July, 2015

Critical Notes: Go Set a Watchman, E.L. Doctorow, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and more

by Michele Filgate | Jul-27-2015

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

E.L. Doctorow, winner of three National Book Critics Circle awards, passed away at the age of 84. David Ulin pays tribute to the writer in the Los Angeles Times. "This quality of looking beyond himself, of seeking stories that were broader than personal testimony, was what set Doctorow apart. Each book was a different experience, with its own set of challenges and expectations." And in the San Francisco Chronicle, Elizabeth Rosner writes: "Although I never studied with him in the classroom, I learned from his books that the words and images and characters I choose as a novelist reveal as much about myself as they do about the world I’m mapping. Doctorow covered vast landscapes of time and place with insight and irreverence, depicting tragedy, greed, poverty, crime, beauty — and all of it, yes, a personal collage of history."

NBCC President Tom Beer reviews Go Set a Watchman for Newsday: "It's the darker, more ill-formed and less compelling book that Harper Lee had to write first before she could produce -- with, by all accounts, an editor's guiding hand -- her masterpiece." For The Quivering Pen, David Abrams wonders "What if Go Set a Watchman was Harper Lee's First and Only Book?" Donna Seaman reviews the novel for Booklist: "Though Lee’s prose is frequently stilted in Go Set a Watchman, her transitions awkward, her descents into exposition bumpy, this is a daring, raw, intimate, and incendiary social exposé." Maureen Corrigan writes for NPR that it "is a troubling confusion of a novel, politically and artistically, beginning with its fishy origin story." David Ulin writes for the Los Angeles Times: "...although Go Set a Watchman comes marketed as an autonomous novel, it is most interesting as a literary artifact." Heller McAlpin writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that the book's "greatest asset may be its role in sparking frank discussion about America’s woeful track record when it comes to racial equality."

For her new weekly Lit Hub "review of the reviews," NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari traces "the evolution of critical consensus re the new Harper Lee novel in slow motion" and follows up with Ten Books Making News This Week: Go Tell a Watchman vs. Between the World and Me. And for her BBC.com Between the Lines column, 10 books to read in July.

Two other reviews by Heller McAlpin: Patricia Marx's Let's Be Less Stupid for NPR, and Nuala O'Connor's Miss Emily for the Washington Post.

NBCC board member Walton Muyumba reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me for Newsday: "Rife with love, sadness, anger and struggle, Between the World and Me charts a path through the American gauntlet for both the black child who will inevitably walk the world alone and for the black parent who must let that child walk away."

NBCC board member/VP of Awards Michele Filgate interviewed Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Small Backs of Children, for Lit Hub.

Rigoberto Gonzalez writes about three poets and their fourth books for the Los Angeles Review of Books: Quan Barry, Kyle Dargan, and Ada Limon. And for NBC Latino, he writes about "9 Great New Books by Latino Authors."

For Publishers Weekly, Grace Bello wrote about cartoonist Jessica Abel and her new book about radio and podcast storytelling, Out on the Wire.

For Newsday, Marion Winik reviews William Finnegan's Barbarian Days.

Harvey Freedenberg reviews Jenny Offill's novel, Dept. of Speculation and Michael Bamberger's biography of eighteen golf legends, Men in Green, for Harrisburg Magazine.

Piali Roy reviews Aatish Taseer's The Way Things Were for the Toronto Star.

Joseph Peschel reviews Elijah Wald's Dylan Goes Electric for the Boston Globe.

Julia M. Klein reviews Lisa Moses Leff's The Archive Thief for The Jewish Daily Forward.

Gregory Wilkin reviews Tracy K. Smith's Ordinary Light for the New York Journal of Books. David Cooper reviews Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers for the same publication.

Clifford Garstang reviews David Payne's Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story and Curtis Smith's essay collection, Communion, for Prime Number Magazine.

Michael Magras reviews Mia Couto's Confession of the Lioness for Bookreporter.

Joan Silverman reviews Maxine Kumin's memoir, The Pawnbroker's Daughter, for the Portland Press Herald. Laverne Frith reviews the same book for New York Journal of Books.



Roundup: Rachel Cusk, Jon Krakauer, Lidia Yuknavitch, and more

by Mark Athitakis | Jul-13-2015

Check out photos from the NBCC/Zyzzyva event celebrating Bay Area literary institutions and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Balakian Citation recipient Alexandra Schwartz reviews Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline for the Nation.

Anne Payne reviews Martin Edwards’ study of British crime writers, The Golden Age of Murder, for the Florida Times-Union.

