Critical Notes

Monday Morning Roundup 2


NBCC member Miriam Berkley, who has provided numerous 2007 NBCC award photos for Critical Mass (and the portrait of critic James Wood at left) noted here and here.

Miriam tells me that the first NBCC meetings she attended, before she was a professional photographer, were with Henry Kisor, then book editor of the Chicago Daily News. Henry was deaf, and a lipreader. “He found my accompanying him helpful since he could read my lips close up when I told him what was said,” Miriam said. “And one of the very first author photos I did was of John Ashbery, when he won the NBCC poetry award in 1975. I went up to him and asked if I could call him. I did,went to his apartment, and shot a roll or maybe two of black and white film. One of these was published in a recent issue of Poets and Writers beside someone else’s more recent but similar shot (same angle, and even what could have passed for the same shirt)! I did not photograph any other writer then or for some years. Later I became a member of NBCC myself.” (Miriam has trained her camera on Chinua Achebe, Doris Lessing, William Styron and Grace Paley among others, and, more recently, Chimamanda Adichie, David Mitchell, Aryn Kyle, Orhan Pamuk, and James Wood.)

Speaking of Poets and Writers, the July/August issue has an interview with NBCC board member Kevin Prufer, in connection with his recently released “New European Poetry,” a Shakespeare essay by NBCC member Sarah Weinman, and a Q and A in which Kevin Larimer was asking the Qs and I was on the Answering side for a change.  (Meanwhile, Prufer’s new collection, “National Anthem,” reviewed here.)

NBCC board member Geeta Sharma- Jensen explores reading for insomniacs:

“Linda Wolfe, a New York author and journalist, tells of once interviewing the sex therapists Masters & Johnson for a Playboy piece. The research “included spending a weekend at their home,” Wolfe said in an e-mail.

“Virginia Johnson, when we got to talking about bedtime reading, told me her bedtime reading when she couldn’t fall asleep was cookbooks. And then showed me the stack on her night table. Who’d a thunk??”

Barbara Hoffert, editor of the Library Journal Book Review, swears by a dog-eared copy of “The Crystal Cabinet: An Invitation to Poetry,” a 1962 anthology her mother gave her when she was a child. The anthology, by Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska, is no longer in print, but various editions can be found on for anywhere from $2.49 for a used hardcover to $49.50 for an edition with engravings by Gregory.

“It has some beautiful poems by William Blake,” said Hoffert, a longtime insomniac. “I know them really well and the book is really satisfying, just fulfilling enough but just challenging enough, and it makes you just tired enough to fall asleep.”

Former NBCC president John Freeman blogs on the “great American pause.”

“The only thing melting faster than polar ice caps these days is America’s attention span. The US, after all, is a country where the vice-president can shoot a man in the face on February 11, and have that story buried by Valentine’s day. Is it any wonder that such a nation would prefer baseball to cricket?

“When it comes to the novel, however, Americans are still willing to take it slow, or at least reward the writers who do. Indeed, in recent years a highly visible group of “Great American Novels” have emerged from 10, 12, and even over 20-year gestation periods.”

NBCC board member David L. Ulin and team offering real time reactions to the serialization of Denis Johnson’s new novel, “Nobody Move,” in Playboy on the Los Angeles Times book blog, Jacket Copy.

NBCC member DeWitt Henry’s new memoir, “Safe Suicide,” reviewed here.

NBCC board member Celia McGee interviews director/acerbic emailer Nicholas Martin.

NBCC fiction finalist Marianne Wiggins intereviewed here.

And NBCC board member Ellen Heltzel and her Book Babes collaborater (and NBCC member) Margo Hammond tell how to get to know a person by the book they’re reading this season.

Photo: Miriam Berkley