Critical Notes

Roundup: Harper Lee, Jan Ellison, Langston Hughes, Ander Monson & #30Booksin30Days

By Jane Ciabattari

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Follow #30Booksin30Days on Twitter for links to our Critical Mass series of reviews of all 30 finalists by NBCC board members or click here.

Former NBCC board member and Balakian winner Scott McLemee celebrates the 10th anniversary of his Intellectual Affairs column for Inside Higher Ed: “I can’t imagine a nicer euphemism for being, in effect, a perpetual student — and somehow making a job of it to boot.”

In a New York Times Op Ed, former NBCC board member Jessa Crispin has some advice for Harper Lee. Crispin's book The Dead Ladies Project is due later this year from the University of Chicago Press.

NBCC board member Walton Muyumba reviews “Selected Letters of Langston Hughes” for the Dallas Morning News: “With their selections, the editors, David Roessel, Arnold Rampersad and Christa Fratantoro, have arranged Hughes’ letters into a kind of chronological narrative. Here, Hughes’ voice, composed in various registers, and the editors’ simple, clarifying annotations do all the storytelling.”

NBCC board member Ron Charles launches a free four-part “Life of a Poet” reading/discussion series February 19 with Frank Bidart, winner of the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for “Metaphysical Dog.”

NBCC board member Joanna Scutts reviews Priya Parmar's “Vanessa and Her Sister” for The Washington Post: “Parmar's version of Virginia is as a selfish, petulant child.”

Joan Frank reviews  Jan Ellison's first novel, 'A Small indiscretion,' for the San Francisco Chronicle:”One of the enduring miracles of reading — the gift that makes the game worthwhile — is that moment when a story’s voice nails us. If author and reader are lucky, it happens on the first page.”

Regina Marler reviews debut novels by Emma Hooper, Quan Barry and Dimitry Elias Léger for The New York Times Book Review.

Former NBCC board member David Ulin reviews Ander Monson's “Letters to a Future Lover” in the Los Angeles Times: “In many ways, this is a counterpoint to Monson's last book, 'Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir,' a National Book Critics Circle finalist. A series of personal essays that deconstruct our understanding of the personal, it blurred the line between print and digital, accompanied as it was by a website on which the essays were regularly updated and enlarged. For this new work, Monson has turned back to the bittersweet satisfactions of the physical, the way fixed things offer unexpected insights into who we are.”

In her Lit Life column in the Seattle Times, NBCC board member Mary Ann Gwinn ponders the findings of board member Jane Ciabattari's BBC Culture poll, which gathered critics' opinions on the greatest novels of the 21st century so far: “How unusual for critics, including folks from The New York Times, Time Magazine and Kirkus Reviews, to agree!”

NBCC board member David Biespiel''s Poetry Wire column returns to The Rumpus, with “Why Jihadists Love Postmodern Poetry.” 

NBCC board member Kate Tuttle reviews Jill Leovy's “Ghettoside” (“which functions both as a snappy police procedural and — more significantly — as a searing indictment of legal neglect”), war photographer Linsey Addario's memoir, “It's What I Do,” Mary Pilon's The Monopolists, and Chad Broughton's “Boom, Bust, Exodus” for her column in The Boston Globe.

Former NBCC president John Freeman will be judging the new $10K PEN/Fusion award for promising young writers of unpublished nonfiction addressing global or multicultural issues, with Roxane Gay and Cristina Henriquez.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports on “the quiet power of Claudia Rankine,” as Rankine, a finalist for the NBCC awards in poetry and criticism this year, appears at The Loft, introduced by fellow NBCC finalist (for fiction) Marlon James.

The latest from former NBCC board member Celia McGee's “Junior Edition: New Books for Younger Readers” column for the Center for Fiction includes a section on Allen Kurzweil's Whipping Boy: “Kurzweil, an acclaimed novelist,… journalist, and children’s book author, turns  his obsession with his worst tormentor into a mesmerizing detective story and international thriller; a long, restless manhunt…”

Ellen Akin reviews Anne Tyler's “A Spool of Blue Thread” in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “The scholar and critic Elaine Showalter, trying to account for women’s absence from a literary landscape mapped by men, includes Tyler among the unjustly uncounted.”

Michael Leong reviews Ignacio Infante's “After Translation: The Transfer and Circulation of Modern Poetics Across the Atlantic” in the Los Angeles Review of Books:”Implicit in Infante’s treatment of the postwar avant-garde is the belief that far from being merely derivative or nostalgic..neo-avant-garde movements such as concretismo and the San Francisco Renaissance represent important and highly self-reflexive interventions in literary historiography.”

Don Waters reviews new story collections by Charles Baxter, Edith Pearlman, and Thomas Pierce for the San Francisco Chronicle:”Reading a Pearlman story is like entering the jet stream of some stranger’s life. You feel the rush and fear and excitement, and then you exit, overcome but satisfied.”

John Wilwol reviews David Duchovny's first novel  for the Washington Post: “a silly charming story about growing up.”

Robert Birnbaum notes “The Whites,” a new novel by NBCC finalist Richard Price.He also ponders David Thomson's “Why Acting Matters.” “…his bibliography is packed with a variety of gems worth your time.” Ron Slate weighs in, as well.”…when asked about his influences, [Thomson] responds with the names of great essayists – Joan Didion, John Berger, Gore Vidal, Greil Marcus, and Geoff Dyer.”

Karen An-Hwe Lee reviews Brenda Hillman's “Seasonal Works with Letters of Fire” for The Iowa Review: “Hillman’s devotion to social justice—her unwavering belief in poetry’s capacity to address root causes of our political strife—ultimately purifies our fallen world in the languages of elemental fire.”

Julie Hakim Azzam interviews Jesmyn Ward, a finalist for the NBCC award in autobiography for “Men We Reaped,” and the National Book Award fiction winner for “Salvage the Bones” for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Benjamin Woodard reviews “When Mystical Creatures Attack!” by Kathleen Founds at Kenyon Review Online: “Founds explores the figure of the sad clown in a linked collection equal parts strange, funny, and harrowing.”

In The Nation, Jon Wiener talks with Larry Siems and Nancy Hollander about Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi–they are his editor and his lawyer.  (The author has been at Gitmo for 14 years.)

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews Michael Christie's novel “If I Fall, If I Die” for the Toronto Star: “…a sort of Alice in Wonderland in reverse, where a kid from a place where fantasy reigns clambers out of his rabbit hole and emerges, awestruck, into the real world.” And here's his review of “The Upstairs Wife” for the Christian Science Monitor.

Gerald Bartell interviews Peter May for Kirkus Reviews.

Clifford Garstang reviews Elizabeth Kadetsky's “The Poison That Purifies You” for Prime Number.

Lori Feathers reviews Evie Wyld's “All the Birds, Singing” for Rain Taxi and considers Yiyun Li's “Kinder than Solitude” for Bookslut.