Barbara Spindel reviews A. Brad Schwartz’s Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News for the Daily Beast and Rosemarie Ostler’s Founding Grammars: How Early America’s War Over Words Shaped Today’s Language for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Bill Williams reviews Jon Krakauer’s Missoula for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper.

Elizabeth Rosner reviews Janis Cooke Newman’s novel A Master Plan for Rescue for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Fred Volkmer reviews Elena Gorokhova’s memoir Russian Tattoo for the East Hampton Press.

Gerald Bartell reviews S.K. Tremayne’s thriller The Ice Twins for the Washington Post and interviews Fast Shuffle novelist David Black for Kirkus Reviews.

Gina Webb reviews Ann Pancake’s story collection Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley and Cynthia Barnett’s Rain: A Natural and Cultural History for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Grace Bello profiles YA graphic novelist Becky Cloonan for Publishers Weekly.

Heller McAlpin reviews Jonathan Kozol’s memoir The Theft of Memory for the Washington Post.

Jim Carmin reviews Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel The Small Backs of Children for the Oregonian.

Julia M. Klein reviews David K. Shipler’s Freedom of Speech for the Columbia Journalism Review and Robin Kirman’s novel Bradstreet Gate for the Boston Globe.

Karl Wolff reviews Nikolas Schreck’s The Manson File for the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

Balakian Citation recipient and NBCC board member Katherine A. Powers rounds up five new audiobooks for the Washington Post; reviews Amanda Coe’s novel The Love She Left Behind, two summer reads, and a pair of baseball books for the Barnes & Noble Review; and reviews Ernst Lothar’s The Vienna Melody for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Lori Feathers reviews Octave Mirbeau’s novel Twenty-One Days of a Neurastenic for Three Percent.

NBCC board member Mark Athitakis explores Willa Cather’s trip to Arizona that inspired her novel The Song of the Lark in Humanities.

NBCC board member Mary Ann Gwinn interviews The Cartel author Don Winslow for the Seattle Times.

Megan Labrise interviews The Star Side of Bird Hill novelist Naomi Jackson and Viral short story writer Emily Mitchell for Kirkus Reviews.

Michael Lindgren reviews story collections by Thomas McGuane, Alberto Urrea, and Graham Swift for the Washington Post.

Michael Upchurch reviews Mark Haskell Smith’s Naked at Lunch for the Oregonian, as well as Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron and Charles Kaiser’s The Cost of Courage for the Seattle Times.

Michael Magras reviews Louisa Hall’s novel Speak for BookPage.

Philip Graham writes about emotional wounds and how they’re revealed in the works of James Baldwin, John Gardner, and Rabih Alameddine in the Millions.

Piali Roy reviews Nadia Hashimi’s When the Moon Is Low for the Toronto Star.

Steven G. Kellman reviews Milan Kundera’s novel The Festival of Insignificance for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Your reviews and recommendations help seed these roundups: If you’re an NBCC member with a review you’d like considered for inclusion, please email nbcccritics@gmail.com


NBCC/Zyzzyva Partygoers Celebrate Bay Area Literary Institutions

by Admin | Jul-09-2015

On the eve of the American Library Association convention in San Francisco, the National Book Critics Circle and Zyzzyva Magazine threw a party to celebrate a raft of bookish anniversaries and a growing contingent of Bay Area writers. The crowd in the Zyzzyva offices in the historic Mechanics Library building on Post Street, one of San Francisco's literary hubs, toasted and talked until long after dark on a long summer day. It was the fifth annual collaboration between the NBCC and Zyzzyva, with co-hosts: Zyzzyva editor Laura Cogan, Zyzzyva managing editor Oscar Villalon, a former NBCC board member, and Jane Ciabattari, NBCC VP/Online, who led the toasting.

Click to view slideshow.

Toasting began with salutes to the Bay Area authors in attendance who had been honored by the National Book Critics Circle over the 40 years of our awards: Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, nonfiction award, 1976; China Men was a 1980 finalist), Terry Castle (The Professor and Other Writings, criticism finalist, 2010), Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son, fiction finalist, 2012), whose new story collection, Fortune Smiles, is due out in August, D.A. Powell (Useless Landscape; or, A Guide for Boys, poetry award, 2012), and Jason Roberts (A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, biography finalist 2006). (See a special salute to Maxine Hong Kingston from Bay Area Asian American women writers Frances Hwang, Yang Huang, Vanessa Hua, Aimee Phan, Bich Minh Nguyen, Kirstin Chen, and Reese Kwon here.)

