August, 2018

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Arjun Singh Sethi, Philippe Costamagna, and more

by Victoria Chang | Aug-13-2018

Jenny Bhatt reviewed Stephanie Rosenbloom's "Alone Time" for Popmatters.

Jane Ciabattari recommended ten books to read in August for BBC Culture.

John Domini reviewed Laura Van den Berg's novel, "The Third Hotel" for the Sewanee Review.

Andrew Ervin interviewed Kate Christensen about her novel "The Last Cruise" for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Jean Huets reviewed Wioletta Greg's "Swallowing Mercury" and Abby Frucht reviewed Dorthe Nor's "So Much for That Winter" for the NBCC Reads Series on Favorite Translated Books.

Alexander Kafka reviewed Philippe Costamagna's "The Eye" for The Washington Post.

Julian Lucas interviewed Tommie Shelby about "To Shape a New World," his edited collection on the political philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for The Point.

Lisa Peet reviewed Nell Irvin Painter's "Old in Art School" for Bloom.

Jim Ruland reviewed Megan Abbott's novel, "Give Me Your Hand" for San Diego CityBeat.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed Arjun Singh Sethi's "American Hate" for NPR and Aaron Jacobs's "The Abundant Life" for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

David Varno reviewed Tsitsi Dangarembga's book, "This Mournable Body" for The Minneapolis Star Tribune.


Cynthia Haven was named a National Endownment for the Humanities Public Scholar for 2018/19 and her book, "Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard" was reviewed in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Translations of the book are forthcoming in Portugese and Russian.

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




NBCC Reads: Abby Frucht’s Suggested Book in Translation: Dorthe Nors’ ‘So Much for That Winter’

by Abby Frucht | Aug-08-2018














What are your favorite works in translation? That's the question that launches this summer's NBCC Reads series, which draws upon the bookish passions of NBCC members and honorees. (Previous NBCC Reads series dating back to 2007 here.) 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. The deadline is August 3, 2018. Please email your submission to NBCC Board member Lori Feathers: 

Fortunately for readers of English, the delicacy and elegance of Misha Hoekstra’s translation of Dorthe Nors’ book of novellas, So Much for That Winter (Graywolf Press, 2016) obviates all gaps among languages by staying true to Nors’ rendering of discourse into ideogram, the smallest words made at once more and less important than they appear on their surface. Think of sounds in Sound Poetry, the shared lines, the intersecting spaces, they occupy. Nors relies on the non-semantic effects of words and sentences as much as on their lucid definitions, and her characters' emotive, poignant utterances, spoken and otherwise, depend on that. Without indulging a concrete, visual description of their world, Nors composes, in list form, a typography of observations and remarks along which readers of her novella might follow its heroine, Minna, as if by tracks on snow, syllable by syllable along a discretely embroidered narrative. Typography ideally acts as a transparency by which the world of a story might be entered and engaged, and Hoekstra’s translation, by avoiding embellishment, interpretation, explanation, and deduction, honors Nors’ celebration of this rule. It doesn’t feel like a rule at all, that is, it feels like style, and the result is a charming almost-love story and a deceptively simple portrait of the ever-resourceful Minna, whose perturbations on, say, gender –

Women are tough to swallow.

Minna doesn’t understand why men like women.

Women want to cross the finish line first.

Women want to look good on the podium.

Women are in the running, but

Minna’s from another world.

Minna’s a composer.

Minna’s not a mother.   ....

Minna once won a prize for some chamber music.

Minna would rather have gotten a licence to live –

 vex, enlighten, move and entertain us.

Abby Frucht’s six novels include Licorice (Graywolf), Polly’s Ghost (Scribner), and A Well-Made Bed (Red Hen Press). Fruit of the Month won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, and she has since published a second collection with Narrative Library. Her reviews and literary essays appeared in The Village Voice, The New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers nationwide. Recently she had the pleasure of serving as one of a three judge panel, along with Molly McCloskey and Sergio Troncoso, for the Pen Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Library Lions, Laura van den Berg, and R. O. Kwon

by Taylor Anhalt | Aug-06-2018

This week's Craft of Criticism interview is with NBCC VP/Awards Yahdon Israel.


Ron Slate reviewed Rebecca Makkai’s novel “The Great Believers” for On The Seawall.

Steve Donoghue reviewed Paul French's "City of Devils" in the Christian Science Monitor. He also reviewed Chris Baer's "Martha's Vineyard Tales" for the Vineyard Gazette.

