June, 2018

Summer books, Father’s Day and interviews galore

by Laurie Hertzel | Jun-18-2018

It's high summer, a time to slow down; a time for beach reading and sailing and fishing and napping and vacation, but book critics never rest. We have a ton of wonderful links to reviews, interviews, stories and awards. Read on:


Reviews and columns:

NBCC Board member Lori Feathers' latest "Best of the B-Sides" feature at Words Without Borders is "Keeping House," a look at four novels in which a family’s home is integral to the story.

Board member David Varno reviewed Patrick Chamoiseau's "Slave Old Man" for the Brooklyn Rail. 

NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari's BBC Culture column includes A.M. Homes' new story collection, Maria Hummel's new novel, Amanda Stern's Little Panic, and a novel by a Chilean author about an enigmatic novelist inspired by Clarice Lispector in which former NBCC board member and biography finalist Ben Moser has a cameo appearance. 

NBCC Board member Laurie Hertzel wrote her weekly column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune about sadness in children's books. She also interviewed librarians about summer book recommendations, and curated the summer books guide.

NBCC board member Michael Schaub reviews Richard Rhodes' "Energy" for NPR.

NBCC member Claude Peck reviewed "Reporter," by Seymour Hersh, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Former board member and Balakian recipient Steven G. Kellman reviewed Seymour Hersh's "Reporter" for the Forward. He also reviewed  Mario Vargas Llosa's "The Neighborhood" for the Barnes and Noble Review.

In advance of Father's Day, the Washington Post published Michael Lindgren's roundup of three books about fatherhood. This unlikely experiment, he said, allows him to attempt to exercise his sardonic side.

Jenny Bhatt reviewed Paul Theroux's "Figures in a Landscape" for PopMatters--his most polished collection to date, she says, adding, "In addition to looking at the essays that are filled with sharp observations about cultural icons, insights about literature, and accounts of eventful journeys, I also look at why we need good, sharp travel-writing now more than ever."

Lanie Tankard reviewed Bethany C. Morrow's debut novel "MEM" from Unnamed Press for the June "Eye on the Indies" column in The Woven Tale Press.

Carol Iaciofano reviewed Meghan MacLean Weir's novel "The Book of Essie," for WBUR's The ARTery.

In The Brooklyn Rail, John Domini praises "Because," a memoir in poetry by Joshua Mensch. Also in the Brooklyn Rail, Domini calls Elle Nash’s debut novel, "Animals Eat Each Other," “stealthy, ticklish, and altogether satisfying:” 

Wayne Catan reviewed Daniel Swift's "The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound" for the Idaho Statesman on June 10. 

Laverne Frith reviewed "4:30 Movie" by Donna Masini for the New York Journal of Books.

Frank Freeman reviewed "Lives of Eminent Philosophers"  for University Bookman.

Hamilton Cain wrote a joint review of Adam Rutherford's "A Brief History of Everyone Who Lived" and David Reich's "Who We Are and How We Got That Way," for Barnes & Noble Review.

Michael Magras reviewed "Good Trouble" by Joseph O'Neill for the Houston Chronicle.

Diane Scharper reviewed "Warlight" by Booker Prize winning novelist Michael Ondaatje for America magazine.

Jason Berry reviewed "From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square" by Jeroen Dewulf for New Orleans Magazine.

Katharine Coldiron wrote about the similarities between the novels of Sean Penn and Amanda McKittrick Ros for the Millions.

Ellen Prentiss Campbell's review of Nathaniel Popkin's unique new novel, "Everything is Borrowed," is online at Fiction Writers Review.

And here is Mr Popkin again! For the print (not online) version of Rain Taxi, Nathaniel Popkin reviewed the English translation of Hector Abad’s novel "The Farm," published by Archipelago.


And other nice stuff:

Longtime board member Cynthia Haven's new book, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, went into a second printing after six weeks, and is now being translated into Portuguese for a Brazilian edition. It was reviewed last week by Marilyn Yalom in the Wall Street Journal. It was also reviewed in the current Stanford Magazine.

David Nilsen interviews Joey Comeau about his newest novel,"Malagash," for the Spring issue of The Puritan Magazine. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose novel "Americanah" won the NBCC fiction award (and whose "Half of a Yellow Sun" was a fiction finalist) has won the PEN Harold Pinter Prize, which honors a writer of “outstanding literary merit” who – in the words of Pinter’s speech on winning the Nobel prize in 2005 – casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze upon the world and shows a “fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.

NBCC board member Victoria Chang was interviewed in Palette Poetry.