Toastmaster Ciabattari called out treasured Bay Area literary institutions in order of longevity:

City Lights Publishers was founded by NBCC Sandrof award winner Lawrence Ferlinghetti 60 years ago and remains a Bay Area gem. Publisher Elaine Katzenberger was on hand for the toasts, as were Stacey Lewis, Paul Yamazaki and Peter Maravalis. In celebration of their 60th, City Lights is publishing a commemorative, restored edition of Pictures of the Gone World, the first City Lights book and Ferlinghetti's first book of poetry; the City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology, 60th Anniversary Edition, edited by Ferlinghetti and a book of selected correspondence between Allen Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career. This fall Norton/Liveright will published Ferlighetti's Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals 1950-2013. 

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, founded 45 years ago by Blair Fuller and Oakley Hall, is still going strong, building community and nurturing writers. Oakley's daughter, author/playwright/musician Sands Hall, who grew up at Squaw Valley and is a popular workshop leader there, represented the community at the celebration. The packed crowd cheered on the concurrent poetry reading at Squaw, featuring Sharon Olds, Forrest Gander, Brenda Hillman, Robert Hass, J. Michael Martinez and Evie Shockley.

The Bay Area outpost of Graywolf Press (40 years), named Small Press Publisher at the year by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs this spring, was toasted, with salutes to editorial director Ethan Nosowsky, and Graywolf authors D.A. Powell, Lewis Buzbee and Susan Steinberg.

Cheers also to The Threepenny Review, founded 35 years ago by Wendy Lesser. Threepenny seemed destined to become a literary force when Susan Sontag showed up at an early party. Lesser has maintained the publication while writing ten books, most recently last year's Why I Read. She also found time to serve as an NBCC board member.

Zyzzyva, which has been immersed in a year-long bicoastal celebration of its 30th anniversary. Zyzzyva's Fall issue will feature the art of Jay DeFeo (best known for her mammoth painting "The Rose"), and an essay about a series of art work she did on bones, plus new fiction from NBCC John Leonard award winner Anthony Marra, former NBCC board member David L. Ulin, Patricia Engel, Glen David Gold (who was at the party, as was new contributor Austin Smith) and April Ayers Lawson. Cheers went out to Zyzzyva and co-hosts Cogan and Villalon.

The San Francisco Writers Grotto was a legend not long after its founding 20 years ago by Po Bronson, Ethan Canin and Ethan Watters. Today it's a thriving hive of activity, with 100+ members churning out a steady stream of books, articles, feature films, television series, short stories, poems and essays. In January Noah Hawley won a Golden Globe for Fargo. In February, Shanthi Sekaran sold her book, Lucky Boy, to Putnam/Penguin, Natalie Baszile's novel Queen Sugar was picked up by Oprah's OWN network to be turned into an original drama series, and ABC purchased Rodes Fishburne's 'Boom,' about the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. Two members (Joshua Mohr and Janis Cooke Newman) are publishing new novels July 14.

The Grotto contingent at the party included Angie Chau, Lindsey Crittendon,Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Laurie Ann Doyle, David Ewing Duncan, Anisse Gross, Meron Hadero, http://www.sinandsyntax.com">Constance Hale, Yalitza Ferreras,  Vanessa Hua, Lee Daniel Kravetz, Stephanie Losee, who just took a job as POLITICO head of brand content;  Susanne Pari, Sophia Raday, Jason Roberts (NBCC award finalist in biography),  Julia Scott and Shanthi Sekaran.

If anyone has proven the Bay Area is a hotbed of readers and writers, it's Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware, whose nine-day literary spectacular Litquake is now 15 years old. Come October they'll be launching season 16, with book-loving masses gathering throughout the Bay Area, concluding in the ever expanding Litcrawl.

The Bay Area continues to be a fertile ground for start-ups. Three outstanding newcomers were toasted at the party.

Lit Camp, launched out of the Grotto by Janis Cooke Newman as a juried writers' conference at Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, just concluded its third year with forty students selected from some 200 applicants. Year four is in the works. (Newman was in the house, with board members Matthew James DeCoster and Lee Daniel Kravetz.)

The final toasts were to the newcomers launched this year. The Bay Area Book Festival drew 50,000 to the streets of Berkeley for a book-centric weekend under the exuberant leadership of Cherilynn Parsons, who was still beaming from the success, as were  Oakland Book Festival founders (and Laphams Quarterly staffers) Timony and Kira Don. Their carefully curated festival centered around Oakland City Hall, with every event SRO including the keynote by Lewis Lapham, who reminisced about his days as a cub reporter at the San Francisco Examiner, covering the Oakland police.

