Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

New from NBCC critics: Elizabeth Gilbert, Nicole Dennis-Benn and lots more

by Carolyn Kellogg | Jun-18-2019

The latest interviews, reviews and more from our members.

Kristen Evans talked to Elizabeth Gilbert about her new novel City of Girls for Buzzfeed.

Terese Svoboda reviewed Last Day by Domenica Ruta for the NY Times Book Review.

Barbara J. King reviewed Giants of the Monsoon Forest by Jacob Shell for NPR.

Lisa Russ Sparr reviewed three poetry collections at VQR: Sight Lines by Arthur Sze, Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne and Anagnorisis by Kyle Dargan.

Jenny Shank reviewed Nicole Dennis-Benn's Patsy for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson reviewed Franco Moretti's Far Country for Barnes & Noble Review and Ryan Chapman's novel Riots I Have Known for Book & Film Globe.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Christian Kiefer's novel Phantoms for Woven Tale Press.

Nathan Webster reviewed Ryan Leigh Dostie's military memoir Formation for The Daily Beast.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed the novel Cabañuelas by Norma Elia Cantú at Lone Star Literary Life.

Sarah McCraw Crow reviewed the novel Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler at Bookpage.

George de Stefano reviewed Which Side Are You On? by James Sullivan for Popmatters

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviewed Casey Cep's Furious Hours for Popmatters.

John Domini reviewed David Shields' The Trouble With Men for the Brooklyn Rail.

Chelsea Leu reviewed Elizabeth Rush's Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore for Bay Nature.

Tobias Carroll talked to Kristen Arnett about her novel Mostly Dead Things at Longreads, about translating prose to comics at LitHub and, for, reviewed Longer by Michael Blumlein and Brian Evenson's new short story collection Song for the Unraveling World.

Zach Graham reviewed Evenson's Song for the Unraveling World for Epiphany.

Jake Klein reviewed Karen Russell's new short story collection Orange World in The Atlantic.

NBCC board member Carolyn Kellogg reviewed The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector for the Los Angeles Times.

Other news

Following a stroke four years ago that felled him for a long stretch, Steve Weinberg--three-term NBCC board member and newsletter editor--cut way back on his freelance reviewing. Currently, he reviews nonfiction books almost every week for Kirkus, edited by Eric Liebetrau, Laurie Muchnick and Tom Beer, all former NBCC board members. Because Kirkus maintains its policy of unbylined reviews, Weinberg cannot send a link to any specific review without revealing his identity.

And member Julie Wittes Shlack recieved a starred review at Kirkus for her memoir This-All-At-Onceness (not, as far as we know, from Steve).

Longtime NBCC member John Domini has just published a novel, The Color Inside a Melon, with Dzanc Books. It is reviewed this week in the Washington Post by NBCC board member Mark Athitakis. 


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 Elizabeth Gilbert and her novel City of Girls via Gilbert on Twitter @GilbertLiz.

Critical Notes: Member News, Summer Books, and a Word About the Sandrof

by admin | Jun-10-2019

We Still Need Your Help Selecting the Next Sandrof Award Winner

Do you want the chance to help pick the next winner of the NBCC’s Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award? We hope so, because we need your help!

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. Thanks to the hard work of our NBCC members, we’ve got a great slate of nominees for next year’s award — but we’d love your help adding some more names to the list!

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 and News...

Star Tribune senior editor for books (and NBCC board president) Laurie Hertzel devoted much of her May to producing a four-page wrap-around summer books section, which includes recommendations of 45 books. She also reviewed 10 picture books by Minnesota authors and illustrators.

Also in the Strib, Hamilton Cain reviews Chia-Chia Lin’s The Unpassing, calling it “an eloquent, unsparing testament to the vicissitudes of our lives.”

NBCC board member Gregg Barrios did not throw away his shot to review a performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical Hamilton at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio.

NBCC board member Anjali Enjeti reviewed De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel, In West Mills, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, calling it “surprising and irresistible at every turn.”

NBCC board member Michael Schaub reviewed Nicole Dennis-Benn’s “brave, brilliant” Patsy for NPR.

Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous earned two reviews at NPR, from Heller McAlpin and Maureen Corrigan.

David Canfield and Leah Greenblatt celebrated Pride Month at Entertainment Weekly, reviewing two books by LGBTQ authors: Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Patsy.

Joseph Peschel reviewed Oscar Cásares’s Where We Come From for the Brooklyn Rail, calling the Texas author’s novel “a story that transcends politics — a fiction to tell a truer truth.”

In this corner, we have Barbara J. King coming out swinging with a one-two punch, reviewing Lewis Dartnell's Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History for the Washington Post and Robert Macfarlane's Underland: A Deep Time Journey for NPR.

Michael J. McCann also had a pair of reviews published recently, both in the New York Journal of Books: read his takes on James Ellroy’s The Storm and David Ricciardi’s Rogue Strike.

Paul W. Gleason reviewed John Barton’s A History of the Bible for Newsday.

Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Rabbits for Food, ten years in the making, has been getting rave reviews, most recently from Robert Allen Papinchak, who called it “astounding” and “an impressive achievement” at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Speaking of Binnie Kirshenbaum, Kimberly King Parsons interviewed the author about literature, comedy, and cats for Bomb magazine. (Be sure to check out Kimberly’s short story collection, Black Light, which will be published by Vintage in August.)

New NBCC member Jake Cline (welcome to the party, Jake!) reviews Florida author Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things for the Washington Post.

Also at the Post, Michael Lindgren celebrates the spring by reviewing two books about baseball.

Over at Splice Today, Paul Wilner reviewed Stanley Booth's entertainingly titled Red Hot and Blue: Fifty Years of Writing About Memphis, Music and Motherf**kers. Kick out the jams!

Christoph Irmscher reviewed James Poskett's Materials of the Mind and penned a tribute to Walt Whitman, both for the Wall Street Journal.

Julia M. Klein reviewed David Maraniss's A Good American Family for the Forward.

Jean Huets reviewed Kathryn Scanlan’s Aug 9—Fog at Ron Slate’s On the Seawall.

Former NBCC president Kate Tuttle wrote a dispatch from BookExpo for the Los Angeles Times, in which she stans a furry legend known as Grumpy Cat.

Nicole Rudick profiled Tin House on the occasion of its 20th anniversary and final issue for the New York Times.

And finally, some great news from one of our board members: Our man in San Antonio, Gregg Barrios, has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and will be spending his summer in Key West and Tampa to complete work on his upcoming theater projects. Congratulations, Gregg!

Photo of Nicole Dennis-Benn by Wikipedia user Kiwi876, used under Creative Commons license.

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More from the Critical Mass blog

Critical Notes: Member News, Summer Books, and a Word About the Sandrof

We Still Need Your Help Selecting the Next Sandrof Award Winner Do you want the chance to help pick the next winner of the NBCC’s Ivan Sandrof

Reviews and more to kick off June from the National Book Critics Circle

From the NBCC's Emerging Critics: Just in time for June’s Pride celebrations, Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers reviewed Bruce Cinnamon’s The Melting

Critical Notes: Audiobooks, new books, book reviews, forthcoming books. Or, we might just say, BOOKS

NBCC board member Katherine A. Powers reviewed the audiobook versions of The Lost Man by Jane Harper, Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman and How to Hide

Critical Notes: Wordplay, Amy Hempel, and Fernando A. Flores

NBCC board president Laurie Hertzel reviewed Mary Miller's novel Biloxi for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where she is senior editor for books.