Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Valerie Trueblood Picks Penelope Fitzgerald

By Valerie Trueblood

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

Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower, a book that looks calmly out over the heads of other novels of its time, seems to me the finest choice ever made by the NBCC. When giving it to friends over the years I've never found the words to describe its beauty. So I am grateful for Michael Hofmann's review of it, one of the best reviews I have ever seen in the New York Times.

Valerie Trueblood is a contributing editor to The American Poetry Review. Her essays, articles, and poetry have appeared in The Northwest Review, The Iowa Review, the Seattle Times, and Seattle Weekly, among others. Her short story collection Marry or Burn was shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Collection. Her new collection, Search Party, was published this year by Counterpoint. She lives in Seattle.