Critical Notes

Becoming, biographies and buffalo cactus

By Laurie Hertzel


NBCC board elections are in full swing. Deadline for voting: January 4.

Next steps for members of the #NBCCLeonard judging committee have been emailed by committee chair Gregg Barrios. Deadline to vote on the winner (from the seven-book shortlist) is January 14.


Reviews & Interviews

NBCC board member Mary Ann Gwinn wrote a roundup of three biographies for the Seattle Times–the story of Lord Byron’s wife, Annabella Milbanke, and famous daughter Ada Lovelace; of Thomas Cromwell; and of Napoleon’s brief moment on Elba.

NBCC Emerging Critic Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers reviewed Irena Praitis’s poetry collection, “Rods and Koans,” and Nikki Furrer’s “A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis” for Foreword Reviews. 

Asa Drake reviewed Sasha Pimentel's “For Want of Water” for The Asian American Writer's Workshop.

Paul Wilner revisits “The Sweet Flypaper of Life” by Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes for On The Seawall.

Former NBCC board member Karen Long reviewed “Influenza,” by Jeremy Brown, and “Pandemic 1918,” by Catharine Arnold, for Newsday.

Lanie Tankard reviewed “White Dancing Elephants” by Chaya Bhuvaneswar for the December “Eye on the Indies” column in The Woven Tale Press.

Jenny Shank reviewed “Buffalo Cactus & Other New Stories from the Southwest,” edited by D. Seth Horton and Brett Garcia Myhren, for High Country News, and R.O. Kwon's “Incendiaries” for America.

NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari interviewed Tom Barbash, author of The Dakota Winters, about five New York books, including NBCC fiction award winner Jennifer Egan's “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” for her weekly Lit Hub column.

Kristen Evans reviewed Megan Abbott's “Give Me Your Hand,” Oyinkan Braithwaite's “My Sister, The Serial Killer,” and Adrienne Celt's “Invitation to a Bonfire” for BuzzFeed Books.

Grace Lichtenstein's review of “Becoming” by Michelle Obama appeared in the most recent

Paul Wilner reviews Lydia Kiesling's “The Golden State'' for the Journal of Alta California.

Interviews and good news:

Hamilton Cain interviewed Susan Orlean about her new book, “The Library Book,” for O,The Oprah Magazine.

Rebecca Foust’s poem “Redline” won Poetry International’s Cavafy Prize, and her story “Aim” won the Lascaux Review’s Prize for Flash Fiction.

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 senior editor for books at the Star Tribune and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle.