December, 2018

Next Steps for #NBCCLeonard Award Judging

by Gregg Barrios | Dec-15-2018

Leonard Prize Judges: The NBCC 2018 John Leonard Prize finalists have been chosen. Here is this year’s excellent list. 

FRIDAY BLACK by Nana Kwami Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner)

A LUCKY MAN by Jamel Brinkley (Graywolf Press)

THE LINE BECOMES A RIVER: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú (Riverhead)

ASYMMETRY: A NOVEL by Lisa Halliday (Simon and Schuster) 

THE INCENDIARIES by R.O. Kwon (Riverhead)                                                                                      

THERE THERE by Tommy Orange (Knopf) 

EDUCATED: A Memoir by Tara Westover (Random House)

Your work as a Leonard Prize reader/judge begins. We ask that you give each of the finalists a fair and honest reading.  To accomplish this in a month’s reading, we have secured e-galleys and PDFs of these finalists through the cooperation of their publishers. These can be read on your Kindle or other e-book device or computer. Attached to the email packet sent today, you will find a widget or a PDF for each finalist. To access the widgets, you must sign in or create a free account at netgalley.com. Then click on the widget. Netgalley will ask for your account name and password. You then have access to that book. 

For the finalists that are PDFs, you don’t have to use Netgalley. Instead load the PDF into your Kindle or other e-book device. If you are using a computer, click on the PDF to read. We ask that you use your discretion with this copyrighted material and not share or forward any of these widgets or PDFs. 

You have until January 14, 2019 to select one book as the best. Prior to this deadline, we will send you a survey / ballot on January 9, 2019 to cast your vote for one book. All ballots must be received by 6 pm EST on January 14, 2019. 

Enjoy these amazing debut books. Your volunteering for this undertaking is much appreciated. It also provides the membership in having a vote in selecting the winner of the 2018 John Leonard Prize that will be announced on January 21, 2019 as will the finalists in our other award categories. The John Leonard Prize will be presented at the NBCC Awards Ceremony at The New School in New York City on March 14, 2019.

Without further ado, Let the reading begin!                                                                                                                               

PS If you encounter any problems in accessing any of the books, please send me a brief note and I will forward it to our tech person to provide you with a prompt reply. 


#NBCCLeonard: Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers on NoNieqa Ramos’s “The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary”

by admin | Dec-15-2018

This week we announced the finalists for the John Leonard Prize, our annual award for the best first book in any genre based on member nominations and chosen by a panel of member volunteers. As part of that process we invited members to contribute appreciations of their favorite titles. Below, member Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers writes on NoNieqa Ramos's novel "The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary" (Carolrhoda Lab). This review was first published in Foreword Reviews.

NoNieqa Ramos’s The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary turns the spotlight on Macy Cashmere, a high school girl who lives in the margins of society. Noncompliant and proudly emotionally disturbed, she’s a problem that refuses to be solved, whether at home or at school.

Poverty’s where Macy is from, and she’s acutely aware of how it shapes and labels her, but she’s determined to reconfigure who’s defined by such labels and who’s doing the defining. You see, Macy’s writing her own book—a secret dictionary that lays out the terms of the world as she understands them.

Macy’s childhood is long past. Her father is in prison. Home is chaotic, and basic necessities—from food to heat to a place to sleep—are never assured. Child Protective Services removed her younger brother and would like to take Macy too, but Macy stubbornly insists on remaining, stuck between her yearning to salvage some sense of home and her desire to burn it all down.

Her life swings between this tension and her school routine. A problem student, Macy is nonetheless deeply engaged—in the well-being of her best friends, Alma and George; in the comforting control of breaking school rules and fulfilling her “bad kid” role; and in all that she ponders deeply.

Macy’s charisma is riveting. A keen observer, she’s unsparing in her assessment of herself and the world around her. Her blunt, no-nonsense voice lays out her most gruesome circumstances alongside bald yearning and makes her world of pain compellingly irresistible. More than anything, she's an unexpected narrator. Again and again, she directly addresses readers and slaps down assumptions. A study in contradictions, she insists on her world’s complexity, and she’s right. The story jukes and jinks and demands you follow.

As in Macy’s world, nothing in this dictionary is blunted or made safe for children; the circumstances of her life are laid bare. The result is a harrowing, heartbreaking tour de force, a story of will and determination against all odds.
 

Announcing the Finalists for the John Leonard Award for Best First Book

by Gregg Barrios | Dec-10-2018

Big news: the NBCC membership has spoken, and the 2018 John Leonard Prize finalists have been chosen. 