In time for summer, a podcast of NBCC award winner Daniel Mendelsohn and Michael Cunningham in conversation from the Hawthorne Art Barn in Provincetown.

"American Suite," the first book of poetry by former NBCC board member and Balakian winner Steven G. Kellman, will be published in August by Finishing Line Press. 

NBCC Sandrof award winner for lifetime achievement Lawrence Ferlinghetti's experimental new book is due out for his 100th birthday in 2019.

Longtime NBCC member Abby Frucht has a new short story, "Peeping Tom," at Solstice literary magazine.

Bradley Sides interviewed Lillian Li for The Millions and Nick White for Electric Literature.


Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. Please no hyperlinks, just URLs. Please no italics, just plain roman type (even if it breaks your heart. Go ahead and use the Oxford comma, if that helps). Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and chairman of the NBCC autobiography committee.

NBCC Reads: What’s Your Favorite Book in Translation?

by Lori Feathers | Jun-12-2018



















This summer we’re asking NBCC members, finalists and award winners to write about a favorite book, in any genre, that's been translated into English. Tell us why you love the book (in 500 words or less) be it a new one, like Sayaka Murata’s quirky little novel, Convenience Store Woman, or something a bit older, such as Stefan Zweig’s evocative memoir, The World of Yesterday. Please email your submission to NBCC Board member Lori Feathers: lori@interabangbooks.com  (The NBCC Reads series draws upon the bookish passions of NBCC members and honorees; you can browse NBCC Reads series dating back to 2007, beginning with a post from former NBCC president John Freeman,  here.) 

Lori Feathers is a freelance book critic who lives in Dallas, Texas. Her reviews and features are published in several online and print publications including The Los Angeles Review of Books, Words Without Borders, The Rumpus, Full Stop, World Literature Today, and Rain Taxi. She is the creator and author of Words Without Borders’ regular feature, “Best of the B-Sides.” She was a fiction judge for the 2017 and 2018 Best Translated Book Awards. Lori co-owns Interabang Books in Dallas, where she works as the store’s book buyer

Video: The Crisis in Book Reviewing: Disappearing Space, Disappearing Pay

by David Varno | Jun-11-2018

Over the past 10 years, book-review sections in many American newspapers have  gone on life support. At least one major newspaper that once spent close to $100,000 annually on book reviews now budgets zero for book reviews. One result is that the same review often runs in more papers than ever before.  Do newer digital ventures make up for the print decline in either space or pay?


Christopher Carduff, Books Editor, The Wall Street Journal

Gerald Howard, Vice-President and Executive Editor, Doubleday

Julia M. Klein, Cultural Critic

Kate Tuttle, President, National Book Critics Circle and columnist, The Boston Globe

Moderator: Carlin Romano, Critic-at-Large, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vice President, NBCC, Author, America the Philosophical (Alfred A. Knopf)

Date: May 30, 2018,  12:00 PM - 12:50 PM

Location: Book Expo, Jacob Javits Center

Video courtesy of NBCC Emerging Critic Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers.

NBCC/Zyzzyva Cocktail Party June 28

by Jane Ciabattari | Jun-09-2018

Please join us for the eighth annual National Book Critics Circle/Zyzzyva cocktail party, hosted by NBCC VP/Online and former President Jane Ciabattari and Zyzzyva's Editor in Chief Laura Cogan and Managing Editor (and former NBCC board member) Oscar Villalon. Join us for literary conversation and toasts, and celebrate our new Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics program, named in honor of the late critic Alan Cheuse. The Bay Area's Emerging Critics include Heather Scott Partington, Ismael Muhammad (who also is a new NBCC board member), from Year 1, and from Year 2, Chelsea Leu and Jonathan Leal. We had 140 entries this year.

When: Thursday, June 28, 2018 at 6 pm.

Where: The Mechanics Institute building, 57 Post Street, Suite 604, San Francisco, CA

RSVP: janeciab@gmail.com

NBCC at Book Expo America: Julia M. Klein on the Crisis in Book Reviewing

by Julia M. Klein | Jun-07-2018

NBCC member Julia M. Klein’s talk for a Book Expo America panel on May 30 on “The Crisis in Book Reviewing: Disappearing Space, Disappearing Pay." (Below, NBCC President Kate Tuttle, Doubleday editor Gerald Howard, Julia M. Klein.

I see what we’re calling “The Crisis in Book Reviewing” as a subset of the larger crisis afflicting both journalism and freelancing. There are special factors affecting arts journalism and book criticism, but first I want to paint the broader picture to show just how intractable the problems are.

