Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

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

by admin | May-20-2019

NBCC board president Laurie Hertzel reviewed Mary Miller's novel Biloxi for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where she is senior editor for books. (It's about a dog. And redemption. And middle age. How could she not review it?) She also wrote a recap of the inaugural Wordplay book festival for her weekly column.

Former NBCC president Tom Beer interviewed John Glynn about Out East: Memoir of a Montauk Summer for Newsday, where he is books editor.

Former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari shares her latest Lit Hub/Book Marks column, in which she discusses five books about trees with Max Porter, including Calvino's The Baron in the Trees and Laura Beatty's Pollard.

And here's Jane’s report from the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, which includes a panel with two John Leonard award finalists (Jamel Brinkley and R.O. Kwon), a courage in publishing panel with newly minted Pulitzer winner Carlos Lozada (also winner of the NBCC's Balakian award), former NBCC president John Freeman, Paris Review editor Emily Nemens and New York Times ethics columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah.

NBCC board member Madeleine Schwartz wrote about the criminally neglected novelist Lore Segal for Harper’s.

Katherine Hill reviewed Amy Hempel’s short story collection Sing to It for the New Republic, making note of the author’s brevity, which is to say, the fact that she doesn’t use too many words to make a point, which is a special talent, and an enviable one, because reading something where the author just keeps going on and on can be quite tedious, which is to say, tiresome, monotonous, wearying and soporific, and we strongly encourage all writers to take special care not to do this, because, honestly, just get to the point already.

NBCC board member Michael Schaub reviewed Karen Russell’s new Orange World for NPR, and interviewed Where We Come From author Oscar Cásares for the Los Angeles Times.

At NPR, Martha Anne Toll reviewed Lorene Cary’s “thoroughly engaging” Ladysitting: My Year With Nana At The End Of Her Century.

Kamil Ahsan reviewed Chia-Chia Lin’s “brutal, but marvelous” The Unpassing for the A.V. Club.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz for Lone Star Literary Life, as did Mary Ann Gwinn for Newsday.

In Newsday, Gerald Bartell wrote about three novels that take place in the Hamptons (hey, just in time for summer!).

Heller McAlpin wrote a tribute to baking maven Maida Heatter and to her late, lamented Christian Science Monitor editor and fellow baking aficionado, Marjorie Kehe, on the occasion of the publication of Heatter’s greatest hits, Happiness is Baking, for the Monitor. She also reviewed Max Porter's Lanny for NPR, and Jayson Greene’s Once More We Saw Stars for Washington Post.

Robert Allen Papinchak's essay review of Sarah Weinman's The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World appeared in The Millions.

Oline Cogdill reviewed Michael Koryta’s If She Wakes for the Associated Press.

Mike Lindgren contributed a one-two punch to the Washington Post: a review of David Rowell’s Wherever the Sound Takes You, and a consideration of shock jock Howard Stern’s latest book.

Paul Wilner reviewed Joel Mowdy’s “indelible” short story collection Floyd Harbor for Zyzzyva.

NBCC Emerging Critic Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers reviewed Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights and Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator for the spring issue of Orion Magazine.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Duanwad Pimwana's novel Bright for The Woven Tale Press.

Barbara Spindel has been busy diving into nonfiction, reviewing George Packer's Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century for the Christian Science Monitor and the anthology What My Mother and I Don't Talk About (edited by former NBCC board member Michele Filgate) for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Tobias Carroll wrote about Hwang Jungeun’s I’ll Go On for Review31, and discussed Oakley Hall’s fiction at CrimeReads.

Jessica Smith reviewed Cynthia Arrieu-King's Futureless Languages for Fence Digital.

Kathleen Rooney wrote about Lara Prior-Palmer’s new memoir, Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race, for the Star Tribune.

Ellen Wayland-Smith reviewed Briallen Hopper’s Hard to Love for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

When did you first see yourself in a book? That’s the question Anita Felicelli asked 13 Asian American and Pacific Islander authors for this fascinating piece in Bustle. Anita also reviewed Fernando A. Flores’ Tears of the Trufflepig for On the Seawall; NBCC board member Michael Schaub wrote about the novel as well, for the Texas Observer.

Dana Wilde has had a busy month, reviewing Balancing Act 2: A Book of Poems by Fifty Maine Women for The Cafe Review, Adam Tavel's Richard Wilbur Award-winning collection of poems Catafalque for Rain Taxi, and Ghosts, poems by Mark Melnicove and paintings by Abby Shahn, in his Central Maine Newspapers Off Radar column.

Over at On the Seawall, Rochelle Spencer wrote about the return of The Langston Hughes Review.

Some cool member news: Meg Waite Clayton's forthcoming The Last Train to London, a novel based on the true story of the Kindertransport rescue of ten thousand children from Nazi-occupied Europe and one brave woman who helped them escape, sold at auction here and in Israel, and is now also going to be translated into a dozen languages.

Jessica Smith’s new book of poetry, How to Know the Flowers, is now available from Veliz Books.

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 Ross Gay by Slowking, used under Creative Commons license.

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

Critical Notes: David Sedaris, Julie Orringer, and Two Upcoming NBCC Events!

by Mark Athitakis | May-13-2019

A Quick Reminder About Sustainers

If you or someone you know wants to support the NBCC’s efforts but isn't a member, we’ve recently launched the Sustainer category. Sustainers are nonmembers who support the next generation of literary writers through our Emerging Critics program and keep our awards, events, and this website humming. More information about becoming a Sustainer is at our membership page.

On to the Links...

