Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Guest Post by James Marcus: My Three Minutes for the NBCC

By James Marcus

NBCC board member James Marcus, who shepherds the “NBCC Reads” series and created the dance-floor Roth mashup, takes a look backward and forward in his remarks honoring the NBCC 35th anniversary..

According to tonight's program, I'm batting for the 21st century. In fact I was on the NBCC Board back in the storied Nineties. I left the board in 2001, spent some time in detox, and have now fallen off the wagon again. So here I am.

Anyway, I think this positions me nicely to note the sea change that has taken place here over the past decade. During my first tenure on the board, things had gotten a little sleepy. This is no criticism of my excellent and energetic colleagues of that era. But I think we all had a premonition that the old world of print and Sunday book supplements was about to go the way of the dodo. None of us knew exactly how fast that transformation would take place. Nobody operating a butter churn foresees the advent of margarine, either. Before we knew it, the Age of Margarine was upon us–not golden, but bright yellow, and full of suspicious adulterants.

Now, I know that sounds awfully negative. So I will change tack, retire the margarine metaphor, and argue that the NBCC is now a much more vibrant organization than it was ten years ago. The Internet, which was supposed to torpedo what was left of our trade and leave us on par with thimble makers, has given the conversation about books a massive shot in the arm.

Yes, the dust is still settling. The shrinkage or outright disappearance of the old reviewing outlets is painful to watch. The drastic redefinition of those cherished terms, professional and amateur, has given many a seasoned critic a bad case of the psychological bends. But the audience has multiplied, and gone global, and the barriers to entry for a young critic have fallen. So I'm going to look on the bright side, and argue that the best work still rise to the top–like cream, or margarine. I promise.