Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

Critical Notes: Esmé Weijun Wang, Valeria Luiselli, Elizabeth McCracken, and more…

by Victoria Chang | Feb-18-2019


SAVE THE DATE: This year's annual National Book Critics Circle membership meeting will be on Thursday, March 14, from 10 a.m. to noon at The New School. That's the day of the awards ceremony. All members are welcome. Membership meeting at 10 a.m., with coffee and bagels provided. At 11, we'll have a panel titled  "The Stephen King Solution; Could It Work Elsewhere?" moderated by Carlin Romano. The membership meeting ends at noon, and the board begins awards consideration and voting at 12:30.

Join us also for the Finalists' reading on Wednesday, March 13, also at the New School, the awards ceremony on March 14, and the gala awards after-party, celebrating books and our finalists. Tickets $50 for members in advance.

The 31 Books in 30 Days series begins week 3 today.

SAVE THE DATE: The National Book Critics Circle is an AWP literary partner. Come see our featured reading at AWP2019 in Portland on Thursday, March 28, at 4:30 p.m., with NBCC (and Booker) Fiction Award winner Paul Beatty and NBCC (and PEN/Faulkner) Fiction Award winner Joan Silber, conversation with NBCC president Kate Tuttle. And come see us at Bookfair Booth #4010.

Reviews and Interviews

Andrew Ervin reviewed Same Same by Peter Mendelsund for the NYTBR.

Heller McAlpin reviewed Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive and Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway for NPR.

Gayle Feldman profiled Penguin Random House US CEO Madeline McIntosh in The Bookseller.

Yvonne Garrett reviewed Sophie Mackintosh's The Water Cure for The Brooklyn Rail and Veronica Chambers' (Editor) Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power & Creativity of  Beyoncé Knowles-Carter for Publishers Weekly.

Diane Scharper reviewed three books for the National Catholic Reporter: Mary Gordon's On Thomas Merton, Barbara Brown Taylor's Holy Envy, and Jean McNeil's Ice Diaries

Hamilton Cain reviewed Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway in O, the Oprah Magazine and Richard Wrangham’s The Goodness Paradox for the Barnes & Noble Review

Lanie Tankard reviewed Finders by Melissa Scott in The Woven Tale Press.

Gregory Couch reviewed Diane Huckelbridge's No Beast So Fierce for the WSJ. 

Michael Bobelian wrote a review of Jill Abramson's Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts for the LA Times.

NBCC Treasurer Marion Winik reviewed Bowlaway, by Elizabeth McCracken, and Parkland, by Dave Cullen, for Newsday.

For her weekly Lit Hub/Book Marks column, NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari interviewed Devi S. Laskar about five books about being "other" in America, including Claudia Rankine's "Citizen," an NBCC award winner.

Kathleen Rooney reviewed Chris Cander's The Weight of a Piano for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Joseph Scapellato's latest here.  Rooney also was in conversation with James Charlesworth here.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Jill Abramson's Merchants of Truth for the Forward. 

Tobias Carroll has a piece here: New Watchlist column at Words Without Borders and here.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Elizabeth McCracken's novel Bowlaway for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Sheila McClear reviewed late Japanese author Yuko Tsushima's novel Territory of Light for New York Magazine's Vulture.

Ellen Prentiss Campbell reviewed The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff for the Fiction Writers Review.

Katharine Coldiron reviewed The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang for LARB and Tonic and Balm by Stephanie Allen for the Masters Review.  Another piece titled, "Reading in The Horse Latitudes" was published here.




31 Books in 30 Days: Kate Tuttle on Adam Winkler’s ‘We the Corporations’

by Kate Tuttle | Feb-18-2019

In this 31 Books in 30 Days series leading up to the March 14, 2019, announcement of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle award winners, NBCC board members review the thirty-one finalists. Today, NBCC president Kate Tuttle offers her appreciation of nonfiction finalist Adam Winkler’s We the Corporations: How American Business Won Their Civil Rights (Liveright).

When the Supreme Court issued its 2010 Citizens United ruling, many were stunned at the wide array of political and speech rights being granted to corporate entities. Then-President Barack Obama expressed his disagreement with the majority opinion, even going so far as to offer a public rebuke at the State of the Union address. On the political left, Citizens United was seen as setting a dangerous precedent, allowing for an unacceptable level of corporate incursion into our electoral process. The backlash extended into that year’s Occupy Wall Street movement, where protest signs could be seen that read, “Revoke Corporate Personhood.”

These arguments might have seemed bizarre to most of us – how could a corporation be, legally or in any other way, considered a person? – but for Adam Winkler they constitute a long-running, if relatively unknown, narrative in American jurisprudence. In We the Corporations, Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA, traces this history back to the nation’s founding. Looking at the earliest European settlements in Virginia, for instance, he concludes that “in the beginning, America was a corporation.” Not only were the first colonists typically employees of capitalist ventures undertaken to enrich investors, the language of corporate charters found its way into our original founding documents, including the U.S. Constitution.

Still, the notion that American corporations deserve unfettered power – either in terms of property rights or civil rights – is hardly uncontested. Nor do the arguments tend to fit neatly into partisan schematics. Over the years, Winkler writes, “what has often united justices across the left/right spectrum is a tendency to side with business.”

In fact, Winkler argues, there are corporations (mostly nonprofit, such as the NACCP) that “have been among the unsung heroes of civil rights.” Winkler knows that readers might receive that last sentence skeptically, but as he chronicles a series of court battles, he begins to make his case. It helps that he writes with verve and humor. “Ronald McDonald and the Pillsbury Doughboy never marched on Washington or down Main Street demanding equal rights for corporations,” he quips. Nevertheless, over the past several centuries, for better or worse, they have often prevailed – aided, of course, by their human representatives, including fascinating characters from Daniel Webster to Roscoe Conkling – and they have often also lost. Many of the cases associated in the popular mind with corporate overreach, such as 2014’s Hobby Lobby ruling, actually rested on the court’s argument about the rights of a corporation’s human members, not on corporate rights per se.

A tour de force of legal history, deftly told, We the Corporations encourages readers to see things from different angles, and provides a kind of road map to help understand some of the big questions likely to face the courts in coming years.

Kate Tuttle is president of the National Book Critics Circle. Her reviews, as well as profiles of literary figures ranging from Salman Rushdie to Leslie Jamison, have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and Newsday.She writes a weekly column about books and authors for the Boston Globe. Her essays on childhood, race, and politics have appeared in DAME, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. 


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NBCC Finalists’ Reading: March 13th, 2019

NBCC Awards Ceremony and Reception: March 14th, 2019

NBCC at AWP19 with Paul Beatty and Joan Silber: March 28th, 2019

NBCC at AWP19 The Future of Criticism: A Conversation with Established and Emerging Critics: March 30th, 2019

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