Also in the crowd:

SF Chronicle book editor John McMurtrie and colleague Mike Berry; Brian Hurley, book editor of The Rumpus, with his wife Michelle Lipinski, acquisitions editor at Stanford University Press, and Emily-Jane Cohen, senior editor at Stanford University Press, who says they will soon be publishing fiction. A contingent from the thriving Bay Area-based Counterpoint Press, including publisher Rolph Blythe, Sharon Wu, Corinne Kalasky, Joe Goodale, Deborah Kenmore and Claire Shalinsky. Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNoWriMo, editor of 100WordStory and author of the new flash collection Fissures.

Lauren Cerand, who did stellar pro bono work for the NBCC, in town from NYC for the ALA. (Other special guests in town for the ALA included librarians Edward Elsner from the North Country Library System in New York state and Deirdre Cerkanowicz from the Berkeley Public Library, and staffers from Library Journal.)

Grateful Dead biographer Dennis McNally, who noted that this Thursday night was also on the eve of the Dead's farewell performances in the Bay Area before their last concern in Chicago. McNally had just announced a new Jerry Garcia project, due in November from Hachette.

Also spotted: Ralph Lewin, executive director of the Mechanics' Library, Bridget Kinsella, Regan McMahon, Paul Wilner, novelists Elizabeth Rosner (her Electric City is due out in paperback in early fall), Meg Waite Clayton, whose The Race for Paris is out this summer, Naomi Williams, whose first novel, Landfalls, is coming from FSG in August, Karen Bjorneby and Elizabeth Scarboro.

And yes, there were toasts and thanks to to Wine and Spirits Magazine and senior editor Luke Sykora for providing the wine.



NBCC/Zyzzyva Partygoers Salute Maxine Hong Kingston

by admin | Jul-09-2015

"You changed our lives!" A group of Bay Area Asian American women writers gave a spontaneous salute to NBCC nonfiction awardee Maxine Hong Kingston (Woman Warrior, 1976), an honored guest at the NBCC/Zyzzyva Party on June 25, the night before the opening of the American Library Association Conference in San Francisco. From left, Frances Hwang, Yang Huang, Maxine Hong Kingston, Vanessa Hua, Aimee Phan, Bich Minh Nguyen, Kirstin Chen, Reese Kwon. [Photo: John McMurtrie]



June, 2015

Critical Notes: Jonathan Galassi, Kate Walbert, Etgar Keret, and more

by Carmela Ciuraru | Jun-29-2015

Bharti Kirchner reviews "Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition," by Nisid Hajari, for the Seattle Times.

Denise Low reviews Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon) and Amy Gersler’s Scattered at Sea (Penguin) for the Kansas City Star.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews "Muse," by Jonathan Galassi, for the Miami Herald.

Ellen Akins reviews Julie Iromuanya's debut novel, "Mr. and Mrs. Doctor," for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.


Parul Kapur Hinzen reviews Padma Viswanathan's new novel, "The Ever After of Ashwin Rao," for The Rumpus.

Michael Magras reviews "Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France," by Max Leonard, for the Star Tribune.


Marion Winik on Dean Bakopoulos and Christian Grey for Newsday.

Paul Wilner on "The Cartel," by Don Winslow, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

NBCC Board member Carmela Ciuraru's June "Newly Released" column for the New York Times.

Joe Peschel reviews Kate Walbert's "The Sunken Cathedral," for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Julia M. Klein reviews Etgar Keret's "The Seven Good Years" for the Chicago Tribune.


Critical Notes: W. B. Yeats, Kate Walbert, Heidi Julavits & More

by Elizabeth Taylor | Jun-22-2015

Yeats turns 150 and BBC.com asks: “The 20th Century’s Greatest Poet?” To consider that question, past NBCC President and current VP Jane Ciabattari talks with Harvard's poet/critic Stephen Burt, Stanford's Dublin born poet Eavan Boland, NBCC award honored poet/memoirist Honor Moore, poets Tess Gallagher, James Longenbach, Tom Sleigh.

For the “Florida Times-Union,” NBCC Member Anne Payne reviews Rebecca Scherm's novel Unbecoming and she writes:

“The sleekly written Unbecoming opens with Grace from Tennessee keeping a low but not abject profile in Paris. She is known to the shady employer who pays her under the table for antique restoration work as Julie from California. Grace is a good-looking woman in her early 20s with clever hands, an artistic eye and no working papers.”

