April, 2018

Lawrence Wright, Michelle Dean, and Poetry by Members

by Taylor Anhalt | Apr-16-2018


Eileen Weiner reviewed Richard Powers’ ‘The Overstory’ for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Heller McAlpin reviewed Meg Wolitzer’s ‘The Female Persuasion’ for the Barnes and Noble Review and Michelle Dean’s ‘Sharp’ for NPR.

NBCC board member Mary Ann Gwinn interviewed the novelist Charles Frazier about his new book ‘Varina’, which is based on the life of Jefferson Davis’ wife, for the Seattle Times. She also reviewed Barbara Ehrenreich’s ‘Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Our Illusion of Control’ for Newsday.

Anita Felicelli reviewed Hanne Ørstavik's novella ‘Love’ for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

NBCC board member Tom Beer featured three new books, which include ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller, ‘The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America’ by Mohammed Al Samawi, and ‘Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear’ by Carl Hiaasen, for Newsday. On the same site, he announced that an unpublished story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga will be published in August.

Katherine Coldron reviewed Carl Frode Tiller’s ‘Encircling 2’ for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Lisa Russ Spaar reviewed Gabriel Fried’s ‘The Children are reading’ and Tomas Q. Morin’s ‘Patient Zero’ for her Second Acts column in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Jacob Appel reviewed Barbara Ehrenreich’s ‘Natural Causes’ for the New York Journal of Books.

John Domini, in the Sewanee Review, calls the new Richard Powers novel a “magnificent leviathan” in his review of ‘The Overstory’.

Yvonne Garrett reviewed ‘The Largesse of the Sea Maiden’ by Denis Johnson for The Brooklyn Rail.

Ron Slate reviewed Woody Haut’s novel ‘Days of Smoke’ for the Los Angeles Review of Books and Henri Cole’s ‘Orphic Paris’ for On the Seawall.

Matthew Jakubowski reviewed Bae Suah’s novel ‘Recitation’, translated by Deborah Smith, for Full Stop.

Celia Bland reviewed Jeff Friedman’s book of short fiction ‘Floating Tales’ in the current print issue of Rain Taxi.

Former board member and Balakian recipient Steven G. Kellman reviewed Lawrence Wright’s ‘God Save Texas’ for The Texas Observer.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Kate Braverman’s latest collection of short stories, ‘A Good Day for Seppuku’ from City Lights Publishers, in the April issue of Woven Tale Press.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed Lawrence Wright’s ‘God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State’ for Lone Star Literary Life.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviewed ‘The Only Story’ by Julian Barnes for the San Antonio Express-News.

Heller McAlpin reviewed Tom Rachman’s ‘The Italian Teacher’ for the Barnes and Noble Review.

Michael Magras reviewed Julian Barnes’ ‘The Only Story’ for the Houston Chronicle.

Colette Bancroft reviewed Lawrence Wright’s ‘God Save Texas’ for Tampa Bay Times.

Maureen Corrigan reviewed Meg Wolitzer’s ‘Female Persuasion’ for NPR and Sara Shepard’s ‘The Elizas’ for The Washington Post.

Ellen Wayland-Smith reviewed Michelle Dean’s ‘Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion’ for The Millions.

Board member Lori Feathers’ new ‘Best of the B-Sides’ feature debuts at Words Without Borders, pairing a new work of translated fiction with a number of older translated titles with a similar theme. Lori also reviewed Meg Wolitzer’s ‘The Female Persuasion’ for The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviewed Michelle Dean’s ‘Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion’ for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Rochelle Spencer reviewed Kevin Young’s  'Bunk' in the spring 2018 edition of Mosaic Literary magazine.

NBCC VP Membership Anjali Enjeti wrote about Bharati Mukherjee’s ‘Jasmine’ and representation in book covers for The Paris Review.

Jim Ruland reviewed Elizabeth Harris’ translation of Antonia Tabucchi’s ‘For Isabel: A Mandala’ for San Diego CityBeat.


Member News

Check out the video of the NBCC/Brooklyn Public Library panel, Criticism and Social Justice, with NBCC biography winner Ruth Franklin, NBCC VP/Awards Yahdon Israel, NBCC Balakian winner Alexandra Schwartz, Rafia Zakaria and Jess Row, moderated by NBCC board member Michele Filgate.

Join Archipelago Books and the National Book Critics Circle at Community Bookstore for a conversation with Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik and Kerri Arsenault of the National Book Critics Circle about Ørstavik's novel ‘Love’ on May 3, 2018 at 7pm. Kerri reviewed the book for Oprah.com in February while at a writer’s residency at Oslo, Norway’s Litteraturhuset.

