September, 2017

Frogs, secrets and tons of reviews

by Laurie Hertzel | Sep-25-2017

A German frog. Associated Press photo by Jens Meyer


Welcome to autumn, high season of publishing, as well as the heady season of book awards. Hang on! It's going to be busy straight through to New Year's. And heeeeere we go:

NBCC Board member Anjali Enjeti reviews Patrick Ryan's "The Dream Life of Astronauts," for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and writes about trying and failing to get a book deal in The Atlantic.

Board member Kerri Arsenault reviews "Among the Living and the Dead" by Inara Verzemnieks for the Brooklyn Rail.

Board member Laurie Hertzel profiled two Minnesota writers who are up for some big awards: Emily Fridlund, who was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize for "History of Wolves," and poet Danez Smith, longlisted for the National Book Award. Both profiles ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Frank Freeman published a review of the Oxford Classic, On Death and Life by Cicero in University Bookman.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland for The Woven Tale Pressas well as Cloud Farming in Wales by Rhys Hughes for World Literature Today and The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams for Women's Memoirs.

Elizabeth Lund wrote about "Why Poetry" for the Washington Post, in which she gently reminds readers that there is no need to dissect a poem the way one might dissect a frog.And that seems like very good advice indeed.

In time for the Jewish New Year, Erika Dreifus recommended fiction and nonfiction about Israel for Tablet magazine. She also recently conducted a Q&A with Matthew Zapruder about Zapruder's new book, Why Poetry

Paul Wilner writes about Larry McMurtry's "Thalia'' trilogy -- the re-release of his first three novels, "Horseman, Pass By,'' "Leaving Cheyenne'' and "The Last Picture Show'' -- for ZYZZYVA magazine.

Hamilton Cain writes about Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning book, "Stamped from the Beginning," on Chapter 16, Tennessee's premier literary website, in connection with the author's appearance in Nashville. 

Laverne Frith reviews Nicole Sealey's "Ordinary Beast" and Mary Jo Salter's "The Surveyors," both for the New York Journal of Books.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews "A Disappearance in Damascus," by Deborah Campbell, for the Washington Post.

Jenny Yacovissi reviews "Steam Titans," by William M. Fowler Jr., and "Improbable Destinies," by Jonathan B. Losos, both for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

David Cooper reviews Nicole Krauss' "Forest Dark" for the New York Journal of Books.


Awards, events and other good things

Former board member Gregg Barrios just returned from a summer as a Harvard Fellow. He reviewed the PBS series The Vietnam War for The Rivard Report.

Board members Anjali Enjeti and John McWhorter each have notable essays in this year's "Best American Essays 2017," edited by Robert Atwan. John McWhorter's, "Thick of Tongue," was published in Guernica, and Anjali Enjeti's "Identity Lost and Found," was published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

C.M. Mayo's poetry collection, Meteor, won the Gival Poetry Prize and will be published by Gival Press in 2018.

NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel is highlighted on Lit Hub's new Secrets of the Book Critics feature. (NOTE: Do not click on that link unless you are prepared to see a giant head.)

Board member Kerri Arsenault will moderate a discussion between authors Jonathan Dee and Scott Spencer at 7 p.m. Oct 3 at the Center for Fiction in New York. The authors will discuss the often grim reality of the American Dream explored in their latest novels. Dee’s The Locals centers on a rural, working-class New England town that elects a hedge fund millionaire from New York as mayor in the months following 9/11 and the class-based tensions that arise. Spencer’s River Under the Road follows the lives of two couples over twenty years and the fragile balance between triumph and defeat, creativity and commerce.

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. 

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and a board member of the NBCC.

Critical Notes Post-Summer Catch-up: Deborah Campbell, Nicole Krauss, Celeste Ng & John Ashbery RIP

by Jane Ciabattari | Sep-18-2017

Labor Day is behind us, September thrums with hurricanes and tempests, the National Book Festival and Brooklyn Book Festival drum up excitement for reading. And NBCC members are busier than ever.

