Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

Critical Notes: Carolyn See, Jade Sharma, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Pamela Erens, and more

by Michele Filgate | Jul-25-2016

Author and former NBCC board member Carolyn See passed away at the age of 82.  

Tom Beer, Newsday books editor and NBCC board president, reviewed cancer memoirs by Paul Kalanithi, Jenny Diski, and Marion Coutts for Newsday.

NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari's weekly Lit Hub column begins with NBCC award winner Juan Felipe Herrera, the US Poet Laureate. Another column includes two book about Helen Gurley Brown, Jennifer Close's satiric political novel, Virginia Heffernan's book presenting the Internet as “the great masterpiece of human civilization,” and VICE fiction editor Amie Barrodale's  first story collection.

NBCC board member Michele Filgate interviews Jade Sharma, author of “Problems,” for the Los Angeles Times.

NBCC board member and 2013 Balakian winner Katherine A. Powers reviews “This Must Be the Place” by Maggie O’Farrell for The Boston Globe

NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel reviews “Vinegar Girl” by Anne Tyler and “The Voyeur’s Motel” by Gay Talese for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She also writes about being drunk on books.

Former NBCC board member Karen Long reviews “Here Comes the Sun” by Nicole Dennis-Benn for Newsday.

Parul Kapur Hinzen profiles Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of “Sarong Party Girls,” for Slate.

Lori Feathers reviews “Eleven Hours” by Pamela Erens for Rain Taxi.

Julia M. Klein reviews Thomas Harding's "The House by the Lake" for the Boston Globe. She also reviews Delia Ephron's "Siracusa" for the Los Angeles Times.

David Nilsen reviews “Bright Dead Things” by Ada Limón for Open Letters Monthly.

Steven G. Kellman reviews “The Noise of Time” by Julian Barnes for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nathaniel Popkin reviews “Dead People” by Morgan Meis and Stefany Anne Goldberg for The Rumpus.

Joe Peschel reviews “The Life of the World to Come” by Dan Cluchey in the Charlotte Observer.

Bob Hoover reviews "Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon" and "William Tecumseh Sherman" for the Dallas Morning News.

Michael Berry reviews “Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Michael Magras reviews “The Return” by Hisham Matar for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Lisa Russ Spaar looks at two books of poetry for the Los Angeles Review of Books: “War of the Foxes” by Richard Siken and “Lynchburg” by Forrest Gander, and interviews Charles Wright for Image.

Katie Haegele reviews Moby’s memoir, “Porcelain,” for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philip Belcher interviews Michelle Boisseau about her five volumes of poetry for Shenandoah.

Karl Wolff continues his American Odd essay series at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography with an essay on “Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery” by Martin Gardner

Rayann Al-Shawaf reviews “The Bones of Grace” by Tahmima Anam for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Andrew Mitchell Davenport interviews NBCC member Paul Devlin about his new book, “Murray Talks Music: Albert Murray on Jazz and Blues.

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President’s Message to Membership: Choosing the #NBCCLeonard Awards

by Tom Beer | Jul-24-2016

Dear NBCC members:

With summer well under way, we're once again launching discussions for the John Leonard Prize.
The prize, named for the longtime critic and NBCC co-founder, is awarded every year for the best first book in any genre. Unlike the NBCC's other awards, it is not chosen by the board but by the membership at large. Previous winners - Anthony Marra's "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" (2013), Phil Klay's "Redeployment" (2014), and Kristin Valdez Quade's "Night at the Fiestas" (2015) - have all been fiction. But works of nonfiction and poetry are also eligible. All nominated titles must be an author's first-ever book in any genre, published in the United States in calendar year 2016.
To generate more discussion this year, members can write a short blog post about a favorite 2016 debut for the NBCC blog, Critical Mass. If you're interested in contributing, please contact Online VP Jane Ciabattari ( We hope this will be a lively forum for getting the word out about John Leonard Prize contenders. And, as always, please share your suggestions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #NBCCLeonard.
In November, you'll receive an email via SurveyMonkey asking you to nominate your top 5 books for the prize. We'll compile those nominations to come up with a slate of the most nominated books.
This year, for the first time, we're inviting members to join an all-volunteer committee of Leonard readers who commit to read the entire slate of Leonard finalists (probably 5-7 books) and vote for the winner, to be announced in January. The Leonard committee is open to any NBCC member, and there is no cap on the number of members who may join it - all are welcome. We encourage you to participate actively in this important prize, which in a few short years has achieved serious recognition in the literary world.
If you're interested in joining the Leonard committee, please email board member Dan Akst (, who is chairing the committee. And as always, you're welcome to email me with questions and comments (
Happy reading, and we hope you'll be actively involved in the John Leonard Prize this year.
Tom Beer
NBCC Board President

National Book Critics Circle's Brooklyn Bookend Event
September 15, 2016, 7 pm at the Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St. New York City
The Ever Expanding World of Literary Criticism 
Writing about books-- starting conversations about a novel, a poem, a literary career-- combines passion with dedication. Five active literary and cultural critics, all members of the National Book Critics Circle board, discuss the art of writing about books. These panelists differ in background and experience; some write for legacy newspapers, others for online venues. All represent criticism as an engaging activity that challenges each to be perpetually in search of the new. 
Moderator: NBCC president Tom Beer, books editor, Newsday
Jane Ciabattari (columnist, BBC Culture, The Literary Hub; contributor, NPR)
Michele Filgate (contributor to the Los Angeles Times;  B&N Review; the  Literary Hub; and O, the Oprah magazine)
Michael Miller, editor at Bookforum
Walton Muyumba (contributor to The Atlantic, Dallas Morning News)
Kate Tuttle (contributor to The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, Salon)

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From the Critical Mass blog

Critical Notes: Carolyn See, Jade Sharma, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Pamela Erens, and more

Author and former NBCC board member Carolyn See passed away at the age of 82.   Tom Beer, Newsday books editor and NBCC board president, reviewed

President’s Message to Membership: Choosing the #NBCCLeonard Awards

Dear NBCC members: With summer well under way, we're once again launching discussions for the John Leonard Prize. The prize, named for the

“What Are You Reading This Summer?” [Part I]

"I make it a summer tradition to re-read some Ashbery, who seems to suit the weather and my attendant mood; this year it's Rivers and Mountains and

Mychal Denzel Smith, Cynthia Ozick and Anne Tyler

It's a steamy summer, and drama and tragedy roll across the nation.  It was a particularly resonant time for NBCC Board member Walton Muyumba to