NBCC board member Kerri Arsenault will be in conversation with Richard Russo and John Freeman talking about what it feels like to live in a divided nation. They will be at Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine on May 14, 2018 at 7pm 

Sebastian Stockman wrote an essay ‘Who Am I to Judge’ about serving as a judge for this year’s John Leonard Award for the LARB blog.

Matthew Jakubowski recently launched a new prose reading series based at the Dock Street Cannery in West Philadelphia.

Celia Bland’s third collection of poetry, ‘Cherokee Road Kill’, was published in March 2018 by Dr. Cicero Books.

Rochelle Spencer has a book coming out in 2018: ‘AfroSurrealism: The African Diaspora’s Surrealist Fiction’ (Routledge).


Past Award Winners News

NBCC Fiction Award winner Joan Silber won the PEN/Faulkner award in fiction for her book ‘Improvement’, which is praised “for combining multiple narratives and revealing the lives of unassuming, everyday people.”

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.

Video: Criticism and Social Justice

by David Varno | Apr-13-2018

Last month, the NBCC asked some of its most acclaimed member-critics what it means to be a critic alongside a world in flux. Panelists included Ruth Franklin, who won last year's NBCC biography award for her Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, and contributes to The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and Harper’s; Alexandra Schwartz of The New Yorker (Balakian winner), Rafia Zakaria, author of The Upstairs Wife, contributor to The New Republic, The New York Times, The Baffler, The Guardian and others; Yahdon Israel, Editor-in-Chief of Brooklyn Magazine and NBCC VP/Awards, and Jess Row, author of two story collections and the novel 'Your Face in Mine,' and contributor to The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Threepenny Review, and Boston Review. The panel was held in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library and moderated by NBCC board member and Lit Hub contributing editor, Michele Filgate. [Photo credit: Jane Ciabattari]

Video by Gregg Richardson, Tue, Mar 20 2018 at the Central Library, Dweck Center

Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub and on the board of the National Book Critics Circle. Her work has appeared in Longreads, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Slice, The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, and other publications. She teaches creative nonfiction for The Sackett Street Writers' Workshop and Catapult and is the founder of the Red Ink series. In 2016, Brooklyn Magazine named her one of "The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture." 

Ruth Franklin is a book critic, a biographer, and a former editor at The New Republic. Her work appears in many publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, and Harper’s. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Her biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright/W.W. Norton, 2016) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the Christian Gauss Award from Phi Beta Kappa, an Edgar Award, and numerous others. It was a New York Times Notable Book of 2016, a Time magazine top nonfiction book of 2016, and a “best book of 2016” by The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, and others. 

Yahdon Israel is the Editorial Director of Northside Media, Inc. and the Editor-in-Chief of Brooklyn Magazine. He has written for Avidly, The New Inquiry, Brooklyn Magazine, LitHub, and Poets and Writers, and is the Awards and Membership VP of the National Book Critics Circle. He runs a popular Instagram page which promotes literature and fashion under the hashtag Literaryswag, and hosts a web show for writers called LIT.

Jess Row is the author of the novel Your Face in Mine and two collections of short stories, The Train to Lo Wu and Nobody Ever Gets Lost. His essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Boston Review, and elsewhere. His next book, White Flights, a collection of essays on race and the American imagination, will be published by Graywolf in 2019.

Alexandra Schwartz is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing for 2014.

Rafia Zakaria is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon 2015) and Veil (Bloomsbury 2017). She is a columnist for Dawn in Pakistan. She writes regularly for Guardian Books, The Baffler, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications.

Batters Up, Wolitzer, Frazier and More

by Elizabeth Taylor | Apr-10-2018


Let’s play ball. It’s Opening Day.

For his web journal Our Man in Boston, Robert Birnbaum reviews: A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle by Randy Roberts & Johnny Smith, Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America by David Rapp, Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox by Bill Nowlin Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon by Bill Chastain Jesse Rogers, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (Third Edition) by Paul Dixon.

VP/Online and Past NBCC President Jane Ciabattari notes Balakian winner Parul Seghal’s talk with Slate's Isaac Chotiner about her role as NY Times book critic and NBCC fiction award winner Junot Diaz on the legacy of his childhood trauma in The New Yorker

Past Board member Colette Bancroft reviews Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion for the Tampa Bay Tribune.

Cliff Garstang reviews Tyler McMahon's Dream of Another America for Peace Corps World Wide.