Philip Kopper reviewed "Varina" by Charles Frazier, "The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs" by Steve Brusatte, "Something Wonderful; The Broadway Revolution of Rodgers and Hammerstein" by Todd S. Purdum, and "A Long Way from Home" by Peter Carey for the Washington Times.

Andrew Ervin interviewed Laura van den Berg about her new novel “Third Hotel” for The Paris Review Daily.

Katharine Coldiron reviewed “Irradiated Cities” by Mariko Nagai for the Los Angeles Review, “Echoes of Understorey” by Thoraiya Dyer for Locus, “Sketchtasy” by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore for Gertrude Press, and “Mirror, Shoulder, Signal” by Dorthe Nors and “People in the Room” by Norah Lange for the Women's Review of Books.

Gail Pool's new essay has just appeared on WBUR's Cognoscenti.

Ru Freeman reviewed David Chariandy's “The Brother” for The Boston Globe.

Joan Gelfand reviewed Andrena Zawinski’s collection “Landings”, featured on the Cover of

Gerald Bartell reviewed Alice LaPlante’s “Half Moon Bay” for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Ilana Masad reviewed Lexi Freiman’s “Inappropriation” for the New York Times.

Alexander C. Kafka reviewed Michele Mendelssohn's “Making Oscar Wilde” for the Washington Post.

VP/Online Jane Ciabattari's BBC Culture column includes new novels by Laura van den Berg, Crystal Hana Kin, Bernice McFadden and Anna Moschovakis, plus short story collections by Valerie Trueblood and Ben Marcus. And her pick for Lit Hub's August books to read is Norton's new flash anthology of stories under 300 words, New Micro, with gems from Amy Hempel, Diane Williams, Amelia Gray, Richard Brautigan, Stuart Dybek, Joy Williams, Ron Carlson, Bonnie Jo Campbell, James Tate, and Joyce Carol Oates. 

The Incendiaries”, by R. O. Kwon, was reviewed by Hamilton Cain for the New York Journal of Books and Celia McGee for The National Book Review.

Paul W. Gleason reviewed Martha Nussbaum's “The Monarchy of Fear” for Pacific Standard.

Sarah Crow wrote a summer travel feature reviewing Richard Ratay’s “Don’t Make Me Pull Over” and Porter Fox’s “Northland.” She also reviewed Bart van Es’ “The Cut Out Girl.

Dana Wilde reviewed "The Price of the Haircut: Stories" by Brock Clarke in the Off Radar column for the newspapers and “The Home Stretch: a cycle of poems" by Michael Campagnoli for Working Waterfront.

Nicholas Nichols wrote about Elle Nash’s debut collection “Animals Eat Each Other” for the Wildness Magazine.


Other News

Three writers honored by the NBCC have been named 2018 Library Lions by the New York Public Library: Ron Chernow, twice a Nonfiction award finalist, Poetry winner Claudia Rankine, and Fiction winner Elizabeth Strout. 

Parrish Turner at Culture Trip interviewed NBCC member Brandon Hobson about his novel, “Where the Dead Sit Talking.”

Photo credit: Bill Gentle

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

The Craft of Criticism: An Interview with Yahdon Israel

by Tara Cheesman | Aug-03-2018

In this Q&A series, The Craft of Criticism, NBCC members Tara Cheesman and Fran Bigman ask book critics and review editors for their thoughts about contemporary criticism. If you’re interested in being interviewed for the series,please get in touch at and

Yahdon Israel is a writer, and creator of Literaryswag, a cultural movement that intersects literature and fashion to make books cool. He has written for Avidly, The New Inquiry, Brooklyn Magazine, LitHub, and Poets and Writers. Yahdon is the Awards VP of the National Book Critics Circle, the host of the Literaryswag Book Club, a monthly book club that's free and open to the public, and the host of LIT, a weekly web series about books and culture.

What is your approach to criticism?

My approach to criticism is both, choice and circumstance. Because I’m always thinking about the people who don’t read, I try my best to create criticism that engages people who may never read a traditional book review. That’s what informs my approach to books. Hence why I created the book club and the show LIT. There has to be multiple pathways for people to access literature. And those of us who are already privy to the value of literature can’t just assume that people know. To be honest, if it hadn’t been for my Senior Thesis Advisor at Pace University, Dr. Sarah Blackwood, who told me about the MFA, which set me on this trajectory, it would’ve taken me that much longer to arrive. I see my work as that conversational piece that makes the process of arrival a lot less intimidating.

