Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

New NBCC Reads: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Conjugal Love

By James Marcus

We are now in our second year of “NBCC Reads.” This survey allows us to draw on the bookish expertise of our membership, along with former NBCC winners and nominees. Three times a year, we pose a question and post the results here on Critical Mass. We do not tabulate votes or rank the titles under discussion. Instead, we simply give an idea of the authors or particular titles that seem to be tickling the collective fancy of the organization. We will also post specific responses as “Long Tail” entries on the blog, and hope to sponsor related panels from coast to coast. (Let us know if you'd like to set one up in your community.)

Now, for the current question. Which work of fiction or nonfiction has the smartest things to say about conjugal love?

A bit of clarification: we are interpreting the phrase in its broadest sense–no marriage license required. Think Updike's Rabbit trilogy, Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety, Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, just about anything by Alice Munro, The Good Soldier, Diana Athill's Somewhere Towards the End, just about anything by Saul Bellow (for a jaundiced view), Jane Gardam's Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat, Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road, Phyllis Rose's Parallel Lives, reams of poetry by Robert Lowell or Sylvia Plath or Stanley Kunitz, Mark Doty or Rachel Zucker…. These books are about many things, but they all have something profound to say about the deep comforts and dizzying compromises of conjugal life.

New or old titles are all eligible, and we encourage you to send along a few sentences explaining your choice (or choices).

Please send all responses to Given the volume of responses, we will not be acknowledging your emails, but rest assured, they will be read with maniacal attention and curiosity.

The deadline is April 20. We look forward to hearing from you!