June, 2015

Critical Notes: Jonathan Galassi, Kate Walbert, Etgar Keret, and more

by Carmela Ciuraru | Jun-29-2015

Bharti Kirchner reviews "Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition," by Nisid Hajari, for the Seattle Times.

Denise Low reviews Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon) and Amy Gersler’s Scattered at Sea (Penguin) for the Kansas City Star.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews "Muse," by Jonathan Galassi, for the Miami Herald.

Ellen Akins reviews Julie Iromuanya's debut novel, "Mr. and Mrs. Doctor," for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Parul Kapur Hinzen reviews Padma Viswanathan's new novel, "The Ever After of Ashwin Rao," for The Rumpus.

Michael Magras reviews "Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France," by Max Leonard, for the Star Tribune.

Marion Winik on Dean Bakopoulos and Christian Grey for Newsday.

Paul Wilner on "The Cartel," by Don Winslow, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

NBCC Board member Carmela Ciuraru's June "Newly Released" column for the New York Times.

Joe Peschel reviews Kate Walbert's "The Sunken Cathedral," for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Julia M. Klein reviews Etgar Keret's "The Seven Good Years" for the Chicago Tribune.

Critical Notes: W. B. Yeats, Kate Walbert, Heidi Julavits & More

by Elizabeth Taylor | Jun-22-2015

Yeats turns 150 and BBC.com asks: “The 20th Century’s Greatest Poet?” To consider that question, past NBCC President and current VP Jane Ciabattari talks with Harvard's poet/critic Stephen Burt, Stanford's Dublin born poet Eavan Boland, NBCC award honored poet/memoirist Honor Moore, poets Tess Gallagher, James Longenbach, Tom Sleigh.

For the “Florida Times-Union,” NBCC Member Anne Payne reviews Rebecca Scherm's novel Unbecoming and she writes:

“The sleekly written Unbecoming opens with Grace from Tennessee keeping a low but not abject profile in Paris. She is known to the shady employer who pays her under the table for antique restoration work as Julie from California. Grace is a good-looking woman in her early 20s with clever hands, an artistic eye and no working papers.”

For the Women’s World Cub of Literature, NBCC member Lori Feathers judges the match-up between Cameroon’s Dark Heart of the Night by Léonora Miano and Switzerland’s With the Animals by Noëlle Revaz. She writes: 

“While in many respects these two novels are as different as the two countries from which they come, reading them in close succession reveals a common theme—what happens when an insular, primitive people are confronted with progressive thoughts and ideas from the outside.”She admired both books, but the game must go on. Final call: “With a tied score of 1-1, Cameroon’s Dark Heart of the Night squeaks -by to defeat Switzerland’s With the Animals by a penalty kick?”

For "Bookslut's" Daphne Awards, Lori Feathers also considered Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.

NBCC member and reviewer Michelle Newby has recently written three reviews with “Lone Star Literary.” About Nobody’s Cuter Than You by Melanie Shankle she writes:  “If you’re looking for an original read that challenges you or prose that sparks your imagination then look elsewhere. If you’re looking for comfort in something light and sweet then Nobody’s Cuter might be for you.” She also reviews The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimage by Kimberly Meyer and finally The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen 

For BUR’s arts and culture site, TheArtery, NBCC member Carol Iaciofano writes an essay about two classic children's books (The Little Engine that Could and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel) and how they relate to today's job market. The headline: "Little Engines to Big Steam Shovels: Thinking Creatively in a Changing World.”

For the Clarion Ledger, NBCC member Jim Ewing reviews Into the Savage Country by Shannon Burke and The World's Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key about which he writes: “First, we probably need to keep this book a secret just between us Southerners.”

For Biographile, NBCC member David Burr Gerrard reviews Etgar Keret's new memoir The Seven Good Years and writes “It would not exactly be accurate to say that Keret mixes the personal and political, since they have already been mixed for him.”