Reviews and Interviews

NBCC's Emerging Critics offered a blog series on summer reading, with contributions from Heather Scott Partington, Paul Gleason, Ismail Muhammad, and  Zack Graham.

Laurie Hertzel, NBCC board member and senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, reviews the nonfiction narrative, A Disappearance in Damascus, by Deborah Campbell, Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, Bernard MacLaverty's novel Midwinter Break and John Boyne’s novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies for the Strib. Hertzel also interviews Sherman Alexie about his hiatus from the road, and his return, and in her weekly Bookmark column writes of the kinds of books people like to bring with them on vacation. She never sleeps.

NBCC board member (and former president) and Newsday books editor Tom Beer previewed 12 fall releases.

Maureen Corrigan reviews David Lagercrantz's The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye for the Washington Post.

Former NBCC board member Colette Bancroft, who lost, then found her iPad during Hurricane Irma, reviews Gabriel Tallent's My Absolute Darling and David Abram's Brave Deeds for the Tampa Bay Times. NBCC board member/treasurer Marion Winik reviews My Absolute Darling for Newsday.

Priscilla Gilman reviews Nicole Krauss's new novel Forest Dark for the Boston Globe. Michael Magras reviews Forest Dark for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. And here's Heller McAlpin's take for NPR.

NBCC board member/secretary Mary Ann Gwinn interviews Stanford historian Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands for the Seattle Times. 

Former NBCC board member Stephen Burt writes on the promise and potential of fan fiction for The New Yorker.

NBCC board member Daniel Akst talks to Matthew Zapruder about his Why Poetry Matters for Newsday.

Anita Felicelli reviews Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Michael Lindgren reviews Patti Smith's nonfiction book Devotion for the Washington Post.

Michael Berry reviews The Changeling by Victor LaValle for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Julia M. Klein reviews Antonia Fraser's Our Israeli Diary, 1978, Bruce Henderson's Sons and Soldiers, and Nathan Englander's Dinner at the Center of the Earth, for the Forward, and Mark Regnerus's Cheap Sex and David Friend's The Naughty Nineties for the Barnes and Noble Review. She also reviews Vanessa Grigoriadis's Blurred Lines and Claire Messud's The Burning Girl for the Chicago Tribune.

Hamilton Cain reviews Jonathan Lobos's Improbable Destinies for Barnes and Noble Review, Karl Ove Knausgaard's Autumn for Oprah, and Daniel Mendelsohn's An Odyssey for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviews Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere for the Kansas City Star.

Grace Lichtenstein reviews Brian Merchant's The One Device:The Secret History of the iPhone for the New York Journal of Books.
Hélène Cardona reviews Beautiful Rush by Marc Vincenz and  The Philosopher Savant by Rustin Larson in The Enchanting Verses Literary Review.

David Cooper reviews Nathan Englander's Dinner at the Center of the Earth and Orly Castel-Bloom's An Egyptian Novel for the New York Journal of Books.

Joan Silverman reviews John McPhee's Draft No. 4 and Gabrielle Zevin's Young Jane Young for the Portland Press Herald.

Colleen Abel reviews Edwidge Danticat's The Art of Death and the anthology Little Boxes, edited by Caroline Casey, for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Tara Cheesman reviews Marie NDiaye's My Heart Hemmed In for The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Former NBCC board member and Balakian winner Steven G. Kellman reviews Orhan Pamuk's The Red-haired Woman for the Boston Globe and Salman Rushdie's The Golden House for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gregory Leon Miller reviews Alain Mabanckou's Black Moses for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Soniah Kamal reviews Mandy Len Catron's essay collection How to Fall in Love with Anyone for the Atlanta Constitution Journal. She also reviews Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness for Kabar. And she gave a TEDx talk, Redreaming the Dream, on regrets and second chances and how, despite cultural barriers, she became a writer.