We all know there’s a business model problem and a shrinkage of space in print outlets. But there’s been a growth in digital outlets, which often pay either nothing or really nominal rates to writers. But print rates, too, have fallen significantly over the past two or three decades and longer.

I’ve found a couple of very good articles that make the point. The first, by the late great David Carr for a now-defunct publication called Inside, dates from 2001, around the time I left a staff job at The Philadelphia Inquirer and started freelancing. It looks primarily at the magazine world. It notes that Tina Brown upended magazines by paying up to $5/word at Vanity Fair in the 1980s and 90s. As a parenthetical, I’ve since heard that some writers – Michael Lewis, for one – were getting as much as $10/word under Brown’s successor, Graydon Carter.

But David Carr’s main point remains true – that only a handful of writers belong to this rarefied elite. He writes: “The vast majority of working stiffs, even those who can deliver clean copy in a timely manner, are viewed as a limitless supply of interchangeable drones and compensated accordingly.”

He points out, for example, that in 1965 magazines such as McCall’s and Ladies’ Home Journal were paying $2,500 for feature stories. In 2001, that fee, adjusted for inflation, should have been $13,500. The current equivalent, for 2018, would be $19,884.60. McCall’s is, of course, dead, and no one’s getting that much from other women’s magazines.

Base pay rates for top print magazines, as Carr notes, went to about $2/word in the early 1990s. They’ve stayed there or, in some cases, even declined to about $1.50 a word. And we’re nearly three decades on. In addition, of course, space has shrunk and stories have gotten shorter, resulting in even smaller fees. And this is without getting into the problems of contracts that take all rights or the abusive use of kill fees, both of which depress writers’ income.

I kept the Carr article in my files over the years. Then in April of this year, another quite good piece was published on a website called Medium, by a writer named Malcolm Harris, who says he was paid $1/word for the story. He reports, somewhat anecdotally, that the median price for freelance work is now between 25 and 50 cents a word, though with flat rates largely taking over from word rates. His main concern is the toll on the quality of the product. “Talented writers,” he says, “walk away from the industry, plutocrats are free to pick stories and choose writers even when they don’t own the outlets, and the quality of the work declines.”  (The reference to plutocrats seems to be about foundation money, which mostly funds investigative reporting, not book reviews.)

Harris also offers a wonderful history of the now-vaunted and desirable $1/word rate, which he says was first offered to Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 – and, to me, around 1980. The inflation calculator I found on online doesn’t start until 1913. But the equivalent of $1 for that date would now be more than $25/word.

This overview gives you a sense of the landscape. I think arts journalism and book reviewing in particular have been subject over the years to additional pressures because, along with staff and freelance journalists, reviewing has been the province of academics and of book authors. These are people whose income mainly comes from other sources, and who publish book reviews for reasons of career and self-promotion and prestige and personal satisfaction. One newspaper book editor told me that when she assigned a review to one academic, he or she asked rather timorously, “Is there an honorarium?” I know that when I was assigned a book review for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, expecting pay to be competitive with what I was getting for museum reviews and other Journal stories (in the $800 to $1000 range), I was told that book review pay topped out instead at $500. And that non-journalists – academics, lawyers, other experts – got even less, $400. That, I was told, was what the market would bear.

I will say that, in the past, I personally have gotten as much as $2/word for book reviews. But that was both rare and not recent. Columbia Journalism Review, which used to pay me at least $1/word, including for book reviews and essays, now pays less than that – and doesn’t even publish book reviews on the website that‘s largely replaced the print magazine.

One last story that I both love and hate. I’ve done the occasional book review over the years for The Washington Post, starting around 2001 or 2002. The rate then was $350/review, for about 800 words. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that rate dates from at least the 1990s. Each time I was assigned a review, I asked in a perfunctory way, because I thought it was a good thing to do, whether that rate had risen. Each time I was told no. The last time I asked was well into the ownership tenure of the billionaire Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. There had been reports that Bezos was sinking lots of money into the Post, hiring dozens of new reporters and so on. So, dutifully, I asked about book review rates.

Yes, I was told, they have risen! (Hallelujah.)

What’s the new rate? I asked.


Really, Jeff Bezos, with all your billions, you couldn’t even go to $400?

What more can I say? Given this dispiriting context, I’m not hopeful about the future, but I would love to be proven wrong.     

Julia M. Klein is a Philadelphia-based cultural reporter and critic who writes about museums, theater, books, film, television and the media. She is the Forward's contributing book critic and was a longtime contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review.

