April, 2015

Critical Notes: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, Yasushi Inoue, Masha Gessen, T.C. Boyle, and more

by Eric Liebetrau | Apr-13-2015

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.


Michelle Newby reviews Antonio Ruiz-Camacho’s "Barefoot Dogs: Stories." Newby also reviews the NBCC-nominated memoir "The Other Side," by Lacy Johnson.

Janice Nimura reviews the work of Yasushi Inoue.

Laurie Hertzel reviews Abigail Thomas' "What Comes Next and How to Like It." She also reviews Masha Gessen's "The Brothers."

NBCC Board member and 2013 Balakian winner Katherine A. Powers also examines Thomas' memoir. Powers also reviews T.C. Boyle's latest.

Lori Feathers reviews Benito Pérez Galdós' "Tristana."

On Jack Kerouac, by Mike Lindgren.

John Domini reviews Mark Doten’s "The Infernal."

Marian Ryan interviews New Yorker copyeditor Mary Norris about her memoir.

Terry Hong reviews Aline Ohanesian’s Orhan’s "Inheritance." Also, an interview with "The Sympathizer" authors Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Critical Notes: J.C.Hallman, Don Winslow, Una LaMarche, Morris Dickstein, Helen Macdonald, and more

by Eric Liebetrau | Apr-06-2015

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.


Did you miss the NBCC Awards this year? You can watch them on C-SPAN.


Steven G. Kellman reviews J.C. Hallman's "B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal."

Joe Peschel also reviews Hallman's book.

"Our drug policy and its costs, scrupulously researched." Bill Williams reviews Johann Hari's "Chasing the Scream."

Clifford Garstang reviews Craig Bernier's "Your Life Idyllic."

Robert Birnbaum on the work of Don Winslow. Birnbaum also explores "1001 Walks You Must Take Before You Die."

"An offbeat mishmosh of memoir, cultural history, genealogical detective story and paranormal investigation." Maureen Corrigan on Hannah Nordhaus' new book, "American Ghost." Corrigan also discusses Clive James' "Poetry Notebook."

Michelle Newby reviews "Driving the King" by Ravi Howard. Newby also reviews David Heymann's "My Beautiful City Austin," as well as Karen Center's "Happiness for Beginners."

Marion Winik on James Hannaham's "Delicious Foods."

Cynthia-Marie Marmo O'Brien reviews "Signs Preceding the End of the World" by Yuri Herrera.

Harvey Freedenberg reviews Roger Rosenblatt's "The Book of Love." Freedenberg also reviews Saul Bellow’s “There Is Simply Too Much to Think About."

NBCC board member Colette Bancroft reviews Helen Macdonald's "H Is for Hawk."

Meredith Maran reviews "Unabrow" by Una LaMarche.

David Cooper reviews Alexis Landau’s cinematically descriptive, character-driven debut novel," "The Empire of the Senses."

An interview with "Why Not Say What Happened" author, literary critic Morris Dickstein. Also, watch a video about Dickstein, produced by Tablet.

Jan Alexander reviews Jane Smiley's "Some Luck."

Kimberly Chrisman Campbell reviews Patricia Rieff Anawalt's "Shamanic Regalia in the Far North."

Andrew Ervin reviews "Country of Ice Cream Star" by Sandra Neman.

Carol Iaciofano analyzes Sloan Wilson's 1955 novel, "The Man in Gray Flannel Suit."

Gregg Barrios interviews NBCC Biography winner John Lahr. Next week in Houston, Barrios will be inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters.

In her BBC.com Between the Lines column (now visible in the UK), NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari picks Renata Adler, Brad Gooch, Mary Morris, Toni Morrison, Ann Packer, Tracy K. Smith and other books to read in April.

Mythili G. Rao reviews "The Upstairs Wife" by Rafia Zakaria.

"Writing Out of Turn: Female Rock Critic Tells Experts Where to Put Their Advice." An interview with Jessica Hopper, by Kyrsten Bean.

Michael Magras reviews Máirtín Ó Cadhain's "The Dirty Dust."

Karl Wolff reviews "All the Happiness You Deserve" by Michael Piafsky at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

Heather Scott Partington reviews Amelia Gray's "Gutshot." She also reviews Debra Busman's "Like a Woman," David Vann's "Aquarium," and Matt Sumell's "Making Nice."

Steven Kellman reviews "Words Without Music," by Philip Glass.

Critical Notes

by Jane Ciabattari | Apr-01-2015

Check in next week for the return of Critical Notes. And come see as at the AWP15 in Minneapolis! Booth 1201. Play Name that Author*! Come hear Jayne Anne Phillips, Lily King and Anthony Marra in the NBCC featured reading on April 9, 4:30 pm.

*Sneak peak clue:

NBCC Name that Author Clue #3:  "On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones."