Here’s this year’s superb list:

FRIDAY BLACK by Nana Kwami Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner)

A LUCKY MAN by Jamel Brinkley (Graywolf Press)

THE LINE BECOMES A RIVER: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú (Riverhead)

ASYMMETRY: A NOVEL by Lisa Halliday (Simon and Schuster) 

THE INCENDIARIES by R.O. Kwon (Riverhead)

THERE THERE by Tommy Orange (Knopf)

EDUCATED: A Memoir by Tara Westover (Random House)

Nominations for the Leonard Prize, for a first book in any genre, are open to any regular voting NBCC member; the finalists are those titles with the most nominations. A panel of member-volunteers will read the finalists and select the winner, to be announced in January. The John Leonard Prize will be presented at the NBCC Awards Ceremony at The New School in New York on March 14, 2019.


Gregg Barrios is a playwright, poet, and journalist. He is a 2013 USC Annenberg Getty Fellow, and was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. He was the 2015 Fall Visiting Writer at Our Lady of the Lake University. His work has appeared in Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Texas Observer, Texas Monthly, Film Quarterly, San Francisco Chronicle, and Andy Warhol’s Interview. He is a former book editor of the San Antonio Express-News. He has received a CTG-Mark Taper Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Grant, and a 2013 Artist Foundation Grant for his theater work

Critical Notes: Tom Barbash, Idra Novey, & Anna Burns

by Jane Ciabattari | Dec-10-2018

Deadlines: Today is the deadline for NBCC members to submit their self nominations for the Balakian Award for Excellence in Reviewing, which comes with $1,000.

Watch for the announcement of the John Leonard Award finalists later today.

Reviews and Interviews:

Rayyan Al Shawaf's review of Tom Barbash's The Dakota Winters appears in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Ellen Prentiss Campbell reviews The Dakota Winters for The Fiction Writers Review.

NBCC treasurer Marion Winik reviews Elizabeth Berg's Night of Miracles in USA Today, and The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose, in Newsday. Recent episodes of The Weekly Reader podcast have covered The Dakota Winters, by Tom Barbash, Come With Me, by Helen Schulman, The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, and Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III.

NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari talks to NBCC fiction award winner Jonathan Lethem, author of The Feral Detective, about five books in which women write men and men write women, for her weekly Lit Hub column.

NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel reviews Will McGrath’s memoir, Everything Lost is Found Again, for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where she is the senior editor for books.  And her weekly books column focuses on re-reading books.  

NBCC Emerging Critic Hope Wabuke reviews Michelle Obama's Becoming for The Root and  Oyinkan Braithwaite's My Sister, the Serial Killer, for the AV Club.

NBC Emerging Critic Chelsea Liu review writes about Ben Goldfarb's Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, for Bay Nature.

For Oprah.com, Dawn Raffel reviews five books,"the most thoughtful books of the season": Wild Milk, by Sabrina Orah Mark; Crudo, by Olivia Laing; the Baltimore Book of the Dead, by Marion Winik;Godsend, by John Wray; Your Duck is My Duck, by Deborah Eisenberg.

Joan Frank reviews Simon Van Booy's The Sadness of Beautiful Things for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Joan Gelfand reviews Jacqueline Berger's  The Day You Miss Your Exit for Poetry Flash.

John Domini reviews Robert Saviano’s The Piranhas: The Boy Bosses of Naples, for Virginia Quarterly Review. 

Jay Jennings rounds up sports books for the holiday issue of the New York Times Book Review.

Jim Ruland reviews Idra Novey's Those Who Knew for the Los Angeles Times and Jim Harrison's final book of poems, Dead Man's Float, for his column The Floating Library in San Diego CityBeat.

Board member Mark Athitakis reviews Anna Burns' Booker-winning novel, Milkman, for USA Today. Robert Allen Papinchak also reviews Milkman, for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

K. L. Romo reviews John E. Stith’s suspense/thriller Pushback for The Big Thrill magazine, and The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau for BookTrib.com.

Alexander C. Kafka reviews Lance Esplund's The Art of Looking: How to Read Modern and Contemporary Art for The Washington Post.

Ann Fabian reviews Susan Orlean's The Library Book for The National Book Review. 

Tayla Burney writes a hybrid review/profile for DC Line about Camille Acker's new story collection, Training School for Negro Girls.

Dana Wilde reviews Alan Lightman’s Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine and profiles Belfast, Maine's poet laureate Tom Moore for The Working Waterfront newspaper. She also reviews Leonore Hildebrandt’s poetry collection Where You Happen To Be for The Cafe Review.

Meg Waite Clayton's monthly “Listen In” for the San Francisco Chronicle reviews the audiobooks of Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Caroline Hulse’s The Adults, and David Priess’s How To Get Rid of a President.

David Nilsen's interview with Sam Roxas-Chua about his book Echolalia in Script was published by Gulf Coast Journal.