New Fiction by Lauren Groff, Bill Clinton and James Patterson and more

by Daisy Fried | Jun-04-2018


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, NBCC award fiction award winner (for Americanah) and fiction finalist (for Half of a Yellow Sun) is profiled in The New Yorker.

Colette Bancroft's ​review of Lauren Groff's new book of stories, Florida, appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.

Board Member Gregg Barrios ​wrote about Andy Warhol and the myth of the American West for The Rivard Report.

Ellen Prentiss Campbell's review and re-discovery of the late Josephine Jacobsen's The Edge of the Sea appears on The Fiction Writers Review for "Short Story Month."

Tobias Carroll ​reviewed Melissa Broder's The Pisces and Rita Bullwinkel's Belly Up for Tor.com.

​Anne Charles​' review of Nicola Griffith's So Lucky appeared in the Lambda Literary Review.

Meg Waite Clayton reviewed Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean for the San Francisco Chronicle.

David Cooper reviewed The Mandela Plot by Kenneth Bonert in the New York Journal of Books.

Jonathan Farmer ​wrote about literary power and Shane McCrae's latest book of poems, The Language of My Captor, for Kenyon Review.

Gayle Feldman remembers publisher Peter Mayer in Publishers Weekly. 

Anita Felicelli's review of Elaine Castillo's America is Not the Heart appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle

Michael Lindgren ​reviewed a new biography of legendary photographer Weegee for Newsday.

Anita Belles Porterfield ​reviewed David George Haskell's The Songs of Trees for The Express-News.

Board Member Katherine A. Powers​ reviewed The President is Missing, by former President Bill Clinton and James Patterson, for Newsday.

Rebecca Renner reviewed Alice Bolin's Dead Girls ​for Broadly/Vice. 

Richard Santos ​interviewed Kevin Powers for Kirkus about his new novel, A Shout in the Ruins.

Diane Scharper reviewed Julian Barnes' The Only Story for The Weekly Standard. 

Grace Schulman, ​who won the Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry in 2016, announces a memoir, ​Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage, forthcoming in August from Turtle Point Press. 

Joan Silverman ​reviewed Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces by Michael Chabon for the Portland Press Herald. 

Ron Slate reviewed 2017 NBCC non-fiction finalist Masha Gessen's Never Remember: Searching for Stalin’s Gulags in Putin’s Russia for On The Seawall.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed Helen Weinzweig's Basic Black With Pearls for Bloom. 

Paul Wilner reviewed the re-issue of Black Swans by Eve Babitz for the Journal of Alta California.

Karl Wolff reviewed Tommy Pico's Nature Poem for the New York Journal of Books.

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

May, 2018

Drumroll, Please: Announcing the New NBCC Emerging Critics

by Admin | May-30-2018

We're delighted to announce the NBCC Emerging Critics: July 1, 2018-July 1, 2019.

This year’s class of emerging critics are recognized by a fellowship named in honor of the late NPR critic Alan Cheuse. 

The Emerging Critics fellowship, launched last year,  seeks to identify, nurture, and support the development of the next generation of book critics.

ELIGIBILITY Critics of all ages who seek to review and write about books for print and digital outlets are eligible for the fellowship. Applicants may or may not have previously published book reviews.

THE FELLOWSHIP Over the course of the one-year fellowship, emerging critics will receive:

—An opportunity to partake in the ongoing conversation about the craft of reviewing, and ethical questions and concerns emerging as the publishing landscape changes.

—Active mentorship from members of NBCC board. This includes Skype sessions on topics including the craft of writing reviews, ethics and professionalism, the business of freelancing, and more. Board members are also individually available for advice on drafts as well as counsel regarding career development.

—Access to NBCC blog Critical Mass, as contributors of both original work and previously published work in weekly-roundup.

—Dues-free membership to the NBCC, admission to NBCC events, and annual reception for one year.

The National Book Critics Circle seeks a broad range of applicants, especially those who have demonstrated a genuine interest and commitment to engaging in critical conversation about books.

Here are this year's Emerging Critics:

Jennie Hann. Jennie Hann recently completed her Ph.D. in English at Johns Hopkins University, where she took courses in the Writing Seminars and served as Associate Editor of the scholarly journal ELH (English Literary History). A lifelong Anglophile with a particular fondness for the nineteenth century, she also holds a M.A. in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College, University of London, and a B.A. in English from Harvard. In 2013, she co-curated an exhibition of rare book materials related to the writer Stephen Crane at the George Peabody Library in Baltimore. Her critical non-fiction appears in the exhibition catalogue (For Love or Money, ed. Gabrielle Dean); another of her literary research pieces was published in the Edith Wharton Review as the winner of that journal’s essay prize in 2008. A passionate traveler and avid learner of European languages, Jennie has participated in the DISQUIET International Literary Program in Portugal and the Bread Load Writer’s Conference in Sicily. Broadly speaking, she is interested in the interpersonal connections and reciprocal influences between writers and artists. In this vein, her dissertation examined the Italian encounters of Robert Browning and Henry James, and she is currently working on a project about the creative friendships of Mark Strand.

