Sedaris about his latest book, Calypso.

Ru Freeman reviewed Laila Lalami’s novel The Other Americans for the Boston Globe.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Ian McEwan’s speculative tale of sex and robots, Machines Like Me, for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Alexander Kafka reviewed Lynne Olson's Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler. “Olson’s research is comprehensive, her writing crackling, and her story astonishing,” he writes. Kafka also reviewed Bee Wilson’s The Way We Eat Now for the Washington Post.

Tara Cheesman reviewed Virginie Despentes’ novel Pretty Things for Barrelhouse.

Former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari's May BBC Culture column includes new novels from Julie Orringer, Sarah Blake, an exhilarating debut memoir about a horse race across Mongolia. and a new story collection from Karen Russell, who " spins intricate sentences and pulls off head-spinning shifts, pushing language to its limits." Her recent Lit Hub/Book Marks columns feature exchanges with Leah Hager Cohen about novels with sprawling families and with Binnie Kirshenbaum about unforgettable novels about mental distress, including Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier, which explores post-World War I PTSD.

At the New York Journal of Books, Karl Wolff reviews Deborah Sengl’s visual adaptation of Karl Kraus’ play The Last Days of Mankind.

Balakian finalist Julia M. Klein reviewed two books on Emmett Till, Dave Tell’s Remembering Emmett Till and Elliott J. Gorn’s Let the People See, for the Chicago Tribune. She also interviewed Emily Jungmin Yoon about her poetry collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species, for the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Eric Nguyen reviewed Richard Chiem's novel of “troubled, lonely humanity in the internet age,” King of Joy, for LARB’s diaCRITICS channel.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed Oscar Cásares’ novel Where We Come From for Lone Star Literary Life.

Wayne Catan reviewed three new books about Ernest Hemingway in the Idaho Statesman.

Speaking of Papa: The busy Steve Paul reviewed Andrew Feldman’s Ernesto: The Untold Story of Hemingway in Revolutionary Cuba for Booklist. Paul also interviewed Tommy Orange (There There), winner of the NBCC's John Leonard Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Award, for a forthcoming issue of the Ernest Hemingway Society newsletter. And he writes about his current book project, a projected biography of Evan S. Connell, in a "Work in Progress" essay for New Letters magazine.

Paul Wilner reviewed Christian Kiefer’s novel Phantoms for Alta, calling Kiefer “an important literary voice coming into his own,” and reviewed Joshua Furst’s novel Revolutionaries, about the 60s US counterculture, for the website Splice Today.

Back in the present and one continent over, Brian Haman reviewed Charmaine Leung’s memoir of her roots in Singapore, 17A Keong Saik Road, for Singapore Unbound. He also reviewed Jun Yang’s exhibition The Artist, the Work and the Exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz for ArtAsiaPacific, and reviewed Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, for the New York Times.

And speaking of international literature, Tobias Carroll contributed a few recommendations to Vulture’s list of 15 must-read translated books from the past five years. He also reviewed Paul Kerschen’s novel The Warm South for

Laverne Frith reviewed Ann Townsend’s “deeply engrossing” poetry collection Dear Delinquent at the New York Journal of Books.

The National Book Review ran a humorous piece by Rayyan Al-Shawaf about his novel's bumpy path to publication.

John Glassie reviewed Casey Cep's Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee for the Washington Post, calling it a “rich, ambitious, beautifully written book.” In the Star Tribune, Claude Peck concurs, calling it “carefully researched and lyrically composed.”

Lastly, at On the Seawall, this week’s Critical Notes correspondent, board member Mark Athitakis, reviewed NBCC finalist Lia Purpura’s All the Fierce Tethers, a collection of essays that “circle around themes of death, fear, and loss, and how we use words to elide or erase our anxiety and mortality.”

NBCC Events

Please mark your calendars: On May 30 at Book Expo America at New York’s Javits Center, NBCC VP of events Carlin Romano will moderate “If Everyone’s a Critic, Is Anyone a Critic?” with the Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada, NBCC Emerging Critic Jennie Hann, and Alfred A. Knopf publicity director Nicholas Latimer. Don’t have a BEA pass? All NBCC members who would like to attend NBCC’s BEA panel on May 30th  can receive a free credential to attend BEA that day. Please RSVP by May 23rd to Carlin Romano, VP for Events, at

And on June 8 at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, Lozada will appear in conversation with two NBCC and Pulitzer Prize board members who awarded him this year’s Pulitzer in criticism, Walton Muyumba and past President Elizabeth Taylor. They will discuss book criticism in the age of Goodreads and Amazon, and why it matters.

Member News

Grace Talusan’s debut memoir, The Body Papers, is out now and has been well-received by the New York Times, Nylon, Booklist, and Arkansas International.

Helene Cardona’s Birnam Wood, a translation of poetry by her father, Jose Manuel Cardona, was recently reviewed at Readers’ Favorite; two poems from the book are published and recorded at

NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work may 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

Photo of David Sedaris by WBUR, used via Creative Commons license.