For the Women’s World Cub of Literature, NBCC member Lori Feathers judges the match-up between Cameroon’s Dark Heart of the Night by Léonora Miano and Switzerland’s With the Animals by Noëlle Revaz. She writes: 

“While in many respects these two novels are as different as the two countries from which they come, reading them in close succession reveals a common theme—what happens when an insular, primitive people are confronted with progressive thoughts and ideas from the outside.”She admired both books, but the game must go on. Final call: “With a tied score of 1-1, Cameroon’s Dark Heart of the Night squeaks -by to defeat Switzerland’s With the Animals by a penalty kick?”

For "Bookslut's" Daphne Awards, Lori Feathers also considered Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.

NBCC member and reviewer Michelle Newby has recently written three reviews with “Lone Star Literary.” About Nobody’s Cuter Than You by Melanie Shankle she writes:  “If you’re looking for an original read that challenges you or prose that sparks your imagination then look elsewhere. If you’re looking for comfort in something light and sweet then Nobody’s Cuter might be for you.” She also reviews The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimage by Kimberly Meyer and finally The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen 

For BUR’s arts and culture site, TheArtery, NBCC member Carol Iaciofano writes an essay about two classic children's books (The Little Engine that Could and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel) and how they relate to today's job market. The headline: "Little Engines to Big Steam Shovels: Thinking Creatively in a Changing World.”

For the Clarion Ledger, NBCC member Jim Ewing reviews Into the Savage Country by Shannon Burke and The World's Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key about which he writes: “First, we probably need to keep this book a secret just between us Southerners.”

For Biographile, NBCC member David Burr Gerrard reviews Etgar Keret's new memoir The Seven Good Years and writes “It would not exactly be accurate to say that Keret mixes the personal and political, since they have already been mixed for him.”

For “The Oregonian,” NBCC member Alexis Burling reviews Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event and writes:

“For anyone who has lived through a national tragedy — Hurricane Katrina, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — there's a "secret club" no one willingly wants to be a part of: that of the survivors.”

NBCC member Laurie Hertzel writes an essay titled “Taking the guilt out of the guilty pleasures in reading” for the “Star-Tribune”. 

For the “Seattle Times,” NBCC Board member Mary Ann Gwinn interviews David McCullough about The Wright Brothers, and gets him to explain how the Wrights were more than Orville and Wilbur, but rather an entire family.

For the “Portland Press Herald,” NBCC member Joan Silverman reviews The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits which she describes as

“a grown-up diary for the new millennium” and “like a mash-up of Lena Dunham and Kierkegaard. Which is to say, the book is at once raunchy, outrageous and funny, wistful, contemplative and smart.”

For Fig Tree Books, NBCC member Louis Gordon writes:  "Gerald Green’s To Brooklyn With Love (1967) might be the greatest bildungsroman to have ever been forgotten by the literary establishment."

For the “Tampa Bay Times,” NBCC Board member Colette Bancroft reviews Kate Walbert’s The Sunken Cathedral and writes:

“Women become invisible after a certain age, the bitter joke goes, the only variation being which decade marks our disappearance. But Kate Walbert not only sees vanishing women — a pair of widows in their 80s, the suddenly uncertain mother of a teenage son, a middle-aged art historian with visions of a drowning city — but paints their lives in indelibly rich and vibrant colors in her stunning new novel, The Sunken Cathedral."

Your reviews seed this roundup, please send your work to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. If you are not yet a member, please consider joining the NBCC.



NBCC/Zyzzyva party June 25, on eve of American LIbrary Association conference

by Admin | Jun-16-2015

On the eve of ALA, the National Book Critics Circle (now 40 years old) and Zyzzyva magazine (now 30 years old) are throwing a party cohosted by NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari, Zyzzyva editor Laura Cogan and managing editor (and former NBCC  board member) Oscar Villalon. Expect toasts and literary conversation and wine from Wine & Spirits magazine.

Honored guests: NBCC award honorees including Terry Castle (The Professor and Other Writings, criticism finalist, 2010), Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son, fiction finalist, 2012), D.A. Powell (Useless Landscape; or, A Guide for Boys, poetry winner, 2012), and Jason Roberts (A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, biography finalist 2006), and treasured literary institutions City Lights Publishers, founded by NBCC Sandrof award winner Lawrence Ferlinghetti (60 years), the Squaw Valley Community of Writers (45 years), Graywolf Press (40 years), The Threepenny Review (35 years), the San Francisco Writers Grotto (20 years), Litquake (15 years), Lit Camp (3 years) and newcomers launched this year-- the Bay Area Book Festival and the Oakland Book Festival. RSVP janeciab@gmail.com



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