Lisa R. Spaar continues her Second Acts:  A Second Look at Second Books series for the Los Angeles Review of Books, featuring the second books of Amy Clampitt and Richard Deming.

Our Man in Boston Robert Birnbaum offers his latest, "The Crack in Everything."

Dana Wilde reviews Kristen Lindquist's poetry, Tourists in the Known World, for the Island Institute, and Joal Hetherington's poetry and Portland's Cafe Review for her Off Radar column on Maine writers.

Awards and Other News

RIP John Ashbery, whose Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror won the first NBCC award in poetry. He reminisced about the event at the NBCC's 35th anniversary celebration, noting,"My NBCC award, for my fifth collection of poems, happened when I was in my mid-forties, and served to jump-start my somewhat sagging career as a poet."  More, including video, here.

NBCC fiction finalist Zadie Smith wins CCNY's Langston Hughes award.'

NBCC fiction awardee Jennifer Egan talks to PW about her new novel, Manhattan Beach.

Daniela Gioseffi has just published her seventeenth book of poetry, Waging Beauty: As the Polar Bear Dreams of Ice ( Poets Wear Prada Press).

Hélène Cardona's recent poetry collection Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry, 2016) was a finalist for the Lascaux Prize in Poetry.


NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​


Emerging Critics: Summer Reading from Zack Graham

by Zack Graham | Sep-05-2017

We asked the first class of NBCC Emerging Critics to tell us what they've been reading this summer. Here's the fourth response:

For me, the summertime has always been an excuse to tackle long books, and this particular summer gifted me two of the most unforgettable long books I’ve ever read.

I finally took the quintet of Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn off my shelf, and after finished, I only regretted that I hadn’t done so years ago.  It seems to me that St. Aubyn accomplished what Knaausgard only managed to attempt.  Patrick’s many adventures are riveting, and St. Aubyn’s no-holds-barred evisceration of the English aristocratic class is a feat of historic importance. 

After finishing the Patrick Melrose novels, I read Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie Fiedler.  One would think that a 550-page work of nonfiction about the history and permutations of the modern novel would be a bit dry, but by the time I was done I only wished the book was twice as long.  Fiedler’s unparalleled command of the history of Western literature is only outstripped by his multifaceted love for it.

Aside from my two long reads, I indulged my affinity for works of fiction that straddle the literary and speculative genres.  Olaf Stapleton’s Star Maker, a visionary work of psychedelic science fiction, was a standout.  Lance Olson’s Dreamlives of Debris, Aliya Whiteley’s The Beauty and Colin Winnette’s The Job of the Wasp were also notable.

But by far and away the most overlooked book of the summer was literally show me a healthy person by Darcie Wilder.  Darcie is a Twitter-famous poet / memoirist who wrote an exquisite novel that a lot of people talked about but few people actually read and reviewed, which is a real shame.  The novel is part social media steam, part memoir, part epic poem; it is also hilarious, horrifying, demented, depressing, and, above all, profoundly moving.

Zack Graham’s criticism has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, Electric Literature, and The National Book Review among other publications, and his short stories have appeared in Seven Scribes, the Cobalt Review, Liars’ League NYC, and elsewhere. A native of Chicago, Zack graduated from Yale University and currently lives in New York, where he makes films in addition to writing fiction and criticism. He is in the first class of NBCC Emerging Critics. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram: @zgraham19.

Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend: At Home in the World : On Writing, Immigration and Belonging

by Jane Ciabattari | Sep-03-2017

At Home in the World: On Writing, Immigration, and Belonging

Thursday September 14, 2017
07:00 pm

Center for Fiction, 17 East 47th Street, New York, NY


*This event will be very popular so we strongly recommend you RSVP to avoid disappointment*

As part of the of the Brooklyn Book Festival's Bookend events the National Book Critics Circle is partnering with the Center for Fiction to present authors Rumaan Alam, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Garnette Cadogan, Rigoberto Gonzalez, and Porochista Khakpour. They'll discuss immigration, Brooklyn/New York as a global center, and finding home as a writer. Moderated by NBCC board member Walton Muyumba

This is an official 2017 Brooklyn Book Festival event. Learn more about this year's festival here!