March, 2015

Critical Notes: AWP15 in Minneapolis, Awards Recap, Latest Member Reviews, and More

by Carmela Ciuraru | Mar-23-2015

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.

* * * * * * * * * *

Join the NBCC at AWP15's featured reading (April 9th, 4:30 pm) with Jayne Anne Phillips, Lily King and Anthony Marra:

Revisiting the 2015 NBCC awards:

Toni Morrison on the power of book critics.

Video of the NBCC finalists' reading.

Video of the NBCC awards ceremony.

Rita Dove's homage to Toni Morrison.

Announcement of NBCC awards recipients.

Alexandra Schwartz on winning the Balakian award.

Phil Klay on winning the John Leonard Prize.

*Member reviews:

NBCC President Tom Beer on the latest memoirs in Newsday. 

NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari on NPR's Weekend Edition talking about poet Jill Alexander Essbaum's first novel, Hausfrau. Julia M. Klein's review of Hausfrau for the Chicago Tribune. Klein also reviews Barney Frank's political memoir for the Boston Globe.

Joan Gelfand on Carol Smallwood's poetry collection.

Chuck Twardy reviews Kazuo Ishiguro. So does Angie Jabine.

Grace Schulman on Marilyn Hacker in Kenyon Review.

Terry Hong reviews The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot in the Christian Science Monitor. 

NBCC board member David Biespiel in The Rumpus.

Jim Ruland reviews Barry Gifford in the Los Angeles Times.

Dan Cryer on The Last Word, by Hanif Kureishi.

NBCC board member Joanna Scutts reviews Jacob Silverman's "Terms of Service" and 'The Battle of Versailles,' by Robin Givhan.

NBCC board member Carmela Ciuraru on Find Me, by Laura van den Berg, in the New York Times.

Michael Magras on The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips.

David Duhr on Keija Parssinen's The Unraveling of Mercy Louis for the Dallas Morning News.

Michelle Newby reviews Crepuscule W/ Nellie by Joe Milazzo for The Collagist and Elizabeth Harris's Mayhem for Lone Star Literary Life.

2013 Balakian winner and new NBCC board member Katherine A. Powers reviews Elliott Ackerman's Green on Blue and John Boyne's A History of Loneliness.

Andrew Cleary on Jacob Silverman's Terms of Service in the Christian Science Monitor.

Robert Birnbaum interviews Anthony Doerr. 

Chris Barsanti on Richard Price's "The Whites" for PopMatters.

Larry Smith on Jane Hirshfield.

James Gibbons on Fred Moten.

Gerald Bartell on Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson, in the San Francisco Chronicle.

‘A Wild Faculty of Sorts’: Toni Morrison on the Power of Book Critics

by Toni Morrison | Mar-19-2015

On Thursday, March 12, Toni Morrison accepted the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof award for lifetime achievement. She mesmerized the packed house with her presence. Here is the text of her remarks; video is here. And Rita Dove's introduction is here.

The founding of NBCC in the early seventies was a singular idea.  The collective intelligence of John Leonard, Ivan Sandrof and Nona Balakian was not merely unique, it was welcome and it was needed.  A wild faculty, of sorts, dedicated to books and their scrutiny. Passionate, eager to laud and reward the best.

As the years passed this organization became more than unique; it became necessary. Publishing and writers were expanding, facing new challenges of distribution and finance. And in the mix of those challenges more astute and wide-ranging criticism fortunately surfaced.

Finally, now the National Book Critics Circle is far more than unique or necessary.  It is urgent.  The publishing world is in even more flux, facing new modes of distribution; bookstores disappear; companies merge to avoid collapse.

I am delighted and honored to join the long and distinguished list of authors and accept this Lifetime Award.  It means a lot to me.  When I published my first novel, the reception was slight, indifferent, even hostile.  I remember being chided for writing "just to avoid cliché."  I thought that was a compliment, but apparently not.  Whatever the point, the novel was not taken seriously—until, that is, John Leonard read it and took it very seriously indeed.  It wasn't about whether he liked "The Bluest Eye"; it was that he gave it his best judgment on the book's literary merit.  I will always be grateful to him for that.

I'm unclear what the category was, in 1972—Afro American, Black, African American—but I do remember books written by black writers were given their own shelves in bookstores, just like women's books and detective stories.  It was unlikely for my book to be shelved alphabetically.  Which is not to say authors objected to that convenience or that customers did not appreciate it; it is to say the same separation existed in the criticism.  Those were the days when a book of poetry by a Black writer; a novel by a black writer and a collection of essays by another black writer were reviewed together in one article, and the reviewer (white) could and did decide which among those three separate genres was the best.  I recall during my days at Random House choosing to schedule books by black writers in separate seasons, simply to avoid the cluster.  All or almost all of that has changed now.  Angela Davis' autobiography is no longer compared to Gayl Jones' novel "Corregidora."  Toni Cade Bambara's collection of short stories is not paired with Huey Newton's essays "To Die For the People." And, happily, Muhammed Ali's autobiography is not evaluated or measured against "Soledad Brother," or George Jackson's "Blood in My Eye."  James Baldwin is not paired with August Wilson.