Katharine Coldiron reviews Jabari Asim's We Can't Breathe for Brevity, Anne Boyer's A Handbook of Disappointed Fate for the Los Angeles Review, and Hollywood vs. the Author, ed. Stephen Jay Schwartz, for Book & Film Globe.
 

News:

NBCC member Cynthia Haven's Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, is reviewed in the holiday issue of The New York Review of Books, by Robert Pogue Harrison.

Jack Sullivan received a Certificate of Merit Award from the Association of Recorded Sound Collections for his book, New Orleans Remix (University Press of Mississippi). The award ceremony is May 11th in Portland.

Connie Post's poem  “Dancing with the Father” was awarded the Pirene’s Fountain Editor’s “Liakoura Award”  for the best poem of the year from Pirene’s Fountain.

NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. With reviews, please include title of book and author, as well as name of publication. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​ We love dedicated URLs. We do not love hyperlinks.

#NBCCLeonard: Jennie Hann on Karen Hildebrand’s “Crossing Pleasure Avenue”

by admin | Dec-06-2018

The John Leonard Prize, our annual award based on member nominations and chosen by a panel of member volunteers, is awarded for the best first book in any genre. In advance of the announcement, we're inviting members to contribute appreciations of titles under consideration. (If you're interested in doing so, please email nbcccritics@gmail.com with the subject line Leonard.) Below, member Jennie Hann writes on Karen Hildebrand's poetry collection "Crossing Pleasure Avenue" (Indolent Books).

Indolent Books, the Brooklyn-based nonprofit responsible for publishing Karen Hildebrand’s exquisite debut collection, Crossing Pleasure Avenue, earlier this year, bills itself as specializing in “underrepresented voices whose work is innovative, provocative, and risky, and that uses all the resources of poetry to address urgent racial, social, and economic justice issues.”

Hildebrand’s remarkable lyrics embody this ethos and its implicit stance against indolence. Indeed, her poems command the reader’s attention; they demand that we be alert, vigilant, ready to meet with disaster at the end of even the most innocuous-seeming line, as, for example, when the speaker offhandedly reports, “Today my skin is blooming / like a shattered windshield.” In these poems about navigating life’s all-too-treacherous terrain, the possibility for a fatal accident lurks on every page. As we read, the painful indignities of youth (a skinned knee, a fender-bender, a bruised ego) are transmuted into the irrecoverable losses that come with age and maturity (“the cat, the ovaries, the him”). In the process, Hildebrand examines the paradoxical way in which our very existence is structured by the presence of absence; by vacancies, gaps, tears in the firmament; by the uncanny sense, intuited almost from the moment of birth, that something vital is missing.

Among the greatest pleasures afforded by Crossing Pleasure Avenue is the chance to fill in such gaps, to read between the lines and piece together these poetic fragments to reconstruct the biography of the exceptional everywoman the speaker represents. There is a powerful story embedded here, one with its origins in the era before abortion was legal in the United States. This history hovers, ghostlike, at the margins of the collection. In the haunting opening poem, for instance, the speaker recalls how, as a child, she would trace the branches of the family tree in her grandmother’s bible, adding, “Back then I had no reason / to doubt the space beneath my name would one day be filled with anything / less than desire.” Later, in the book’s title poem, the speaker, now an adult on a day-trip to the seashore, describes watching a mother turtle lead its newborn young to the water’s edge, then returning indoors to join friends “jostling for a place at the end of the bar, / to sit with our handbags swaddled / to our chests like the babies / we never had.” Finally, in a poignant Emersonian homage entitled “On Leaving” (which, fittingly, ends the volume), she relates how a “Mama Osprey” swoops down, “so close I can see her underbelly,” hanging suspended over her head for an instant as though in judgment. “How could she know that I was a mother too? / That unlike her, I had a choice.”

Crossing Pleasure Avenue is obsessively interested in genealogy, especially maternal lineage, and with good reason. This astonishing debut establishes author Karen Hildebrand as the inheritor of a robust, august tradition of female poets—from Anne Bradstreet in the seventeenth century to Amy Clampitt in the twentieth—who came into their poetic powers later in life. It is a major achievement.

#NBCCLeonard: Jane Ciabattari on Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ “Fruit of the Drunken Tree”

by admin | Dec-05-2018

The John Leonard Prize, our annual award based on member nominations and chosen by a panel of member volunteers, is awarded for the best first book in any genre. In advance of the announcement, we're inviting members to contribute appreciations of titles under consideration. (If you're interested in doing so, please email nbcccritics@gmail.com with the subject line Leonard.) Below, NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari writes on Ingrid Rojas Contreras' novel "Fruit of the Drunken Tree" (Doubleday). This article first appeared in Jane Ciabattari's BBC Culture column

Colombian-born Contreras’s absorbing first novel draws from her family’s experience in Bogotá during the turbulent 1990s (she was 14 when they fled). She tells her story through the eyes of Chula, who is seven as the novel begins, and Petrona, the 13-year-old her mother hires as a live-in maid in their gated community. As Chula witnesses the 1990 assassination of the anti-cartel presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, Petrona mourns her 12-year-old brother, murdered by narco-paramilitaries who suspected him of being a guerrilla. Chula is injured by flying glass after a car bombing, and terrified by reports of Medellín drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s jailbreak. Petrona is a comfort and an anchor until her boyfriend targets Chula and her sister Cassandra for kidnapping. Whose side will she take? Contreras offers a compassionate portrait of the tough choices both Petrona and Chula face. 