Rumaan Alam is author of the novel Rich and Pretty (HarperCollins, 2016). His writing has been published in New York Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, The Rumpus, Washington Square Review, Gettysburg Review, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. He started his career in fashion publishing at Lucky magazine, has written extensively on interior design for Domino, Lonny, Elle Decor,, and elsewhere, and has worked in advertising as a copywriter and creative director. He studied at Oberlin College, and lives in New York.

Garnette Cadogan is an essayist who is at work on a book on walking. He is a Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar (2017-2018) at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University.

Nicole Dennis-Benn was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She is a graduate of Cornell University and has an MPH from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She has been awarded fellowships from Macdowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Lambda, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Hurston/Wright, and Sewanee Writers' Conference. Dennis-Benn’s debut novel Here Comes the Sun was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a NPR Best Books of 2016, an Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Entertainment Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2016, a BuzzFeed Best Literary Debuts of 2016, among others. Dennis-Benn is shortlisted for the Texas Library Association 2017 Lariat and the Grand Prix littéraire of the Association of Caribbean Writers. She was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award, and the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.

Rigoberto González is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His ten books of prose include two bilingual children's books, the three young adult novels in the Mariposa Club series, the novel Crossing Vines, the story collection Men Without Bliss, and three books of nonfiction, including Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa, which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The recipient of Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships, a NYFA grant in poetry, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Poetry Center Book Award, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award, he is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine and writes a monthly column for NBC-Latino online. Currently, he is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, and the inaugural Stan Rubin Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Rainier Writing Workshop.

Porochista Khakpour's debut novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, was named a New York Times Editor's Choice, one of the Chicago Tribune's Fall's Best and won the 2007 California Book Award winner in the First Fiction category. Her honors include fellowships from the NEA, the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Ucross, and Yaddo. Her second novel The Last Illusion was one of 2014’s most anticipated books. She is working on a children’s book for Civil Coping Mechanisms’ new imprint WHITE RABBIT. HarperPerennial will publish her memoir Sick: A Life of Lyme, Love, Illness, and Addiction in 2017.

Walton Muyumba is author of The Shadow and the Act: Black Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism (University of Chicago Press). His work has appeared in Oxford American, The Chicago Tribune, The Crisis, The Dallas Morning News, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, New Republic, and The Atlantic, among other outlets. Muyumba has published scholarship in The Cambridge History of American Poetry, College Literature, The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and Trained Capacities: John Dewey, Rhetoric, and Democratic Practice. He sits on the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors and is an Associate Professor of American and African Diasporic literature at Indiana University-Bloomington.

August, 2017

Emerging Critics: Summer Reading from Ismail Muhammad

by Ismail Muhammad | Aug-30-2017

We asked the first class of NBCC Emerging Critics to tell us what they've been reading this summer. Here's the third response:

The end of summer is always a little mournful for me, a time of foreclosed possibilities. That foreclosure applies to language, too: the prospect of teaching and dissertation writing catches me flatfooted, leaves me panicking, and makes my language feel claustrophobic. I’ve made reading poetry—as opposed to criticism and fiction—at summer’s end a graduate school ritual. This summer I’m finding solace in a handful of Bay Area poets. Claire Marie Stancek’s Mouths and Jane Gregory’s My Enemies are gorgeous and playful in a way that leave me thinking, Oh, you can do those things with language?

I haven’t completely abandoned prose, though. I just finished Jesmyn Ward’s hypnotizing new novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, which sent me back to her 2011 National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones. Sing highlights her singular strengths as a novelist, especially when it comes to writing about black women; seeing her expand her ambition and embrace magical realism as a way of exploring blackness is quite a treat. Jarret Kobek’s The Future Won’t Be Long is fantastic, a return to the soft prose that characterized BTW, as opposed to the abrasive humor of I Hate the Internet. Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian’s anthology of New Narrative, Writers Who Love Too Much is a striking collection of writing, a prehistory to the metafiction and nonfiction of writers like Maggie Nelson, Ben Lerner, and Brian Blanchfield. In a moment where we have no shortage of great nonfiction to read, Killian and Bellamy’s anthology reminds us that poetry’s luxuries don’t belong solely to poetry.