So, how’s the book review going? We don’t mean the one you’re working on---we’re sure that one is going just great. We mean the book review as a general endeavor. In response to a recent Harper’s cover story on the alleged death of the book review, Lit Hub invited 14 book critics to weigh in. Among the respondents are NBCC President Laurie Hertzel, VP of Communications Kerri Arsenault, and Emerging Critic Leena Soman.

Speaking of LitHub, we neglected to include a link to board member Lori Feathers’ review of Ali Smith’s Spring---an essay that launches her new column for the site, “In Context.” Ellen Akins also reviewed Spring for the Washington Post.

“When Notre Dame burned, I felt nothing. There’s no shortage of 12th century churches around Europe.” At the Tampa Bay Times, Collette Bancroft interviewed David Sedaris about his latest book, Calypso.

Ru Freeman reviewed Laila Lalami’s novel The Other Americans for the Boston Globe.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Ian McEwan’s speculative tale of sex and robots, Machines Like Me, for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Alexander Kafka reviewed Lynne Olson's Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler. “Olson’s research is comprehensive, her writing crackling, and her story astonishing,” he writes. Kafka also reviewed Bee Wilson’s The Way We Eat Now for the Washington Post.

Tara Cheesman reviewed Virginie Despentes’ novel Pretty Things for Barrelhouse.

Former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari's May BBC Culture column includes new novels from Julie Orringer, Sarah Blake, an exhilarating debut memoir about a horse race across Mongolia. and a new story collection from Karen Russell, who " spins intricate sentences and pulls off head-spinning shifts, pushing language to its limits." Her recent Lit Hub/Book Marks columns feature exchanges with Leah Hager Cohen about novels with sprawling families and with Binnie Kirshenbaum about unforgettable novels about mental distress, including Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier, which explores post-World War I PTSD.

At the New York Journal of Books, Karl Wolff reviews Deborah Sengl’s visual adaptation of Karl Kraus’ play The Last Days of Mankind.

Balakian finalist Julia M. Klein reviewed two books on Emmett Till, Dave Tell’s Remembering Emmett Till and Elliott J. Gorn’s Let the People See, for the Chicago Tribune. She also interviewed Emily Jungmin Yoon about her poetry collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species, for the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Eric Nguyen reviewed Richard Chiem's novel of “troubled, lonely humanity in the internet age,” King of Joy, for LARB’s diaCRITICS channel.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed Oscar Cásares’ novel Where We Come From for Lone Star Literary Life.

Wayne Catan reviewed three new books about Ernest Hemingway in the Idaho Statesman.

Speaking of Papa: The busy Steve Paul reviewed Andrew Feldman’s Ernesto: The Untold Story of Hemingway in Revolutionary Cuba for Booklist. Paul also interviewed Tommy Orange (There There), winner of the NBCC's John Leonard Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Award, for a forthcoming issue of the Ernest Hemingway Society newsletter. And he writes about his current book project, a projected biography of Evan S. Connell, in a "Work in Progress" essay for New Letters magazine.

Paul Wilner reviewed Christian Kiefer’s novel Phantoms for Alta, calling Kiefer “an important literary voice coming into his own,” and reviewed Joshua Furst’s novel Revolutionaries, about the 60s US counterculture, for the website Splice Today.

Back in the present and one continent over, Brian Haman reviewed Charmaine Leung’s memoir of her roots in Singapore, 17A Keong Saik Road, for Singapore Unbound. He also reviewed Jun Yang’s exhibition The Artist, the Work and the Exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz for ArtAsiaPacific, and reviewed Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, for the New York Times.

And speaking of international literature, Tobias Carroll contributed a few recommendations to Vulture’s list of 15 must-read translated books from the past five years. He also reviewed Paul Kerschen’s novel The Warm South for

Laverne Frith reviewed Ann Townsend’s “deeply engrossing” poetry collection Dear Delinquent at the New York Journal of Books.

The National Book Review ran a humorous piece by Rayyan Al-Shawaf about his novel's bumpy path to publication.

John Glassie reviewed Casey Cep's Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee for the Washington Post, calling it a “rich, ambitious, beautifully written book.” In the Star Tribune, Claude Peck concurs, calling it “carefully researched and lyrically composed.”

Lastly, at On the Seawall, this week’s Critical Notes correspondent, board member Mark Athitakis, reviewed NBCC finalist Lia Purpura’s All the Fierce Tethers, a collection of essays that “circle around themes of death, fear, and loss, and how we use words to elide or erase our anxiety and mortality.”

NBCC Events

Please mark your calendars: On May 30 at Book Expo America at New York’s Javits Center, NBCC VP of events Carlin Romano will moderate “If Everyone’s a Critic, Is Anyone a Critic?” with the Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada, NBCC Emerging Critic Jennie Hann, and Alfred A. Knopf publicity director Nicholas Latimer. Don’t have a BEA pass? All NBCC members who would like to attend NBCC’s BEA panel on May 30th  can receive a free credential to attend BEA that day. Please RSVP by May 23rd to Carlin Romano, VP for Events, at

And on June 8 at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, Lozada will appear in conversation with two NBCC and Pulitzer Prize board members who awarded him this year’s Pulitzer in criticism, Walton Muyumba and past President Elizabeth Taylor. They will discuss book criticism in the age of Goodreads and Amazon, and why it matters.

Member News

Grace Talusan’s debut memoir, The Body Papers, is out now and has been well-received by the New York Times, Nylon, Booklist, and Arkansas International.

Helene Cardona’s Birnam Wood, a translation of poetry by her father, Jose Manuel Cardona, was recently reviewed at Readers’ Favorite; two poems from the book are published and recorded at

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 David Sedaris by WBUR, used via Creative Commons license.

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NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work can be highlighted in this roundup; please send links to new reviews, features and other literary