Critical Notes

Barack Obama, Lucia Berlin, and books for giving

By Laurie Hertzel

Barack Obama reads letters from citizens. White House photo by Pete Souza

Reminder: It’s time to volunteer for the John Leonard Award committee! Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #NBCCLeonard, and visit our Facebook page to check out the list of candidates generated by the board. Want to write about a favorite? Contact us at about contributing, and learn more about volunteering for the Leonard committee on Critical Mass on our website. 

The first three #NBCCLeonard blog posts: Hamilton Cain on “There, There,” by Tommy Orange; Laurie Hertzel on *Educated,” by Tara Westover, and Joan Frank on “The Golden State,” by Lydia Kiesling.



NBCC VP for membership Anjali Enjeti reviews “To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger and Hope” by Jeanne Marie Laskas for the Washington Post.

NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel wrote her weekly column on nine books to consider for holiday giving.

Paul Wilner reviews “The Secret Habit of Sorrow,'' Victoria Patterson's excellent short story collection, for Ron Slate's recently revamped website, On The Seawall.

Michael Lindgren reviews what he calls a “good, but flawed book” — “Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood,” by Karina Longworth — for Newsday.

Asa Drake reviews  Leila Chatti's “Tunsiya/Amrikiya” for “The Journal: A Literary Magazine.

Desiree Zamorano interviews author Sara Gran for the L.A. Review of Books.

Martha Anne Toll reviews former NBCC board member Craig Morgan Teicher’s “We Begin In Gladness” for NPR Books. 

For her weekly Literary Hub column, NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari interviews Karen E. Bender about short story collections by Philip Roth, Jamaica Kinkaid, Joy Williams and others that have shaped her work.

Former NBCC board member David Biespiel reviews Michael Collier’s “My Bishop and Other Poems” in the Nov/Dec number of American Poetry Review. (In print only, not online)

Benjamin Woodard's review of Julián Herbert's novel, “Tomb Song,” was recently published at Kenyon Review Online

Laurie Stone reviews “Incest Diary” by Anonymous for the Women's Review of Books. She also reviews “Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl,” by Diane Seuss, also for the Women's Review of Books.

Tayla Burney reviews “The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter” by Hazel Gaynor for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Julia M. Klein reviews Jonathan Franzen's essay collection, “The End of the End of the Earth,” for the Chicago Tribune.

Lanie Tankard reviewed “Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories,” by May-lee Chai for the November “Eye on the Indies” column in The Woven Tale Press.

Alison Buckholtz reviewed “Waiting for Eden” by Eliot Ackerman for the Florida Times-Union.

Chelsea Leu reviews “All You Can Ever Know” by Nicole Chung for the Rumpus.

Katharine Coldiron reviews “Beyonce in Formation” for the Houston Chronicle, and the new edition of Eula Biss's “Notes from No Man's Land” for Sinkhole.

Hamilton Cain reviews Max Hastings' “Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy,” for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Jennifer Solheim reviews Lucia Berlin's new story collection, “Evening in Paradise,” and Berlin's memoir, “Welcome Home,” for Fiction Writers Review.

Former NBCC board member and Balakian recipient Steven G. Kellman reviewed Octavio Solis's “Retablos” for The Texas Observer.


And other good stuff and happy news:

Jason Berry's new history of New Orleans, “City of a Million Dreams,” has gotten advance reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus  (a starred review) and the New Orleans Advocate.

Matt McGee's short story, “A Radio Ready Romance,” is the lead piece in the new anthology 'Not Anyone's Wife,' published by Zimbell House.

Xujun Eberlein's long essay, “In Which No Sex Takes Place,” has been published in the fall issue of AGNI. Meanwhile, her short essay,“The Cremation,” was nominated by Brevity Magazine for a Pushcart Prize and for inclusion in “Best American Essays.”

NBCC poetry committee chairman Tess Taylor wrote an essay for the New York Times about living in California during the great fires.

Paul Wilner writes about the late Price Dunn, the inspiration for Richard Brautigan's “Confederate General in Big Sur,'' for the Monterey County Weekly.


NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to With reviews, please include title of book and author, as well as name of publication. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​ We love dedicated URLs. We do not love hyperlinks.

Laurie Hertzel is the books editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and chairman of the NBCC Autobiography Committee.