Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Eric Liebetrau Picks Maus and Cloud Atlas

By Eric Liebetrau

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 eighth of dozens of choices in our latest in six years of NBCC Reads surveys.

Maus by Art Spiegelman. Revolutionary in both approach and execution, Spiegelman’s masterpiece elevated the graphic medium to new heights. Not just a heartbreaking exploration of the Holocaust, it is a wholly impressive piece of literature that catalyzed the growth of graphic literature that continues today with Joe Sacco, Chris Ware, Kazu Kibuishi, Alison Bechdel and countless other artists and writers.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Absolutely unlike anything I have ever read, Mitchell’s kaleidoscopic novel skips back and forth across centuries but never breaks the central thread holding each section together. It’s a mind-boggling feat of construction and storytelling that continues to reveal hidden elements with each reading.

Eric Liebetrau, an NBCC board member and deputy/online, is the managing editor and nonfiction editor of Kirkus Reviews. He also provides freelance editing services and contributes book reviews, music reviews and other literary and cultural features to a variety of publications including People, The New Yorker, the Boston Globe and Charleston City Paper.