You host the monthly Literaryswag Book Club in New York City. How’s it going?  What kind of people are showing up? And are there any plans to livestream for people outside of the city?

The Literaryswag Book Club is the zenith of the work I do in literature. Not only because it’s centered around books but because of who I focus on--people who aren’t in the literary world. The Literaryswag Book Club really speaks to people who want community and good conversation. The hardest part of this book club is convincing people that they really don’t have to read the book to attend. I do that because it’s often the excuse that keeps people from stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Once people come and see what I mean, that them not reading the book doesn't exclude them from the conversation, they usually join the book club and become readers. THAT, to me, is point of literature: to create possibility where there once wasn’t any. Literature can also build bridges between people, another thing I’ve witnessed at the book club. So many people have become best friends, and it’s because of a book club. That’s lit to me.

On the subject of livestreaming, I’m trying to figure out the logistics of it. With video comes a lot of technical things I haven’t quite figured out. I’m going to get to the bottom of it though.

I learned about #literaryswag through Instagram. You’ve said that you favor that particular platform because of the relationship between text and image. Do you think it’s possible to provide smart and concise book reviews and criticism using social media?  Is anyone doing it, to your knowledge?

I absolutely believe it possible to provide smart and concise book reviews on social media. For a while, I’d been writing reviews for books I liked under the hashtag #literaryswagbookreviews, but I was just experimenting with it. And though I don’t know of people writing book reviews on Instagram, what I can say is that literary platforms like @vqreview are embracing bringing longform—as it pertains to Instagram, at least, (300+ words)—on IG, which begins to transform the way people think about social media and what’s possible.

Who, in 2018, do you think is impacting the literary scene?

If there’s anyone who I believe is having a huge impact on literature this year it’s Saraciea Fennell. She’s an Afro-Latina writer and book publicist who founded the Bronx Book Festival. There was a time when I thought the only way to change literature was by better books being written. Not only was this thinking naive, it was also arrogant as hell—because the feeling that informed this thinking was this audacious idea that my book was going to be the one that “changed everything.” And to an extent, to be a writer, you kind of have to believe that about yourself. Then you read.

The more books I read, the more I became of the mindset that the best books have already been written. This is not to say (at all) that there isn’t a need for new voices; I’m just realizing that there are so many voices, already published, that still haven’t been heard, and another writer isn’t necessarily going to change that. The work that Saraciea is doing in the Bronx is crucial because she’s not only bringing books to the Bronx—a borough that lost its only bookstore in 2016—she’s bringing more readers to books. If there’s anything literature needs, it’s more readers.

When you talk about coming to the realization that a lot of the best books have already been written, I can’t help thinking about how many books only get reviewed on publication. And that most smaller presses are struggling to have their books reviewed at all. What is the critic’s responsibility towards helping these voices be heard? Is it a part of the critic's job to seek out the books (backlists, book with smaller marketing budgets behind them, etc.) that  are sometimes lost in the noise?

That's a big question, and I don't think it's one that criticism can necessarily answer by itself. It's important to remember that, at the end of the day, while literature is art; it's also a business, which means that money will always be part of the conversation. This also means that any media and literary platforms that would like to support the work of lesser-known writers and smaller publishing houses have to prioritize the books that have a built-in anticipation and readership because it helps brings eyes to their site. And a critic or writer may not care about those things, but if you're the one who's running the site, you have to. I say all this to say this is an institutional problem linked to economics and we, as a literary world, we have to reckon with those costs honestly. The things off the page matter just as much as what's on it.

I guess a related question is: who do you think reviews should reach out to? Should a critic’s target audience be new readers or existing readers?

Only the writer can answer that question. I do believe that every writer has their intended audience. I’ve personally come to understand this by writers’ use of the pronoun “we.” That “we” always tell me who the writer believes themselves to be in conversation with, or writing for--and oftentimes it’s people who are like them.

I will say that writing for an audience that’s unlike the one you’re used to writing for can expand the way you think about a book. In the sense that you can’t fall on the assumption that you already know your reader and have to work from a place where you’re trying to know them, which creates a lot of possibility.

Can you tell us about your interview show LIT?

LIT is a weekly YouTube series and podcast where I talk to writers and cultural figures about books and culture. The purpose of the show is to make literary culture both endearing and inviting to book lovers and non-book lovers alike. I started the show last July and plan to bring the show back this year. I didn't know what it took to run the show, and in hindsight, I'm glad I didn't because I probably wouldn't have set out to make the show to begin with. The show is definitely worth the work that goes into but there's A LOT of work that goes into it. Not mention the resources. So now I'm putting the infrastructure into the show to make sure that it can run consistently.  Fortunately the show has over 30 episodes, so there's a lot of content that will hold a viewer over till I bring the show back.