For “The Oregonian,” NBCC member Alexis Burling reviews Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event and writes:

“For anyone who has lived through a national tragedy — Hurricane Katrina, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — there's a "secret club" no one willingly wants to be a part of: that of the survivors.”

NBCC member Laurie Hertzel writes an essay titled “Taking the guilt out of the guilty pleasures in reading” for the “Star-Tribune”. 

For the “Seattle Times,” NBCC Board member Mary Ann Gwinn interviews David McCullough about The Wright Brothers, and gets him to explain how the Wrights were more than Orville and Wilbur, but rather an entire family.

For the “Portland Press Herald,” NBCC member Joan Silverman reviews The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits which she describes as

“a grown-up diary for the new millennium” and “like a mash-up of Lena Dunham and Kierkegaard. Which is to say, the book is at once raunchy, outrageous and funny, wistful, contemplative and smart.”

For Fig Tree Books, NBCC member Louis Gordon writes:  "Gerald Green’s To Brooklyn With Love (1967) might be the greatest bildungsroman to have ever been forgotten by the literary establishment."

For the “Tampa Bay Times,” NBCC Board member Colette Bancroft reviews Kate Walbert’s The Sunken Cathedral and writes:

“Women become invisible after a certain age, the bitter joke goes, the only variation being which decade marks our disappearance. But Kate Walbert not only sees vanishing women — a pair of widows in their 80s, the suddenly uncertain mother of a teenage son, a middle-aged art historian with visions of a drowning city — but paints their lives in indelibly rich and vibrant colors in her stunning new novel, The Sunken Cathedral."

Your reviews seed this roundup, please send your work to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. If you are not yet a member, please consider joining the NBCC.

NBCC/Zyzzyva party June 25, on eve of American LIbrary Association conference

by Admin | Jun-16-2015

On the eve of ALA, the National Book Critics Circle (now 40 years old) and Zyzzyva magazine (now 30 years old) are throwing a party cohosted by NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari, Zyzzyva editor Laura Cogan and managing editor (and former NBCC  board member) Oscar Villalon. Expect toasts and literary conversation and wine from Wine & Spirits magazine.

Honored guests: NBCC award honorees including Terry Castle (The Professor and Other Writings, criticism finalist, 2010), Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son, fiction finalist, 2012), D.A. Powell (Useless Landscape; or, A Guide for Boys, poetry winner, 2012), and Jason Roberts (A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, biography finalist 2006), and treasured literary institutions City Lights Publishers, founded by NBCC Sandrof award winner Lawrence Ferlinghetti (60 years), the Squaw Valley Community of Writers (45 years), Graywolf Press (40 years), The Threepenny Review (35 years), the San Francisco Writers Grotto (20 years), Litquake (15 years), Lit Camp (3 years) and newcomers launched this year-- the Bay Area Book Festival and the Oakland Book Festival. RSVP janeciab@gmail.com

Critical Mass: Kamel Daoud, Eleanor Marx, Joshua Cohen & “Second Thoughts”

by Elizabeth Taylor | Jun-15-2015

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud inspired reviews by three NBCC members.

For NPR.org, NBCC member Heller McAlpin writes: “Some ideas are so clever it's a wonder no one has thought of them before. Case in point: Algerian writer Kamel Daoud's The Meursault Investigation, a response to Albert Camus' The Stranger, written from the point of view of the brother of the nameless Arab murdered by Camus' antihero Meursault.” Her review:

NBCC member Julie Hakim Azzam reviews The Meursault Investigation for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She writes: “In his debut novel, “The Meursault Investigation,” Mr. Daoud corrects, or “writes back,” to Camus’ novel from the point of view of the dead Arab’s brother. The narrator tells us that “the Arab” is named Musa, and attempts to tell his story, to give voice to the voiceless.”