Ismail Muhammad is a Ph.D. candidate in English at U.C. Berkeley, a staff writer at The Millions, and Contributing Editor at ZYZZYVA. He lives in Oakland, where it nearly always feels like summer. He's a member of the NBCC's inaugural group of Emerging Critics.

Emerging Critics: Summer Reading from Paul Gleason

by Paul Gleason | Aug-27-2017

We asked the first class of NBCC Emerging Critics to tell us what they've been reading this summer. Here's the second response:

Because a PhD candidate’s reading list is never done, I will spend most of the summer reading for my dissertation. That means I’ll be looking at books by and about the poet George Herbert and his brother Edward, a little-known but fascinating early theorist of world religions.

That’s right: it’s scholarly summer school for me—though once in a while I do plan to play hooky.

I’m looking forward to reading two new books about religious liberty, both published in June. One of them is Debating Religious Liberty by John Corvino and Ryan T. Anderson, and the other is When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment Conflict, by Kent Greenawalt. I want to read both because I find legal disputes over religion endlessly fascinating. Not only do court cases make for great political and human drama, but they’re also the place where theoretical debates about religion have enormous consequences. What is a “religion” anyway? Is freedom of belief enough, or is the freedom to practice your religion just as important? Suddenly my academic interests become relevant to other people! (It doesn’t happen every day.)

I don’t only read about religion. I like literature, too. This summer I plan to read a pair of books on early twentieth-century modernism. The first is The World Broke in Two, about the year 1922, a turning point in the lives and careers of Woolf, Eliot, Lawrence and Forster. Hopefully this book will inspire me to go deeper into their catalogs. The second is about some of the same writers and their half-successful efforts to create totally secular lives and art, Restless Secularism: Modernism and the Religious Inheritance by Matthew Mutter.

(I said I don’t only read about religion, just mostly.)

Finally, I’ll be re-reading some John Le-Carré as I eagerly await the September release of his latest George Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies.

Paul Gleason is a PhD candidate in the University of Virginia’s religion department. He teaches at California Lutheran University and lives in Los Angeles, where the weather is right for summer reading nearly all year long. He was selected for the first group of NBCC Emerging Critics.

Emerging Critics: Summer Reading from Heather Scott Partington

by Heather Scott Partington | Aug-23-2017

We asked the first class of NBCC Emerging Critics to tell us what they've been reading this summer. Here's the first response:

In my other life I teach high school; June and July are mine, and I try to read what I want. Often this means I want to study some aspect of craft. I’m kicking off this summer with Joan Acocella’s excellent collection, Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints, which makes my dance-and-criticism-loving heart sing. After that, I’m hoping to absorb everything I can from Brief Encounters, the nonfiction anthology edited by Judith Kitchen and Dinah Lenney.

Summer is also when I’m free enough to read work by the amazing writers I know. This year the list includes Elizabeth Crane’s short story collection Turf, Tod Goldberg’s Gangster Nation, and hopefully Grace by Natashia Deón. Of course, I have an overly-ambitious and ever-growing list of books I want to run through in long, warmish days by the pool. Right now that includes Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Nathan Hill’s The Nix, Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo.

Heather Scott Partington is a writer, teacher, and book critic. She is a recipient of the Emerging Critics Fellowship from the National Book Critics Circle. Her writing has appeared at The Los Angeles Times, Ploughshares’ Blog, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She is a contributor to Goodreads, Las Vegas Weekly, and Electric Literature. Heather holds an MFA in Fiction from UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Campus. She teaches high school English and lives in Elk Grove, California with her husband and two kids.

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