Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Guest Post by Mary Jo Bang: NBCC at 35, I Can See the Future

By Jane Ciabattari

Mary Jo Bang is the author of six collections of books, including “Elegy,” which received the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award. Her most recent collection, “The Bride of E,” has just been published by Graywolf Press. She’s a Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. She offers these thoughts on the future of the NBCC.

Re the subject of “the NBCC of the future and other aspects of the rapidly evolving world of book culture”:

Yes, I can see the future. It is this: while eating lunch, I will stand at the kitchen counter and read whatever is left of that day’s New York Times, whatever I didn’t finish at breakfast because I had to rush off to my computer to send and answer email. Perhaps I’ll read a book review in the Arts section. My interest in reading the actual book, a partial ream of paper between two covers, will range from much to none, somewhat based on what the reviewer writes, and somewhat on whatever interest I bring to the subject, or the author. I will also judge the review for how well it was written.

Does any of this show anything about the future past lunch? No. We can’t know about the future. Only Cassandra knows and since we refuse to believe her she’s no help at all. We can’t slow what is rapidly evolving. I’m not trying to be flippant but really—how can we do anything other than what satisfies us?

It gives me great joy to read. Hand me a book, any book, and I’ll open it.

I don’t know that reviewers can create the desire to read, other than by reading and then writing well about what they’ve read. The important thing is to continue. If print goes the way of the dodo and there’s no more paper, then, yes, we’ll write, and read, in cyberspace. We shouldn’t worry. We should just do.

You ask, “Will book critics also need to use Twitter, Facebook and other social networking conduits to keep their work visible?” My answer is, some will want to. And so let them. And those who want to read there will follow them. But we should hold reviewers to high standards, wherever they publish. This is more difficult with free-standing blogs, but what can one do? Perhaps the NBCC could publicize lists of good book blogs, or blogs by their members, so readers can more easily find them.

In general, obviously reviews are a good way to bring attention to good books wherever the reviews are. Prizes are also good. So are organizations of like-minded people. So are websites and blogs. In the contemporary world, there are many activities that compete for our time. A day will always be only twenty-four hours long. I think that is the biggest problem for both the present and future of books. 

photo credit: Mark Schafer