What is your favorite National Book Critics Circle finalist of all time? The first NBCC winners, honored in 1975 for books published in 1974, were E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime, fiction), John Ashbery (Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, poetry), R.W.B. Lewis for his biography of Edith Wharton, and Paul Fussell (The Great War and Modern Memory, criticism). In 2014 the National Book Critics Circle prepares to celebrate nearly forty years of the best work selected by the critics themselves, and also to launch the new John Leonard award for first book. So we're looking back at the winners and finalists, all archived on our website, and we've asked our members and former honorees to pick a favorite. Here's the fifth of dozens of choices in our latest in six years of NBCC Reads surveys. Shirley Hazzard's Transit of Venus won the NBCC fiction award in 1980.
All writers have favorite books, books that opened doors for them to great vistas, landscapes of possibility. Shirley Hazzard’s brilliant Transit of Venus did that for me – opened a door into a new way of writing about a world full of ideas, beauty, politics, sex and love. I read that book, and then I read everything else she wrote. I couldn’t wait to see every sentence that she set down, every idea that she caught, so deftly, handled so exquisitely, and set aloft. I have never stopped reading or admiring her, but that book was my first and my favorite of her works. (More here.)