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 seventeenth of dozens of choices in our latest in six years of NBCC Reads surveys.
A tough choice, which I've narrowed down to two great and very different novels: Norman Rush's Mating and Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower. Were I compelled to choose between the two, it would be Mating. These novels are masterpieces in entirely opposite ways: The Blue Flower is a masterpiece of concision, Mating a masterpiece of voluptuous excess. Both take as their subject the incompatibility of private love with almost everything else in the world: art, politics, family, religion.