Past Board member Mark Athitakis reviews Charles Frazier’s Varina for the Minneapolis StarTribune.

New NBCC member Mandy Shunnarah reviewed Adult Gummies by K Karivalis for PANK Magazine. 

Michael Berry interviewed Richard Powers, author of The Overstory, for Sierra Magazine Online.

Jenny Bhatt reviewed Madeline Miller’s Circe for PopMatters. 

Gerald Bartell reviewed Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film by Don Graham for the Washington Post.

Elizabeth Rosner reviewed Hunting the Truth: Memoirs of Beate and Serge Klarsfeld (Translated from the French by Sam Taylor) for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Alexis Burling reviewed The Recovering by Leslie Jamison for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

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.

Co-Editor, The National Book Review and Literary Editor at Large, Chicago Tribune

NBCC Awards: Carina Chocano, Criticism Winner for ‘You Play the Girl’

by Walton Muyumba | Apr-04-2018

Carlin Romano, criticism committee chair, presented the award to Carina Chocano for You Play the Girl, with this citation by Walton Muyumba.


You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages, is Carina Chocano’s guided tour of America’s pop culture wonderland.  In brilliant disquisitions on movies like “Flashdance” and “Pretty Woman,” and the reality show, “The Bachelor,” Chocano illustrates that “the girl” in her title is “the adult version of ‘the princess’” from Disney mythologies like “Frozen” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” 

We seem to tell ourselves movie and TV stories, Chocano suggests, in order to perpetuate old lies about gender, generally, and women, specifically.  In fact, we seem to find deep pleasure in their continuous repetition.  In twenty-one essays on TV, film, and culture generally, Chocano doesn’t send readers down the rabbit hole (we’re living in Wonderland already) so much as she uses these pieces like smelling salts to awaken us to our collective gaslighting. 

Throughout, Chocano’s tart wit enlivens her critical acuity. “Big Mouth Strikes Again” -- a piece about “Knocked Up,” female critics, and the danger and necessity of truth-telling public critique -- is a masterful performance of this critical practice. You Play the Girl is underwritten by Chocano’s notion that “there isn’t a girl in the world who has not, at some point, come across an image or portrayal that made her feel a sense of recognition and alienation at the same time.”  These essays also explain, albeit surreptitiously, that men dehumanize themselves in their desire for, construction of, and dissemination of, negative misrepresentations of women. 

Chocano’s criticism speaks to the Zeitgeist, yes, but it also tells us how we’ve failed ourselves in the past and who we might become once we turn away from “the girl” and “the princess” and follow “the heroine” instead.

Photo by John Midgley.

Meg Wolitzer, Leslie Jamison, and Patricia Smith—and good news from NBCC members

by Laurie Hertzel | Apr-03-2018

Meg Wolitzer

Reviews and profiles from our membership

NBCC board member and VP Membership Anjali Enjeti wrote about the need to diversity and decolonize school reading lists for Al Jazeera. 

NBCC board member and autobiography chairman Laurie Hertzel wrote about tracking down beloved old books in her weekly Bookmark column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

NBCC board member and VP Online Jane Ciabattari 's Lit Hub column this week includes NBCC fiction finalist Lorrie Moore's new essay collection. And she includes Meg Wolitzer's "The Female Persuasion," "Inseparable," the new biography by NBCC biography finalist Yunte Huang, and Balakian winner Michelle Dean's "Sharp" in her BBC Culture column.

NBCC's just departed board member Mark Rotella writes up this year's AWP in Tampa, with a shout-out to the NBCC reading by Jeffrey Eugenides, Lorrie Moore and Dana Spiotta, moderated by NBCC president Kate Tuttle.

Former board member Colette Bancroft interviewed poet Patricia Smith (whose poems "smolder with the fire this time") for the Tampa Bay Times, where she is Book Editor.

Priscilla Gilman reviewed Leslie Jamison's "The Recovering" for the Boston Globe:

Karl Wolff reviews "Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left," by Roger Scruton, for the New York Journal of Books.

Joan Frank reviews Yang Huang, Roberta Ausubel, Christine Schutt, and Thomas McGuane for the San Francisco Chronicle

Robert Allen Papinchak has reviewed Allan Hollinghurst's "The Sparsholt Affair" for the National Book Review.

Ron Slate reviewed Jane Delury’s first novel, "The Balcony," for On The Seawall.

Laura Spence-Ash reviewed Meg Wolitzer's "The Female Persuasion" for the Ploughshares blog.