Revolution, Ali Smith and Reviews and Conversations From the NBCC

by Carolyn Kellogg | May-06-2019

Why do we delight in fictions created from the French Revolution? Tobias Carroll explores the frisson of fervor or schadenfreude (is there a French word for that?), paying particular attention to Edward Carey's novel Little, at Lithub. Also at Lithub: Fran Bigman talks to poet Deborah Landau about her new collection, Soft Targets, and in her column In Context NBCC board member Lori Feathers writes about Ali Smith and her latest novel, Spring.

Meanwhile, Spring is reviewed at NPR by Heller McAlpin, who reviews Anna Quindlen's Nanaville and Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me for them as well. She's often one of the busiest reviewers in the NBCC.

But this week even Heller can't compete with NBCC board president Laurie Hertzel, who in addition to all she does for us and running the books pages for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, reviewed John Connell's memoir The Farmer's Son; interviewed a high school poetry champion; wrote her weekly column about lending and borrowing books; and previewed Word Play, the new literary festival which will debut in Minneapolis next weekend.

Geez, all I'm doing is writing this before watching Game of Thrones.

Former NBCC board president Tom Beer reviews Sally Rooney's buzzy new novel Normal People alongside her debut, Conversations with Friends, at Newsday, where he's Books editor.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviews What My Mother and I Don't Talk About, a new and sometimes difficult essay collection edited by former NBCC board member Michele Filgate, at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where Claude Peck reviews screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's memoir Mama's Boy and current NBCC board member David Varno reviews Another Kind of Madness, the debut novel by Ed Pavlić.

Tess Taylor, also on the NBCC board, writes about four poetry collections at the NY Times: Doomstead Days by Brian Teare; Sight Lines by Arthur Sze; Brute by Emily Skaja; and Hold Sway by Sally Ball. Also a the NY Times, Brian Blanchfield reviews artist Chris Rush's Light Years, noting that the memoir "is less a queering of the wilderness than a wilding of queerness."

For the Wall Street Journal, Gregory Crouch reviewed The Impossible Climb by Mark Synnott. Hamilton Cain talked to David Brooks about his memoir The Second Mountain for Oprah Magazine. At The Rumpus, Martha Anne Toll talked to Kendra Allen about her essay collection When You Learn the Alphabet; Toll also reviewed Anna Merlan's book Republic of Lies for NPR.

In April, Robert BIrnbaum wrote about the baseball books of 2019 for the Washington Post. Also at the Washington Post, Daniel Asa Rose talks to former talk show host Craig Ferguson about his new memoir, Riding the Elephant

Local outlets are also covering books: At the Working Waterfront in Maine, Dana Wilde writes about author Agnes Bushell; Harvey Freedenberg writes about debut novelist Joel Burcat for The Burg, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Hélène Cardona reviews the poetry collection Howling Enigma by Rustin Larson for North of Oxford, a Philadelphia-based literary journal; and Paul Wilner writes about two biographies of journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht for the Jewish News of Northern California.

Wilner also reviewed A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie for ZYZZYVA. Wayne Catan talked to Chang-Rae Lee for The Hemingway Review blog. Julia M. Klein reviewed Defying Hitler by Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis for The Forward and talked to Nicholas A. Cristakis about his book Blueprint for the alumni magazine Pennsylvania Gazette. NBCC board member David Varno wrote about Enrique Vila-Matas' Mac's Problem, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes, for On the Seawall. 

Lisa Peet wrote an essay about literary discovery for Bloom. Theodore Kinni reviewed Steven Rogelberg's The Surprising Science of Meetings for Strategy + Business. Patti Jazanosik reviewed the graphic adaptation of Anne Frank's diary by Ari Folman and David Polosnky for Consequence Magazine. Ellen Prentiss Campbell reviews debut novelist David Hallock Sanders' Busara Road at the Fiction Writers Review. At the New York Journal of Books, Michael J. McCann reviews Gray Day by Eric O'Neil and Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton.

Congratulations to Joan Frank, who will be heading to a residency at the Vermont Studio Center this summer, and to Rayyan Al-Shawaf, whose debut novel When All Else Fails is excerpted at Truthdig

And back to Tobias Carroll, who started us off; he also reviewed Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me and The Amateurs by Lisa Harman for 

NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work may 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 

Image: The Toilette of Venus, 1751, by François Boucher, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

April, 2019

Sally Rooney is everywhere and other news from the NBCC

by Laurie Hertzel | Apr-29-2019

Sally Rooney. Photo by Jonny L. Davies

Sally Rooney. Photo by Jonny L. Davies.


For the Washington Post, Lauren Sarazen reviewed the book that everyone on both sides of the Atlantic is raving about, Normal People, by Sally Rooney. ("Believe the hype," she says.) Ellen Prentiss Campbell  reviews Normal People, for Washington Independent Review of Books; Heller McAlpin reviews Normal People (and Southern Lady Code) for NPR; Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Normal People (and Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered) for the National Book Review; and NBCC board member Madeleine Schwartz reviewed Normal People for New York Review Books. I'm guessing there will be more Rooney reviews next week. Meanwhile ...

