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 thirty-second in our latest in six years of NBCC Reads surveys.
“A Problem from Hell” by Samantha Power, the powerful history of genocide that won in general nonfiction during 2002. Naturally, I admire hundreds of other winners, in all categories. So, why choose “A Problem from Hell”? Call me superficial, but here's why: Of all the NBCC winners, only one has kissed me on the lips at the award ceremony. You see, I served as a judge that year, and made the presentation to Ms. Power. In her excitement, she kissed me–as I said, on the lips, with tv camera focused on us. I thought we made a great couple for those few seconds…both investigative journalists of a sort, both with red hair, both about six feet tall. The “romance” was fleeting. The memory–of the kiss and the book–is not.