Much of that conflation and the mixing of genres according to race has disappeared, a disappearance primarily due to the labors of literary critics in this organization.  

The National Book Critics Circle has grown and eagerly faces the challenges and opportunities of contemporary publishing.  Online books, blogs, self-publishing, e-books, new and small presses, shuttered bookstores and a general move of the newspaper industries preference to light entertainment and gossip.  Yet these changes do not deter the National Book Critics Circle's agenda—in fact, it works to confront, alter and expand the possibilities of publishing, the training of young writers and working with other literary communities.

The list of authors who have been awarded the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Award is judicious and enviable—I am delighted to be among them.

The recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Toni Morrison has been a powerful catalyst in reshaping literary culture over the past half century. Her lifetime of achievement includes much more than her canonical novels, honored with the 1977 NBCC fiction award for "Song of Solomon," the 1988 Pulitzer for "Beloved," and the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. During two decades as a book editor, Morrison brought into print the landmark narrative "The Black Book" (1974) and the work of Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones, among others. From her post-graduate days in the late 1950s, when she taught at her alma mater, Howard University, until 2006, when she retired from Princeton, Morrison has influenced generations of students. Her work as a cultural critic includes" Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination" and "What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction" (2008); she edited "Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word" and serves on the editorial board of The Nation. As a frequent public spokesperson for freedom of expression, the power of the written word, and the role of the artist, Toni Morrison has articulated a vision of the role of the writer that is both courageous and inspiring.

NBCC at AWP15 in Minneapolis: Celebrate Jayne Anne Phillips, Lily King & Anthony Marra

by Admin | Mar-17-2015

Join us at the AWP Conference in Minneapolis next month!

A Reading and Conversation with Jayne Anne Phillips, Lily King and Anthony Marra, Hosted by National Book Critics Circle Vice President/Online Jane Ciabattari, Sponsored by National Book Critics Circle
April 9, 2015
4:30:PM - 5:45:PM
Main Auditorium, Level 1, Minneapolis Convention Center (1301 Second Avenue South, Minneapollis, MN)

We'll celebrate Jayne Anne Phillips, a two-time NBCC fiction finalist for her 1984 novel Machine Dreams and her 2009 novel Lark and Termite; Lily King, a fiction finalist for her 2014 novel Euphoria, and Anthony Marra, the inaugural winner of the new NBCC John Leonard Prize for best first book, for his 2013 novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomona. All three will be reading from their work, and talking about the challenges of writing novels, including first novels.

Come visit the NBCC table, Booth 1201, at the Book Fair to meet NBCC members, board members and awardees, including David Biespiel, Jane Ciabattari, Grant Faulkner, Michele Filgate,  Rigoberto Gonzalez,  Laurie Hertzel, Karen Long, Anthony Marra, Monica McFawn, Joanna Scutts, Larry Smith, Tess Taylor and David Varno.

Video: NBCC 2014 Finalists’ Reading

by admin | Mar-17-2015

The National Book Critics Circle Finalists' Reading for publishing year 2014 was held at The New School in New York, NY on March 11, 2015.


Video by Kevin Kino

In Order of Appearance

Welcome: Luis Jaramillo, Director, The New School Writing Program

Opening Remarks: Laurie Muchnick, President, National Book Critics Circle


Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press)

Willie Perdomo, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon (Penguin Books)

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)

Christian Wiman, Once in the West (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Jake Adam York, Abide (Southern Illinois University Press) (Reading by Sarah Skeen)


Eula Biss, On Immunity: An Inoculation (Graywolf Press)

Vikram Chandra, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty (Graywolf Press)

Lynne Tillman, What Would Lynne Tillman Do? (Red Lemonade)

Ellen Willis, The Essential Ellen Willis, edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz (University of Minnesota Press) (Reading by Nona Willis Aronowitz)


Ezra Greenspan, William Wells Brown: An African American Life (W.W. Norton & Co.)

John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Ian S. MacNiven, “Literchoor Is My Beat”: A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Miriam Pawel, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography (Bloomsbury)


Blake Bailey, The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Lacy M. Johnson, The Other Side (Tin House)

Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure (Random House)
Meline Toumani, There Was and There Was Not (Metropolitan Books)


Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book (Pantheon)

Héctor Tobar, Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine,
and the Miracle that Set Them Free (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)


Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press)

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead Books)

Lily King, Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead Books)

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