NBCC member Piali Roy reviews the novel for the “Toronto Star,” and writes: “The Meursault Investigation follows The Stranger right to the end albeit on an extended time delay. Modern-day Algeria is appropriately Camusian, its showy piety a grand absurdity. The heroes of both books rail at God. And Harun sees the greater joke, that he is 'practically the murderer’s double.' ”

NBCC member Bill Williams reviews Missoula by Jon Krakauer for “Palm Beach ArtsPaper” and writes: “Although it is a tough read, 'Missoula' opens the door into a largely hidden world of sexual assaults and long-term trauma on college campuses.”

NBCC member Fred Volkmer reviews Roger Rosenblatt’s The Book of Love; his review appeared in the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and “27 East.”

In YaleGlobal Online, NBCC member Susan Froetschel reviews Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation by Gabriel Weimann and notes: “Extremists have become adept at using the internet, particularly social media platforms that are popular and free, for spreading their ideology and snagging new recruits.”

NBCC Board member and VP/Awards Michele Filgate writes an essay on Eleanor Marx, inspired by Rachel Holmes’ Eleanor Marx: A Life for “Brooklyn Quarterly,” and considers the art of biography:  “Writers of biography are translators of the human experience, responsible for reconstructing a life and deciphering it for us. It’s a form that has evolved over time—one which Virginia Woolf examined closely in her famous essay, “The Art of Biography.” She wrote that “almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection…He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders.”

NBCC member Michael Magras draws a bit from his own experience in his review of Joshua Cohen’s Book of Numbers in “Book Reporter.” His opening lines: “The CEO of a software company I used to work for once posed shirtless for a local alternative newspaper, with gold glitter covering his chest, face and long black hair. This was during the late 1990s, when the hot air balloon known as the original dot-com bubble had yet to burst. Few software leaders go to that extreme to promote their companies, but I mention this memorable act of self-promotion in case you pick up Joshua Cohen’s BOOK OF NUMBERS, read the passage in which the head of a Google-like Internet search company strips off his kasaya robe and neoprene wetsuit to greet a visitor naked, and think: That’s more than a little farfetched. It is, but not as far as you might think.”

In “Brooklyn Quarterly, ” NBCC member Tadzio Koelb reviews the collection Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, about what it is like to live in a surveillance state. He writes: “Bryan Hurt’s introduction to the short-story collection Watchlist begins with the moment that he and his wife first wonder if their baby monitor isn’t a form of “spying.” The idea prompts him to consider the extent to which we are aware of being observed by our governments—and to marvel at how little that awareness seems to affect us as a society. In the end, he advises his son to “get used to it, little dude,” because “being watched is part of life.” 

NBCC member Alexia Nader interviews Matthew Dennison about Behind the Mask, his biography of Vita Sackville-West, for Kirkus. She writes that “Matthew Dennison knew that to write a good biography of Vita Sackville-West, he would have to extract her from the long shadow of her lover and longtime friend Virginia Woolf.”

From NBCC member Lisa Spaar, the latest installment in her monthly review of second books of poems, and she takes on Secret History of the Dividing Line by Susan Howe and O’Nights by Cecily Parks in “Los Angeles Review of Books”

For the “Christian Science Monitor,” NBCC member Terry Hong reviews the novel The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan which explores the reverberations of the 1985 Air India bombing.

 NBCC member Erika Dreifus reviews Leon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum, translated by Arthur Goldhammmer, part of the "Jewish Lives" series for the "Barnes and Noble Review."

 NBCC member Karl Wolff writes about Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle films in the American Odd essay series for the “Chicago Center for Literature and Photography”

In the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” NBCC member Joe Peschel reviews Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf. He writes:“You hear a lot about the power of Haruf’s 'spare' prose, and rightly so. Of his own writing, Haruf, in a final interview with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, said, ‘I have written as close to the bone as I could. By that I mean that I was trying to get down to the fundamental, irreducible structure of life, and of our lives with one another.' ’”

NBCC Member Laurie Heltzel, senior editor/books for the “Star-Tribune” has had a busy season, writing the Summer Reading Guide and a review of Nancy Plain’s This Strange Wilderness.  Of Plain’s book she writes: “And now it is summer, and the days are longer and lighter, and birds are thinking about doing what birds do — building nests, laying eggs, cheeping outside your window at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. A good time, perhaps, to read Nancy Plain’s short and lovely biography of John James Audubon, “This Strange Wilderness.”