Critical Notes: Deadlines for Board Nominations, Balakian and Leonard Prizes, and More

by Mark Athitakis | Dec-03-2018

NBCC Deadlines

The deadline for submitting your SurveyMonkey ballot for the John Leonard award for best first book is December 7. You should have received a ballot by email. Check out the blog posts in the #NBCCLeonard series here.

The deadline for submitting a candidate statement to run for one of the eight open seats on the NBCC board is December 7.

The deadline for nominating yourself for the Balakian award for excellence in book reviewing, which comes with a $1,000 award thanks to board member Gregg Barrios, is December 10. (You can join or renew your membership by that date to be eligible.)  

Plus: What’s your favorite book about books? Submit your essay of 500 words or less for our latest NBCC Reads series, curated by NBCC emerging critic Natalia Holtzman. Details here.

Member Reviews

Hamilton Cain reviewed Joanne Freeman's The Field of Blood and Andrew Delbanco's The War Before the War for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Sarah Pinborough's Cross Her Heart for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Balakian winner Laurie Stone reviewed the anonymous memoir The Incest Diary as well as Diane Seuss’ Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl for the Women’s Review of Books.

Meg Waite Clayton's essay, "Madeleine L'Engle's Midcentury Version of 'She Persisted,'" appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Daniel Asa Rose interviewed Anne Lamott a few weeks ago for Literary Hub.

Board member and former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari reviewed new novels by Tom Barbash and Wendy Guerra in her BBC Culture column, and interviewed Helen Shulman about five books that came out of Stanford, including work by ZZ Packer and Elizabeth Tallent, for Literary Hub.

Erika Dreifus' recent keynote address for the 24th Annual Jewish American and Holocaust Literature (JAHLIT) Symposium has been published on the Moment magazine website as "On Being a Jewish American Writer in 2018." She also collected "end-of-year reading recommendations from and for practicing writers" from Jennifer Baker, Roxane Gay, John Sibley Williams, and many others for the Practicing Writer newsletter.

Emerging Critic Jonathan Leal reviewed Nick Coleman’s Voices for the Los Angeles Times:

Brian Haman reviewed Yan Lianke’s The Day the Sun Died for the Asian Review of Books and interviewed Hiroaki Sato for the Japan Times.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed Extinctions by Josephine Wilson, Australia's 2017 Miles Franklin winner, for NPR Books.  

Kathleen Rooney reviewed Theodore Van Alst’s Sacred Smokes for the Chicago Tribune.

Jenny Shank interviewed Jonathan Evison for High Country News; reviewed books by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, May-Lee Chai, Nicole Chung, and May-Lan Tan for the Dallas Morning News; and interviewed Arthur Yorinks, frequent collaborator with Maurice Sendak, for the Barnes & Noble blog.

Andrew Ervin reviewed Yukio Mishima’s posthumous novel Frolic of the Beasts for the Washington Post.

Gregory Couch reviewed Jeffrey D. Wert’s Civil War Barons: The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation for the Wall Street Journal.

Kevin O’Rourke reviewed Tommy Pico's book-length poem Junk for the Kenyon Review.

Joe Peschel reviewed The William H. Gass Reader for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Star Tribune books editor and NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel compiled nearly 60 books to give for the holidays—including the annual top ten books from top critics.

NBCC member Steve Paul's review of Charles J. Shields' latest literary biography, The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, Stoner and the Writing Life, appeared in Booklist.

Member News

Board Member and former NBCC President Carlin Romano has been named an Inaugural Free Speech Fellow by the University of California’s new National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement in Washington, D.C. The award, which comes with a $20,000 honorarium, includes an invitation for Carlin to visit the University of California, Irvine, for a free-speech lecture, a debate with Irvine philosopher Aaron James on the proposition, “Is Donald Trump an Asshole?”, and a documentary screening and community conversation about the future of free speech in Hong Kong. As part of the fellowship, Carlin is also writing a series of articles under the general rubric, “When Free Speech on Campus Becomes `Unacceptable.’” 

NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. With reviews, please include title of book and author, as well as name of publication. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​ We love dedicated URLs. We do not love hyperlinks.

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