Who do you think is the most literary and/or literature inspired designer and or clothing line?

I would have to say my friend, Charles Harbison. I did a whole interview with him for LitHub where we talked about the writers and books that influence his aesthetics. From that interview I learned that Patti Smith, Augusten Burroughs, and the Bible influenced his work. It was an amazing conversation in that it reminded me why this work matters.

Have you ever considered organizing a #literaryswag fashion show or photo shoot?

The photoshoot is in the works. That’s all I’m going to say.

Do you still carry a duffle bag of books with you? And, if so, what’s in the bag right now?

Yes I do. In the duffle now is Dave Itzkoff’s biography on Robin Williams, Robin; Angela Flournoy’s novel The Turner House; Alexander Chee’s essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel; and Porochista Khakpour’s memoir, Sick.

Photo Credit: Bill Gentle

Tara Cheesman is a blogger turned freelance book critic, National Book Critics Circle member & 2018 Best Translated Book Award Fiction Judge. Her reviews can read online at The Rumpus, Book Riot, Los Angeles Review of Books, Quarterly Conversation and 3:AM Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @booksexyreview and Instagram @taracheesman

SAVE THE DATE:NBCC’s Brooklyn Book Festival Bookends Event: Is the Poet the New Public Intellectual?

by Jane Ciabattari | Aug-02-2018










Coming up in September, the National Book Critics Circle's latest Bookend Event for the Brooklyn Book Festival.

September 14 201, 6:30 p.m.
Is the Poet the New Public Intellectual? Today’s Poet-Critics on Criticism and Critique
Poets House
10 River Terrace, New York, NY 10282

National Book Critics Circle poetry chair Tess Taylor invites some of today’s leading poet critics—Stephanie Burt, Daisy Fried,  Greg Pardlo, and Craig Teicher—to talk about how the terrain of criticism is changing;  what poets add to the literature of critique; and to what ends we write criticism now. How is the criticism poets write different than other criticism? What is the relationship between the forms of poetry and the forms of critical intervention? Where do poets understand the borders of these genres?   How do critical and poetic projects feed, chase, devour or fuel each other?   We will discuss what poet-critics offer the world that academic critics might not. In particular we will ask: is the critic an activist? Is the poet the new public intellectual?


NBCC Reads Books in Translation: Jean Huets Recommends Wioletta Greg’s ‘Swallowing Mercury’

by Jean Huets | Aug-01-2018

What are your favorite works in translation? That's the question that launches this summer's NBCC Reads series, which draws upon the bookish passions of NBCC members and honorees. (Previous NBCC Reads series dating back to 2007 here.) 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. The deadline is August 3, 2018. Please email your submission to NBCC Board member Lori Feathers: 

The original Polish title of Swallowing Mercury, translator Eliza Marciniak admits in an afterword, is Guguly: unripe fruit. I think it’s a more apt title. The narrator, Wiolka, is unripe: a young girl. Hers isn’t a “coming of age” story, though, driven by a dramatic series of events — “that was the summer…” Wiolka gives us a jumble of memories ranging from childhood to late adolescence, some crushingly sad, some deliriously joyful, all unmellowed, unripened. Episodic and poetic, the book reminded me of another favorite of mine, Patti Smith’s Woolgathering, though Smith’s narrator-self is more introverted and has a bit more distance from her recollections. 

Wiolka’s memories unfold in a web of interdependence, the center of which is her family, surrounded by her village. Like the rest of Poland, the village is being wrenched from Soviet influence by the Solidarity Movement, while centuries-old folkways still hold sway over the people. 

Wiolka is wryly observant, exquisitely sensitive, visionary (when delirious with fever), young enough to be vulnerable to the insults and dangers specially inflicted on children, savvy and loved enough to defend herself —and for all that, nonchalant, stoic, and a bit of a swashbuckler. 

Unripe. But I don’t blame the translator for the English-language title; the publisher might have found Swallowing Mercury more enticing. And there is an alchemical feel to the work. 

