Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

Critical Notes: Sarah Vowell, Nabokov, Oliver Sacks, Jean-Phillipe Blondel, and more

by Michele Filgate | Nov-30-2015

NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari at Lit Hub: Phil Klay's John Leonard award winning collection picks up another award, Mary Gaitskill, Kevin Barry, Nabokov's letters to Vera and Anna Bikont's searing investigation of a 1941 massacre of Polish Jews.

Nathaniel Popkin reviews Jean-Philippe Blondel’s 6:41 to Paris (translated by Alison Anderson) for The Millions. Joseph Peschel reviewed the same book for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Julia M. Klein reviews Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States and Amos Kamil and Sean Elder’s Great is the Truth for the Chicago Tribune. She reviews Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover for The Boston Globe.

David Nilsen reviews Stay: Prose Poems by Kathleen McGookey for Fourth & Sycamore.

Michael Magras reviews John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries for the Chicago Tribune.

NBCC Board member and 2013 Balakian winner Katherine A. Powers picks five of the best audio books of 2015 for the Washington Post and considers six novels by Barbara Comyns for the Barnes & Noble Review.

George de Stefano reviews Lillian Faderman’s The Gay Revolution for Pop Matters.

Dominic Green reviews Roberto Calasso’s Ardor in the Weekly Standard, and also Jonathan Harris’s Lost World of Byzantium, Martin Wall’s The Anglo-Saxon Age, and Robin Derricourt’s Antiquity Imagined in Minerva.

Joan Gelfand reviews Katherine Hastings Nighthawks for

John Domini reviews Mark Wisniewski’s Watch Me Go for The Kenyon Review.

Michael Berry reviews Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Crimson Shore and John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries for the Portland Press Herald.

Colette Bancroft reviews Gratitude by Oliver Sacks for Tampa Bay Times.

Mike Fischer reviews The Mare by Mary Gaitskill for the Journal Sentinel.

Lois Lowry, two-time Newbery Medal winner, speaks with NBCC member Julie Hakim Azzam about The Giver, dystopian fiction, and writing for children.

Oronte Churm reviews Stanley Crawford’s Log of the SS the Mrs. Unguentine for Inside Higher Ed.

NBCC Balakian winner Alexandra Schwartz covers the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris for The New Yorker.

Multiple NBCC award finalist Aleksandar Hemon is writer in residence at Chicago’s Columbia College.

Fred Volkmer reviews The Anger Meridian by Kaylie Jones and Tales of Accidential Genius by Simon Van Booy for Southampton Press and 27 East.

Cynthia-Marie Marmo O’Brien reviews Twelve Women in a Country Called America for The Literary Review.

Steven G. Kellman reviews Letters to Véra by Vladimir Nabokov for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Second Thoughts: Edie Meidav on The Catcher in the Rye

by Edie Meidav | Nov-25-2015

This is the eleventh in Critical Mass's new Second Thoughts series, curated by Daniel Akst. More about this series, and how to submit, here

Ah, Sir, a novel is a mirror carried along a high road. At one moment it reflects to your vision the azure skies, at another the mire of the puddles at your feet. And the man who carries this mirror in his pack will be accused by you of being immoral! His mirror shews the mire, and you blame the mirror! Rather blame that high road upon which the puddle lies, still more the inspector of roads who allows the water to gather and the puddle to form.-- The Red and the Black, Stendhal

Is there any book in the American canon more prone to acting as a twisted mirror than The Catcher in the Rye? If you were one of the many readers to read it in the full blush of adolescence, as most do, Catcher is one of those books which acts so easily as a cry straight into the heart of your own rebellion.

Perennially misunderstood, beset by strange quirks, a list maker of taste (predicting such latter-day, music-oriented Holdens as Nick Hornby and early Rick Moody), Caulfield offers the adolescent heart the strange promise of literature if in a recherché way. Holden seems to speak to you, you my reader, my semblable, saying you alone can understand me and my allergy to the world's hypocrisy. Inciting in the young reader's heart a savior complex: not only is the reader made complicit thanks to Salinger's virtuosic empathy, but the reader might, if empathic enough, just be one of the elect who will understand Holden.

To cut to the quick: I first read the book at 14 or so, in some latent R.D. Laing mode, sure the world Holden was in was touched with insanity, a la The King of Comedy. What suffering -- to be the one person awake in a dullish world! And to my great disappointment, reader, I read it again at the prematurely self-satisfied age of 19, having believed I understood the world, and saw that, no, perhaps Holden was the one who might come off a bit touched. Because of these prior stations, I am holding off reading it at my current age. Will the inspector of roads, as Stendhal says above, have proven even more faulty at her job? Will the disillusionment about those prior selves who read with such judgment be too great?

Approving of the new modern writers around her, Cather once said that it would be wonderful if we could throw all the furniture “out of the window . . . and leave the room as bare as the stage of a Greek theatre.” In Salinger's jazzy skaz, the stage is left just as bare as your own scrims. And beyond, in his field, stands the catcher ready to catch you, whether you are still at heart a child or -- crazily -- not.

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