NBCC board member Mary Ann Gwinn interviewed Ian McEwan for the Seattle Times about his new novel, Machines Like Us. ("Future androids," he ruminates, "might develop minds of their own that will be profoundly alien to ours.")

NBCC president Laurie Hertzel reviewed Tucker Lake Chronicle by Joan Crosby for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a memoir about a couple who followed their dream and moved to the remote north woods for a year, to a cabin with no heat and no plumbing. (And who doesn't have dreams like that?) 

NBCC emerging critic Natalia Holtzman reviewed Belle Boggs's first novel, The Gulf, for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari talks with Rachel Howard about five biographies of writers, with Rachel Cline about books in which the past is a foreign country, and with Jennifer Acker about five novels of interracial love, for her weekly Lit Hub/Book Marks column. 

Bridey Heing interviewed Kristin Hoganson for Longreads about her new book on the Midwest, The Heartland: An American History. (The Midwest, Hoganson argues, has long been misunderstood as far more provincial and isolated than it actually is,)

Claude Peck reviewed Oliver Sacks' Everything In Its Place for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Patricia Schultheis reviewed The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo for the Washington independent Review of Books.

Kathleen Stone's review of Mother is a Verb by Sarah Knott was published in Ploughshares.

Anita Felicelli reviewed Sarah Blake's Naamah in the SF Chronicle.

Page Starzinger reviewed the poetry collection The Thin Wall by Martha Rhodes for the Kenyon Review.

Bridget Quinn reviewed Jean Frémon's novel of artist Louise Bourgeois, Now, Now Louison for Hyperallergic.

Meg Waite Clayton’s monthly Listening In for the San Francisco Chronicle reviews the audiobooks of Lolly Winston's "Me for You," Olivier Bordeaut's debut novel, "Waiting for Bojangles," and Lynne Olson's "Madame Fourcade's Secret War."

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's House of Stone for Lone Star Literary Life.

Pam Munter reviewed Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies, by Ann Hulbert, for Fourth and Sycamore.

Hamilton Cain profiled writer Susan Choi for LitHub.He also reviewed Spring by Ali Smith for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis for Chapter 16.

Mennonite mothers and daughters speak up after years of secret abuse in Miriam Toews’ novel, Women Talking, reviewed by K L. Romo at Washington Independent Review of Books, as well as reviewing "Strong as Steel" by Jon Land and talking to the author in the column there,  "That's What She Said." 

Tobias Carroll's latest Watchlist column for Words Without Borders is up. And he interviewed Maryse Meijer for Vol.1 Brooklyn.

Kevin O'Rourke reviewed Édouard Louis's Who Killed My Father in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Michele Ross recently reviewed Melissa Scrivner Love's American Heroin, John McMahon's The Good Detective, Lucy Foley's The Hunting Party and Charles Finch's The Vanishing Man for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Sadly, the newspaper did not post these reviews online.

What is the artist's place in society? Karl Wolff reviews Global Art and the Cold War by John J. Curley for the New York Review of Books.

Diane Scharper reviewed The Friend by Sigrid Nunez for America Magazine Spring 2019 Books Issue.


NBCC VP/Communications and Criticism Chair Kerri Arsenault has been selected for a Fall 2019 two-month writers residency at 100 West Corsicana, an organization that grants artists and writers residencies to work on ambitious projects in a historic, repurposed, three-story Odd Fellows Lodge in downtown Corsicana, Texas.

Nandita Godbole was interviewed by BBC Futures for her biographical fiction Ten Thousand Tongues: secrets of a layered kitchen.

The Restless Ilan Stavans: Outsider on the Inside, by Steven G. Kellman, a former board member and Balakian recipient, will be published this month by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Longtime book critic Julie Wittes Schlack will soon be facing the terrifying prospect of being on the receiving end of a review. Her new book, This All-at-Onceness, will be published May 30 from Regal House Publishing. A cultural memoir in the form of linked essays, her book, she says, is an "insider’s odyssey through counter-culturalism, consumerism, and the social surveillance state."

Jacob M. Appel's ninth short story collection, Amazing Things Are Happening Here, was published by Black Lawrence Press on April 15.

Dana Wilde co-edited, with Bruce Holsapple, Quarry: The Collected Poems of Peter Kilgore, newly available from North Country Press.

And longtime critic Victoria Amador published a biography -- Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant -- with the University Press of Kentucky on April 22.

Linda Simon's book, Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper, is newly out in paperback.

Meanwhile, Anita Felicelli's short story, "The Encroachment of Waking Life," has just published been at Catapult.

What have you done lately? Brag here. Please send info on reviews, profiles, books, short stories and other publishing good stuff to

Laurie Hertzel, senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is the president of the NBCC board.

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 

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 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 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.

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