Critical Notes

A comic book Zora Neale Hurston and the truth about Jim Jones: Members’ reviews

By Laurie Hertzel


Do the National Book Critics Circle awards predict the Pulitzers? The NBCC gave fiction awards to Junot Diaz, Jennifer Egan, Marilynne Robinson, Edward P. Jones and Jane Smiley, to name a few, before they won that year's Pulitzer, points out the Chicago Tribune's Biblioracle John Warner. (Edward P. Jones's The Known World, Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, Carol Shields' The Stone Diaries, John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, John Cheever's The Stories of John Cheever. William Kennedy's Ironweed, also were NBCC award and Pulitzer Prize winners).  Electric Literature handicaps this year's list, including NBCC fiction awardee Louise Erdrich, finalists Michael Chabon, Adam Haslett and Ann Patchett, and former finalist Colson Whitehead. 

NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari's BBC Between the Lines column includes April short story collections by Lesley Nneka Arimah, Richard Bausch and Leonora Carrington. And her weekly Lit Hub column features dystopias, detectives, and new biography of Tricky Dick (plus a shout out to NBCC Balakian winner Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post).

NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune about books that make you feel like spring, and she covers a talk by two-time NBCC fiction finalist Marlon James and Lisa Lucas, head of the National Book Foundation. She also reviews “Alice in France,” a collection of letters from a Minnesota woman in France during World War I.

NBCC board member and Best Translated Book Award judge Lori Feathers makes the case in Three Percent why Javiar Marias’s “Thus Bad Begins” should win the Best Translated Book Award.

Board member Mary Ann Gwinn reviews five biographies of writers (including one told as a graphic novel)  for the Seattle Times.

Diane Scharper reviewed “The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy,” by Michael McCarthy, in The National Catholic Reporter.

Dan Cryer reviewed Jeff Guinn's “The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple,” for the Boston Globe, and Hari Kunzru's “White Tears” for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Julia M. Klein reviews Daniel J. Sharfstein's “Thunder in the Mountains” on the Nez Perce War and its aftermath, for the Chicago Tribune. She also wrote about “Rebel Mother” by Peter Andreas for the Boston Globe.

Paul Wilner reviews “A Horse Walks into a Bar,” by David Grossman, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Joe Peschel reviews Richard Bausch's story collection, “Living in the Weather of the World,” for the Houston Chronicle, and David Vann's novel, “Bright Air Black,” in the Raleigh News and Observer. He also reviewed “The Underground,” by Kevin Canty, also for the Houston Chronicle.

David Cooper reviews “Sonora” by Hannah Lillity Assadi and “God's Ear” by Rhoda Lerman, both for the New York Journal of Books.

Andrew Ervin reviews “Compass,” by Mathias Enard for the Washington Post.

Jim Ruland reviews “Broad Strokes” by Bridget Quinn, and “Whereas,” by Layli Long Soldier, both for the San Diego City Beat.

Marthine Satris reviews Ariel Levy's “The Rules Do Not Apply” for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Harvey Freedenberg reviews Nathan Hill's “The Nix” for Harrisburg Magazine.

Ilana Masad reviews “Generation Revolution,” by Rachel Aspden and “Temporary People” by Deepak Unnikrishnan for the Washington Post. Her piece about fairytales, Angela Carter and Helen Oyeyemi is in Broadly.

Amy Brady reviews “Ill Will” by Dan Chaon for the Dallas Morning News.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews “The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria,” by Alia Malek, for the National Book Review. He also did a Q&A with Omar El Akkad, author of “American War,” for Portland Monthly.

Katharine Weber reviewed a roundup of Irish fiction for the New York Times Book Review.

Tara Cheesman reviewed “Cockroaches” by Scholastique Mukasonga, for the Quarterly Conversation, and “The Impossible Fairy Tale,” by Han Yujoo, for the Rumpus.

Amy Brady interviews novelist Emily Robbins for Hazlitt Magazine.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson reviewed Hannah Tinti's “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley” for Barnes and Noble Review:

Michael Lindgren reviewed two biographies of famous baseball men Casey Stengel and Leo Durocher for Newsday.

Cliff Garstand reviewed “Eveningland,” by Michael Knight, for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Frank Freeman reviewed “Ireland's Immortals,” by Mark Williams, for the Washington Free Beacon.

Peter Lewis reviewed “Insomniac City” by Bill Hayes, and “Refinery Town” by Steve Early, both for Barnes and Noble Review; “The Enigma of the Owl,” by Mike Unwin and David Tipling for the Minneapolis Star Tribune; “The Age of Jihad” by Patrick Cockburn and “What Have We Done” by David Wood, both for the San Francisco Chronicle; “No Friends But the Mountains,” by Judith Matloff, for Christian Science Monitor. Whew!


Awards, honors and publications:

Andrew Ervin's first book of nonfiction, “Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed our World,” will be published by Basic Books on May 2.

“Contemporary Australian Literature,” by Nicholas Birns, has been shortlisted for the Walter McRae Russell Award, which recognizes the best book of criticism on Australian literature in the past two years.

Your reviews seed this roundup. Please send items, ncluding news about your new publications and recent honors, to Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password. Please include your name, the publication, a description of your article, and a URL. We love URLs. We do not love hyperlinks.

Laurie Hertzel is a board member of the NBCC and the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.