After a brief absence, Michael Upchurch rejoined the NBCC and has recently reviewed three works of fiction:  Steven Millhauser’s Voices in the Night in “The Oregonian”, Jill Ciment’s Act of God in “Seattle Times," Jacob Rubin’s The Poser in the “Washington Post.”


New Critical Mass Series

NBCC member Daniel Akst has launched a new series on Critical Mass, 'Second Thoughts.'  He writes: “We’d love to hear from you about a work that had a big impact on you long ago, and how it seemed when you re-encountered it later in life. You, no doubt, had changed. Had the book changed too? What was it like to revisit such a book after all you'd lived through since your first impressions?”

Please submit your comments or essays by July 13.


Your reviews seed this roundup; please send your contributions to NBCCcritics@gmail. Please make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

Launching a New Critical Mass Series: Second Thoughts

by Daniel Akst | Jun-10-2015

This summer we’re launching an exciting new series—a feature called “Second Thoughts.” We’re inviting members, as well as NBCC award winners and finalists, to write us about books they’ve had reason to reassess over the years. And we hope you'll take the request personally. 

We’d love to hear from you about a work that had a big impact on you long ago, and how it seemed when you re-encountered it later in life. You, no doubt, had changed. Had the book changed too? What was it like to revisit such a book after all you'd lived through since your first impressions? 

We also want to hear about significant reconsiderations of books you’ve reviewed, and then had reason to change your opinion about. Did an author pull the wool over your eyes? Or did the scales later fall away, for some reason or another, to reveal a masterpiece you’d earlier missed?

We’re looking for responses of almost any length, but especially from 300 to 1,000 words, and we’ll post them here at Critical Mass in the months ahead for as long as they keep coming in. Everybody has second thoughts. Please tell us yours. Respond (ideally by July 13) to danielakst@gmail.com, where I will gather them up, dust them off, and send them out into the world. 

NBCC member Daniel Akst has written about books for the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, the Boston Globe, the Wilson Quarterly, the LA Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Smithsonian and many other publications. He’s also published two novels and two nonfiction books. He lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

How to Make that “Brilliant” Cocktail Concocted for Book Critics

by Jane Ciabattari | Jun-08-2015

The NBCC's post-membership meeting party, held at the Center for Fiction on May 27 to cap off a day of BEA-timed NBCC events, featured a special gin cocktail. The discerning critics dubbed it " Brilliant."  Here's how to make it. [Photo Sean Sime]

Critical Notes: Jami Attenberg, Saul Bellow, Vendela Vida, Mat Johnson & More

by Jane Ciabattari | Jun-08-2015

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.

NBCC members talked books and publishing June 6 at the Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Book Fest. From left, NBCC board member
Walton Muyumba, NBCC member Donna Seaman, NBCC board member Elizabeth Taylor (moderator), playwright Regina Taylor and NBCC board member Karen Long.

Video of the NBCC BEA panel on Race, Gender and Books Reviews at the Center for Fiction on May 27, 2015 now on Critical Mass. The moderator was NBCC board member Walton Muyumba. Panelists were Cate Marvin, poet and co-founder of VIDA; Miriam Markowitz, NBCC board member and deputy literary editor of The Nation; Alexander Chee, fiction writer and book reviewer; Hawa Allan, contributing editor at Tricyle magazine; and Parul Sehgal, former NBCC board member and editor at The New York Times Book Review.

NBCC board member Mary Ann Gwinn devotes her Lit Life column to the work of poet Frank Stanford "whose turbulent life ended in suicide, and is experiencing a well-deserved renaissance." Port Townsend publisher Copper Canyon Press has released “What About This: The Poems of Frank Stanford.”

