Critical Notes

Toni Morrison, Moby-Dick, and lots of late-summer reading

By Laurie Hertzel

The first and biggest news of this past week was, of course, the passing of the great Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winner, writer and mentor to so many. In 2015, the National Book Critics Circle honored her with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. You can watch Miss Morrison deliver her speech on our website.

Reviews and interviews:

Clea Simon  reviewed Sarah Elaine Smith’s gorgeous Marilou is Everywhere for the Boston Globe and also discussed Laura Lippman’s new Lady in the Lake for Artsfuse, in light of its timeliness.

Cliff Garstang reviewed Paul Tremblay's Growing Things for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

For Orion Magazine, former NBCC Emerging Critic Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers reviewed Thor Hanson’s Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees, a fascinating combination of evolutionary biology, archaeology, art, history, literature, lay science, and ecology that plumbs the perennial connection between humans and bees. No link because Orion is print only.

Olga Zilberbourg reviewed an Azerbaijani novel, Farewell, Aylis, by Akram Aylisli, translated by Katherine E. Young, and published last year by Academic Studies Press for The Common. “A remarkable book, truly worth much wider attention than it has received so far,” she says.

NBCC president Laurie Hertzel wrote her weekly column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the pros and cons of writing in books. She also appeared on the NPR show “On Point” to discuss summer books and, later, was on MInnesota Public Radio to discuss  Under Purple Skies, a new anthology of Minnesota writing for which she wrote the introduction.

Barbara J. King reviewed Charles King's Gods of the Upper Air:  How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century for NPR.

Jacob Appel reviewed Summerlings by Lisa Howorth for the New York Journal of Books.

Joan Gelfand reviewed The Jaguar That Prowls Our Dreams by Mary Mackey for PANK.

Ellen Prentiss Campbell reviewed Sadie Jones' The Snakes for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Kathleen Rooney wrote about Moby-Dick for the L.A. Review of Books. Why, you might ask? The 200th anniversary. Taking part in a “Moby-Dick” read-a-thon. But also, she writes, because the novel is flawless, “not to be abridged,” and laugh-out-loud funny. It also brings her sorrow, in the light of climate change and the current plight of whales.

Board member Katherine A. Powers wrote her monthly audiobooks column for the Washington Post about audiobooks with great narrators. (And not so great.)

Tara Cheesman reviewed Alix Ohlin's Dual Citizens for On the Seawall.

For the September issue of O, the Oprah Magazine Hamilton Cain covered new books from Sarah M. Broom, Ayse Papatya Bucak, Haben Girma, Maggie Paxson, Richard Russo, and Long Litt Woon. He also pulled together a roundup of political books for

Jenny Shank reviewed Sabrina and Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine for High Country News.

Allen Adams reviewed First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers for the Maine Edge.

In this week's Lit Hub/Book Marks column, former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari interviews Jess Row, who recommends three books (including Middlesex) and two films (The Landlord from 1970 and this year's The Last Black Man in San Francisco) reflecting white flight.


Other news…

Hélène Cardona's new translation, Birnam Wood (Salmon Poetry, 2018), was reviewed by Rachael Daum in Bookaccino and by Jordi Alonso in World Literature Today. Cardona was awarded a 2019 Naji Naaman Literary Prize in June.

Susan Henderson, Lifetime Member of the NBCC, is the 2019 WILLA Literary Award Winner in Contemporary Fiction for her novel, The Flicker of Old Dreams. She's also a Finalist in two categories for the High Plains Book Awards, which will be announced in October. Later this month, she will be a guest on Yellowstone Public Radio's program, Resounds: Arts and Culture on the High Plains

Joan Gelfand was interviewed on Lit Pub about her new bookYou Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors.

The photo of Toni Morrison was taken in 2013 during her lecture to the West Point Military Academy. The photo is in the public domain.

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

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