Chelsea Leu reviewed "Anatomy of a Miracle" by Jonathan Miles in the LA Review of Books and "Laura & Emma" by Kate Greathead, for the Rumpus.

Julia M. Klein reviews Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Unmasked" for the Barnes & Noble Review, and Omer Bartov's "Anatomy of a Genocide" for the Forward.

Chuck Greaves reviewed Jonathan Evison's 'Lawn Boy' for the Four Corners Free Press and 'Louis L'Amour's Lost Treasures, Vol. 1' with Beau L'Amour, for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Alison Buckholtz reviewd Tara Westover's memoir, "Educated," for the Florida Times-Union. 

David Cooper reviewed "Late Beauty: Selected Poems of Tuvia Ruebner," translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz and Shahar Bram, in New York Journal of Books

Frank Freeman reviewed "Kierkegaard’s Muse: The Mystery of Regine Olsen," by Joakim Garff for Commonweal.

Nathan Deuel reviewed "Tomb Song" by Julián Herbert for the LA Times.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed William Middleton's "Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John De Menil," for Lone Star Literary Life.

Tara Cheesman reviewed "The Wife" by Alafair Burke for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

John Domini had praise for the biography "Oriana Fallici: the Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend," by Cristina De Stefano in the Washington Post.

Video of NBCC poetry finalist Ada Limon, interviewed at AWP18 in Tampa, in the new issue of Bookforum.

Anita Felicelli reviewed Shobha Rao's "Girls Burn Brighter" for the San Francisco Chronicle.


And other spectacular news

Megan Labrise has officially joined the staff of Kirkus Reviews after five years as a freelance feature writer. She is believed to be the first staff writer in the 85-year history of the company.

Claudia Rankine, the NBCC winner for poetry in 2015, will publish a play with Graywolf Press in 2019.

NBCC member Amy Weldon has two books coming out in 2018: "The Hands-On Life: How to Wake Yourself Up and Save The World" (Cascade) and "The Writer's Eye: Observation and Inspiration for Creative Writers" (Bloomsbury).

Chuck Greaves shared with the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers his boyhood memory of meeting Black Panther creator Jack Kirby.

Past  NBCC Board member David Biespiel and Wendy Willis will appear at the Poetry Foundation on April 5, 61 W. Superior Street, Chicago. 7pm. Free Admission.

And don't miss the beautiful John Midgley portraits of this year's NBCC winners, published daily over the past week, along with other awards news,  here on  Critical Mass, along with the citations for the winners.


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.

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and a member of the NBCC board.

March, 2018

NBCC Awards: Frances FitzGerald, Nonfiction Winner for ‘The Evangelicals’

by Elizabeth Taylor | Mar-31-2018

Nonfiction committee chair Mary Ann Gwinn presented the award to Frances FitzGerald for The Evangelicals.


How Donald Trump, a three-times-married libertine, won the presidency with the support of evangelical Christian voters may have confounded pundits. But one book tells how it happened: Frances FitzGerald’s landmark The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America.

Bringing together the best qualities of a scholar and journalist, FitzGerald chisels through the hard rock of history to explain how American evangelicals’ vision of spiritual liberty fused, over time, with free-market ideology and a pragmatic strain of libertarianism, their zeal stoked by a fear of Communism and anxiety about tumultuous social change. She charts the origins of a significant religious sensibility and follows its evolution as it turns from a religious to a political movement. The Evangelicals makes a brilliant and important contribution to our understanding of the American past and what it means for the future.

Photo by John Midgley. 

NBCC Awards: Caroline Fraser, Biography Winner for ‘Prairie Fires’

by Elizabeth Taylor | Mar-30-2018

NBCC biography committee chair Elizabeth Taylor, presented this citation to Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires.

In her extraordinary Prairie Fires,Caroline Fraser has brilliantly recast our understanding of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and times, and affirmed her influence in shaping the iconic West’s enduring history.

Fraser captures the full arc of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life in three acts: poverty, struggle, and reinvention. The self-sufficient pioneer nostalgia that bathed the Little House on the Prairie books was a profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation by a woman who had re-imagined her frontier life as epic and uplifting. Disappointment and loss transformed into parable. Wilder projected her vision of the West and came to see herself as the embodiment of it.

Fraser keys into the vexed relationship between Wilder and her profligate daughter, Rose, an author of bitter political screeds and locates a dark libertarian strain running through this family – and the pioneer spirit.

Prairie Fires considers a cultural touchstone and magnificently places it in the American experience and imagination.

Photo by John Midgley. 

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