Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

A Free Hand With History, and Whitehead’s ‘Great American Novel’

by David Varno | Jul-22-2019

A historical novel and a nonfiction narrative each put their own stamp on the past with mixed results, according to NBCC member critics. In a review of Clare Clark's In the Full Light of the Sun for the Forward, Julia M. Klein calls the novelist's method a "buffet approach to mining history.” At the Washington Times, Philip Kopper writes that Tony Horwitz's Spying on the South is “vintage Horwitz. Awkwardly long, magisterially researched and curiously intimate, it is rich in delicious tangents and mind-bending excursions into cul-de-sacs of Americana — from contemporarily absurd to historically heinous.”

Meanwhile, the reviews for Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys keep rolling in. On Fresh Air, Balakian winner Maureen Corrigan called it a "great American Novel," while Zack Graham reviewed The Nickel Boys for or his Epiphany column, Allen Adams covered it for the Maine Edge, and Colette Bancroft interviewed the author for the Tampa Bay Times.

Kamil Ahsan called culture critic Chuck Klosterman's new collection of short fiction "undercooked" at the A.V. Club. Allen Adams also reviewed Raised In Captivity at the Maine Edge.

Jeannine Hall Gailey reviewed Jericho Brown's The Tradition in Barrelhouse, calling it “his most powerful, and his most technically accomplished” collection of poems to date.

Jean Huets reviewed Beirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage, a novel set during Lebanon’s civil war, at Ron Slate’s On the Seawall.

Writing for the Santa Barbara Independent, Brian Tanguay calls Pico Iyer's new travel book, Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells, an “elegiac meditation on time, family, loss, and being fully present in the moment.”

Also this week, Julia M. Klein reviewed Isha Sesay's Beneath the Tamarind Tree for the Boston Globe.

Katharine Coldiron's work includes an interview with Costalegre author Courtney Maum at Bomb, an essay comparing David Shields's The Trouble With Men with Erica Garza's Getting Off at Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and an interview with The Last Englishman author Deborah Baker at Cagibi Lit.

Richard Z. Santos recently profiled Daniel Guiet (author of Scholars of Mayhem) for Kirkus Reviews and reviewed Paul Tremblay’s new collection of short stories (Growing Things) for Criminal Element.

Ann Harleman's review of The Need by Helen Phillips appeared in the Boston Globe.

Dana Wilde reviewed Linda Buckmaster's Space Heart: A Memoir in Stages in his Central Maine Newspapers Off Radar column.

Paul Gleason reviewed Joseph Sternberg's The Theft of a Decade: How the Baby Boomers Stole the Millennials' Economic Future in Pacific Standard.

K.L. Romo reviewed Father Sweet, J. J. Martin’s debut novel, and One Little Secret by Cate Holahan for

Eric Nguyen reviewed Evelyn Hampton's Famous Children and Famished Adults for Barrelhouse.

Alexandra Enders reviewed Hymn to Apollo: The Ancient World and the Ballet Russes, on view at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World with an accompanying catalog from Princeton University Press for NYRB Daily.

Chuck Greaves reviewed Ruchika Tomar's A Prayer for Travelers in the July issue of the Four Corners Free Press.

Member news

C. Joseph Greaves' third novel, Church of the Graveyard Saints (Torrey House Press), has been selected as the inaugural 2019-2020 title for the Four Corners/One Book regional community-wide reading program for the Southwestern U.S. cities of Montrose, Cortez, Bayfield, Dolores, and Mancos (Colorado) and Moab (Utah.)  It will be in bookstores in September of 2019.

Colson Whitehead’s stellar return and more books coverage

by Carolyn Kellogg | Jul-15-2019

At the Washington Post, Ron Charles reviews Colson Whitehead's new novel The Nickel Boys, writing that "it shreds our easy confidence in the triumph of goodness and leaves in its place a hard and bitter truth about the ongoing American experiment." At the NY Times, Parul Sehgal, winner of the 2011 NBCC Balakian award, writes that the book is "a tense, nervy performance." And at the L.A. Times, NBCC board member Carolyn Kellogg wrote about Whitehead and his inspiration for the novel -- the Dozier School in Florida and Trump's election -- as well as the time, as a teenager, he was mistakenly picked up by cops. 

Constance Grady, who covers books and culture at Vox, has recently written about: Fleishman is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner; a new Jane Eyre ballet; Neal Stephenson's Fall; and Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger, "a cookbook that reads like a novel."

Writing for the Associated Press -- look for these reviews at a media outlet near you -- Oline H. Cogdill reviewed the mystery novels Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin; Lock Every Door by Riley Sager and Paper Son by S.J. Rozan. Cogdill also reviewed Almost Midnight by Paul Doiron for the Sun-Sentinel.

Paul Wilner talked to Peter Orner about his short story collection Maggie Brown and Others at Zzzyva.

NBCC board member Lori Feathers reviewed Beyond Babylon by Igiaba Scego, translated from the Italian by Aaron Robertson, for On the Seawall.

Clea Simon rethought beach reads at NBC and reviewed The Ghost Clause by Howard Norman for the Boston Globe.

Jason Diamond talked to fighter-slash-writer Jaed Coffin about his memoir Roughhouse Friday for Inside Hook.

Jake Cline reviewed David Szalay's novel Turbulence at the Washington Post.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed Margarita Liberacki's Three Summers for NPR Books.

Maureen Corrigan reviewed the novel Copperhead by Alexi Zentner for NPR.

At The Maine Edge, Allen Adams reviewed The Porpoise by Mark Haddon and the nonfiction book Archeology from Space by Sarah Parcak, who he also talked to about the book.

Jessica Smith reviewed two poetry collections for Fence Digital: dark // thing by Ashley M. Jones (Pleiades, 2019) and I Can't Talk about the Trees without the Blood by Tiana Clark (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2018). Smith also reviewed Homemade Poems by Lorine Niedecker (CUNY Center for the Humanities, 2012) for Quartlery West.

Lanie Tankard reviewed the short story collection Termination Shocks by Janice Margolis for Woven Tale Press.

Rachael Nevins wrote about Catherine Morland, the heroine of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, at Ploughshares.

Nicole Rudick reviewed Sophie Podolski: Le pays où tout est permis/The Country Where Everything Is Permitted for Art in America.


NBCC board member Kerri Arsenault has an essay about hunger in Maine at LitHub.

On his blog, Robert Birnbaum looks at the career and a traveling exhibit about musician and poet Leonard Cohen.

Cliff Garstang's novel The Shaman of Turtle Valley has been reviewed in Virginia Living Magazine, Peace Corps Worldwide and Amanda's Book Review.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf's novel When All Else Fails was reviewed by Popmatters and he appeard on Weam Namou's show to talk about the book.

Colson Whitehead. Photograph by Chris Close for Doubleday.

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More from the Critical Mass blog

Colson Whitehead’s stellar return and more books coverage

At the Washington Post, Ron Charles reviews Colson Whitehead's new novel The Nickel Boys, writing that "it shreds our easy confidence in the triumph

Marie Ponsot remembered and a stack of new book reviews

Poet Marie Ponsot, whose 1998 collection The Bird Catcher won the NBCC award in poetry, died Friday July 5 at age 98. NBCC Board member Tess Taylor

Critical Notes: A quiet week, but lots to read

Alexis Burling reviewed three nonfiction books for the San Francisco Chronicle, in honor of Pride week: Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True

Critical Notes: Aleksandar Hemon, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, and Plenty of Summer Reading

New member Constance Grady of Vox has been busy, covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel City of Girls, Jim DeRogatis’ investigative book on R. Kelly, the