Critical Notes

Revolution, Ali Smith and Reviews and Conversations From the NBCC

By Carolyn Kellogg

Why do we delight in fictions created from the French Revolution? Tobias Carroll explores the frisson of fervor or schadenfreude (is there a French word for that?), paying particular attention to Edward Carey's novel Little, at Lithub. Also at Lithub: Fran Bigman talks to poet Deborah Landau about her new collection, Soft Targets, and in her column In Context NBCC board member Lori Feathers writes about Ali Smith and her latest novel, Spring.

Meanwhile, Spring is reviewed at NPR by Heller McAlpin, who reviews Anna Quindlen's Nanaville and Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me for them as well. She's often one of the busiest reviewers in the NBCC.

But this week even Heller can't compete with NBCC board president Laurie Hertzel, who in addition to all she does for us and running the books pages for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, reviewed John Connell's memoir The Farmer's Son; interviewed a high school poetry champion; wrote her weekly column about lending and borrowing books; and previewed Word Play, the new literary festival which will debut in Minneapolis next weekend.

Geez, all I'm doing is writing this before watching Game of Thrones.

Former NBCC board president Tom Beer reviews Sally Rooney's buzzy new novel Normal People alongside her debut, Conversations with Friends, at Newsday, where he's Books editor.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviews What My Mother and I Don't Talk About, a new and sometimes difficult essay collection edited by former NBCC board member Michele Filgate, at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where Claude Peck reviews screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's memoir Mama's Boy and current NBCC board member David Varno reviews Another Kind of Madness, the debut novel by Ed Pavlić.

Tess Taylor, also on the NBCC board, writes about four poetry collections at the NY Times: Doomstead Days by Brian Teare; Sight Lines by Arthur Sze; Brute by Emily Skaja; and Hold Sway by Sally Ball. Also a the NY Times, Brian Blanchfield reviews artist Chris Rush's Light Years, noting that the memoir “is less a queering of the wilderness than a wilding of queerness.”

For the Wall Street Journal, Gregory Crouch reviewed The Impossible Climb by Mark Synnott. Hamilton Cain talked to David Brooks about his memoir The Second Mountain for Oprah Magazine. At The Rumpus, Martha Anne Toll talked to Kendra Allen about her essay collection When You Learn the Alphabet; Toll also reviewed Anna Merlan's book Republic of Lies for NPR.

In April, Robert BIrnbaum wrote about the baseball books of 2019 for the Washington Post. Also at the Washington Post, Daniel Asa Rose talks to former talk show host Craig Ferguson about his new memoir, Riding the Elephant

Local outlets are also covering books: At the Working Waterfront in Maine, Dana Wilde writes about author Agnes Bushell; Harvey Freedenberg writes about debut novelist Joel Burcat for The Burg, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Hélène Cardona reviews the poetry collection Howling Enigma by Rustin Larson for North of Oxford, a Philadelphia-based literary journal; and Paul Wilner writes about two biographies of journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht for the Jewish News of Northern California.

Wilner also reviewed A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie for ZYZZYVA. Wayne Catan talked to Chang-Rae Lee for The Hemingway Review blog. Julia M. Klein reviewed Defying Hitler by Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis for The Forward and talked to Nicholas A. Cristakis about his book Blueprint for the alumni magazine Pennsylvania Gazette. NBCC board member David Varno wrote about Enrique Vila-Matas' Mac's Problem, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes, for On the Seawall. 

Lisa Peet wrote an essay about literary discovery for Bloom. Theodore Kinni reviewed Steven Rogelberg's The Surprising Science of Meetings for Strategy + Business. Patti Jazanosik reviewed the graphic adaptation of Anne Frank's diary by Ari Folman and David Polosnky for Consequence Magazine. Ellen Prentiss Campbell reviews debut novelist David Hallock Sanders' Busara Road at the Fiction Writers Review. At the New York Journal of Books, Michael J. McCann reviews Gray Day by Eric O'Neil and Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton.

Congratulations to Joan Frank, who will be heading to a residency at the Vermont Studio Center this summer, and to Rayyan Al-Shawaf, whose debut novel When All Else Fails is excerpted at Truthdig

And back to Tobias Carroll, who started us off; he also reviewed Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me and The Amateurs by Lisa Harman for 

NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work may be highlighted in this roundup; please send links to new reviews, features and other literary pieces, or tell us about awards, honors or new and forthcoming books, by dropping a line to 

Image: The Toilette of Venus, 1751, by François Boucher, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.