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 twenty-first of dozens of choices in our latest in six years of NBCC Reads surveys.
Paul Hendrickson's Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961(Knopf). By no means my “favorite” book ever to be a finalist for an NBCC–surely a qualification that everyone will make?–but a wonderful book that I'd like to call further attention to. It's truly a labor of discernment and love: Hendrickson took decades to gather his material, and that included personal relationships with Hemingway's children, including the tortured Gregory/Gloria. I was engaged from beginning to end, and felt that my lifelong fascination with Hemingway had actually been requited with some heightened degree of understanding. That's about all you can ask from a biography of whatever sort.