Not that it’s got magic in it. Magical realism, then? No, not really. Actually, it makes magical realism look a little…fussy. The prose illuminates without transforming anything from what it is. Take this yardful of junk:  

It was nearly noon. Drowsy flies were circling above a steaming pile of dung. Water from the roof was running down drainpipes in streams, battering the young jonquil buds. Snow-white doves strolled about the yard, which looked like a dirty wet rag. Bright patches of inundated fields showed through the gaps in the fence, where boards were missing after my grandfather had chopped them up in February, when the coal had run out. Next to the fence, a small stove with a cracked pipe and flaking patches of patina was dying a slow death. The bones of a rusty harrow protruded from under a tarpaulin among young nettles. 

Despite the childhood point of view, Greg never lays on us the cliche of how fantastically perceptive and open children are compared to boring old grownups. Wiolka’s elders are anything but boring. Tight-knit as they are, her kinfolks each pursue their own lives, their own cultures of mother, father, daughter, uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather, worker, friend, student, taxidermist.… 

However old the people are in Wiolka’s world, none are ripe, none are finished. A storm may yet rip them green from the bough, or worms might gnaw them rotten, or they may manage to hang onto the branch until the sun and the rain have worked their ripening.

Jean Huets is author of the forthcoming book With Walt Whitman: Himself, acclaimed as "a true Whitmanian feast” by Whitman scholar Ed Folsom. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Millions, and Civil War Monitor. She co-founded Circling Rivers, an independent press dedicated to literary nonfiction and poetry. Visit her at

July, 2018

New Novels by R.O. Kwon, Donal Ryan and more!

by Daisy Fried | Jul-30-2018

NBCC President Kate Tuttle talks to Alexander Chee about his new book, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and about researching his own life, for The Boston Globe.

R.O. Kwon's debut novel The Incendiaries is getting reviewed lots of places this week, including by Anita Felicelli in the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Laura Spence-Ash filed her review of Kwon's The Incendiaries at the Ploughshares blog.

Michael Lindgren reviewed Kwon's The Incendiaries for Open Letters Review.

Jenny Bhatt reviewed Tatyana Tolstaya's short story collection Aetherial Worlds (translated by Anya Migdal) for Popmatters. She also reviewed NBCC autobiography finalist Roxane Gay's first book, a 2011 short story collection Ayiti, recently re-released by Grove/Atlantic.  

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed Mimi Swartz's Ticker: The Quest for an Artificial Heart for Lone Star Literary Life.

Laverne Frith's review of Elizabeth Spires' A Memory of the Future: Poems appeared in the New York Journal of Books.

Joan Gelfand's new book, You Can Be a Winning Writer: the 4 C's Approach of Successful Authors Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence was just published by Mango Press.  

Pam Munter reviewed Barbara Ehrenreich's Natural Causes for Fourth & Sycamore.

For the Ploughshares blog, Laura Spence-Ash reviewed Donal Ryan's From a Low and Quiet Sea, just longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. NBCC Board Member Katharine A. Powers also reviewed  From A Low and Quiet Sea, for the Star-Tribune.

Yvonne Garrett interviewed Viv Albertine about her book To Throw Away Unopened, and interviewed Michelle Tea about her book Against Memoir, both for the Brooklyn Rail.

Brian Haman reviewed Lillian Li's Number One Chinese Restaurant and Spencer Wise's The Emperor of Shoes for the New York Times. He also reviewed Melanie Ho's Journey to the West for the LA Review of Books.

Elizabeth Rosner reviewed Ingrid Rojas' Fruit of the Drunken Tree for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Meg Waite Clayton's first monthly audiobook roundup for the San Francisco Chronicle reviews Anne Tyler's Clock Dance, Adam Fisher's Valley of Genius, and Michiko Kakutani's The Death of Truth.

Meg Waite Clayton's own sixth novel, Beautiful Exiles, about the stormy real-life love affair between Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, is just published!

Beth Kanell's new novel The Long Shadow is just out. 

Poet and NBCC member Grace Schulman's new book is a memoir, Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage (Turtle Point Press).

Robert Allen Papinchak has three reviews in the June-October issue of Strand Magazine: Peter Lovesey's Beau Death, Lynda La Plante's Widows, and PD James's Sleep No More.

At Litbhub, John Domini explains how Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider has become "terribly pertinent to our times."

Alexander C. Kafka reviewed Steven Brill's Tailspin and wrote about James Wood and his new novel Upstate for the LA Review of Books. 

Paul Wilner reviewed Vengeance, by Zachary Lazar, for ZYZZYVA magazine.

The New Yorker's David Remnick brings together Judith Thurman, NBCC biography finalist for Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette, Claudia Roth Pierpont, an NBCC Criticism finalist for Passionate Minds, and first novelist Lisa Halliday to talk about Philip Roth in the #MeToo movement

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

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