Critical Notes

Roundup: 2010 National Book Critics Circle Awards Coverage

By Mark Athitakis

The National Book Critics Circle awards received plenty of media attention. But one article, for better or for worse, attracted the most notice. The Los Angeles Timesreport was headlined “Egan beats Franzen in National Book Critics Circle fiction prize,” referring to Jennifer Egan, whose A Visit From the Goon Squad bested Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. The Times wasn’t the only outlet that played up an Egan-beats-Franzen angle, but the paper's initial decision to run a photo of Franzen instead of Egan at the top of the story drew plenty of criticism on Twitter and on blogs. “This makes it sound like the real news is not that Egan won, but that Franzen lost,” wrote a blogger at Jezebel in a post titled “Jonathan Franzen Loses Book Award to Some Lady.”  The complaints were so persistent that the Times’ reader representative addressed the matter; ultimately a photo of Egan was swapped in.

More from around the web on the award winners:

After the awards, the Rumpus caught up with Egan, who discussed her writing process for A Visit From the Goon Squad.

Darin Strauss’ Half a Life, which took the prize in autobiography, has just been published in England. The Guardian calls it a “masterpiece of brevity.”

Yale University Press celebrated Clare Cavanagh, who took the criticism award for Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West. So did Stanford’s Cynthia Haven, who recalled commiserating with Cavanagh on Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz.

The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda praised the winner in biography, Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, saying it “touches on every aspect of Montaigne’s thought, life and influence.”

In the American Prospect, Lindsay Beyerstein called the winner in nonfiction, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, “one of the most impressive books I’ve ever read.” Wilkerson discussed the book after the awards with the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The Washington Post reviewed each of the poetry finalists, calling out the winner, C.D. Wright’s One With Others, for its “momentum and cohesion.” In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, NBCC board member Karen L. Long writes that “Wright is a genius of fragmentation — she hints and tantalizes; she lets the reader reach for meaning, and her repetitions register in the breastbone like call-and-response.”

The New York Observer profiled John O’Brien, publisher of Dalkey Archive Press, recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, saying that he “has done nothing less than give a voice to an otherwise unspoken thread of contemporary fiction.”

Publishers Weekly celebrated staffer Parul Sehgal, who won the Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Helping to bring attention to other reviewers, Sehgal has since launched an ongoing series of profiles of critics; thus far it's featured Salon's Laura Miller and the Washington Post's Ron Charles.


Photo of Jennifer Egan by David Shankbone