Natalia Holtzman.  Natalia Holtzman is a writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. Her essays, stories, and poems have appeared in Electric Literature, Ploughshares, B O D Y, Salt Hill, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. She earned an MFA from the University of Alabama and is currently pursuing a Master's in Library and Information Science at the University of Michigan. She is at work on a novel about a large family in a small village in the former Yugoslavia.

Tanner Howard. Tanner Howard is a freelance journalist and activist based in Chicago, and a graduate of Northwestern University. They've written for the Guardian, Jacobin, Chicago Review, In These Times, Nylon, and Colorlines, amongst other publications. They're a co-creator of Just Constellations, a web plugin designed to connect social justice materials online. They're also a member of the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, organizing for housing justice.

Noah Kulwin. Noah Kulwin is a reporter, critic, and editor based in New York. He is a senior editor at Jewish Currents, a quarterly magazine covering the thought, culture, and activism of the Jewish left. His reportage and criticism have appeared in New York magazine, Bookforum, VICE Magazine, and The Awl. He was previously the technology editor of VICE News. He is a native of Montclair, New Jersey, but he spent a few years in Israel and in the Bay Area before moving to New York.

Jonathan Leal. Jonathan Leal is a scholar-musician based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, he received a BA and MA in English from the University of North Texas while working as a percussionist and music educator; he is now a PhD Candidate in Modern Thought & Literature at Stanford University. Since moving to California, his essays and criticism have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, The Acentos Review, Caustic Frolic, and elsewhere. In 2017, he designed sound and music for the premiere of Cherríe Moraga’s The Mathematics of Love at Brava! Theater; in 2018, he executive produced Wild Tongue, a compilation album featuring new work by nine bands in the South Texas borderlands.

Chelsea Leu. Chelsea Leu is a writer and critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and other publications. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in geology (of all things), and she's now based in the Bay Area, where she also works as a research editor at WIRED magazine. She tweets @ChelseaLeu. chelsealeu.com

 Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers. Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers is a farmer, book critic, poet, and writer. She earned a B.A. in English from Penn State and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and M.A. in Applied Linguistics from Old Dominion University. Her poetry has been published in The Missing Slate, Gulf Stream, IthacaLit, Menacing Hedge, and SWWIM Every Day, among others. Her creative work has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in Flash Fiction and was a semifinalist in the 2015 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award and the 2016 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry. Her critical work has appeared or is forthcoming in Foreword Reviews, The Los Angeles Review, and Literary Mama. A native of Pennsylvania, she makes her home in Buckingham, Virginia where she operates a cow-calf beef farm. Find her talking about books and other passions on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook: @lmontgomeryrodgers | Twitter: @murderopilcrows

Leena Soman Navani. Leena Soman Novani has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University. Her writing has been published online or is forthcoming with Ploughshares, Cleaver Magazine, Harvard Review, and Kenyon Review. She lives in New York and is at work on a story collection. Leena Soman has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University. Her writing has been published online or is forthcoming with Ploughshares, Cleaver Magazine, and Kenyon Review. She lives in New York and is at work on a story collection.

Justin Howard Rosier. Justin Howard Rosier is an award-winning fiction writer and essayist. He received his BA in Journalism from Columbia College, and his MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he covered fine arts, film, and music for F Newsmagazine, and founded the journal Critics’ Union. As the former editor of BG: Blues and Music News, he cataloged Grammys and hung out with Buddy Guy on his birthday. He’s currently at work on a novel. Twitter: @justlikebeirut | Instagram

Hope Wabuke. Hope Wabuke, poet, essayist, and critic, is the author of the chapbooks The Leaving, Movement No.1: Trains, and her, forthcoming in late 2018. She is a contributing editor for The Root, where she originated a column on literature of the global African diaspora, and has published widely in various magazines, among them The Guardian, Salon, Ms. Magazine online, Creative Nonfiction Magazine, and The Sun. Hope has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts,  The New York Times Foundation, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women Writers, Yale University’s THREAD Writer’s Program, and the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA). She is also an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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