NBCC board member Colette Bancroft reviews new novels by Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates, both dealing with "the scary theme of obsession."

Former Balakian winner Steven G. Kellman reviews Zachary Leader's biography of Saul Bellow for the Boston Globe: "Leader was able to draw upon 81 previously restricted boxes among the copious Bellow papers at the University of Chicago for this biography."

Fred Volkmer reviews Roger Rosenblatt's The Book of Love, "a free-associative stream of consciousness narrative with an occasional undercurrent of giddiness, of sheer Edward Lear-like nonsense. 'Swonderful, sblunderful, sromantic, frantic, logical, biological whimsical, flimsical, writerly, golighterly, puppy, yuppie, durable, curable, erratic, ecstatic, erotic, robotic, national, passional, powerful, flowerful, ephemeral, dilemmeral, musical, abusical, tragic, magic, mawkish, New Yawkish, ubiquitous, insickuous, loyal, cloyal, fleeting, cheating, parental, demental, beautiful, dutiful, diurnal, eternal, sawfullynice, sparadise.'"

NPR's Maureen Corrigan notes four unexpected and delightful surprises for summer reading, including Vendela Vida's new novel. "The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty" --"both a travel cautionary tale and a fantasy about the infinite possibility that travel offers."

Michael Magras' BookPage review of Jami Attenberg's Saint Mazie--"a fascinating portrait of early 20th-century New York and of an unlikely champion of the dispossessed."

Dan Cryer reviews Jim Shepard's “The Book of Aron,” his seventh novel, set in the Warsaw ghetto, for the San Francisco Chronicle: "a work of straight-ahead naturalism, but it is nothing like Wiesel’s pioneering 1960 novel. For one thing, it is a far better work of fiction."

Susan Balee reviews Kate Atkinson's "A God in Ruins" for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Ms. Atkinson’s thrumming imagination runs on premium prose, a perfect vehicle for conveying the dead out of their graves and into the future."

For the Clarion-Ledger, Jim Ewing reviews 'A Slant of Light' by Jeffrey Lent and Preston Lauterbach’s 'Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis. "an important and impeccably researched social and political history of Memphis that may be one of the best historical narratives of black life in the American South from the end of the Civil War to the 1940s. It's also a riveting tale that's hard to put down."

Angie Jabine reviews "The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes" for The Oregonian: "Dundas's densely florid prose occasionally goes down like a fruitcake that is all candied kumquats and no crumb. ("Sit with me by the coal fire and we will discuss my conclusions, as the equinoctial gales sob like a child in the chimney.") But his language will resonate with anyone with a taste for 19th-century British archaisms. When's the last time you saw a 21st-century writer use the words rakehell, simulacrum, or gasogene?"

Jim Ruland reviews Mat Johnson's "Loving Day" in the Los Angeles Times and Daniel Mahoney's Sunblind Almost Motorcrash in San Diego CityBeat.

George De Stefano reviews "Ethel Payne: First Lady of the Black Press": "Ethel Payne at last has gotten the biography she deserves."

Terry Hong reviews Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation in Christian Science Monitor: "Like Mohsin Hamid’s revelations-to-a-stranger in his Booker-shortlisted 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist,' Daoud fills in, explicates, and rewrites what Camus elided."

Julia M. Klein reviews Steve Inskeep's "Jacksonland" for the Chicago Tribune: "Inskeep underlines that the Cherokees, who unlike the Seminoles and some other tribes who chose assimilation, negotiation and compromise over warfare, were "more than mere victims." In fact, he writes, "they were skilled political operators who played a bad hand long and well."

Joe Peschel reviews Thane Rosenbaum's “How Sweet It Is!,” for The Washington Post: "...it’s hard to resist raising a toast to a book that shows Lansky, Frank Sinatra, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Muhammad Ali at a Little League Baseball game umpired by Fidel Castro."


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