Critical Notes

Run For the Board! Plus Member Reviews and News

By Mark Athitakis

The NBCC board for publishing year 2018, photographed at the NBCC awards on March 14, 2019. 

Members, this is the time of year when you can get deeply involved in the NBCC — choosing the winner of the John Leonard Prize, voting for board members (and running for the board yourself), nominating notable writers or institutions for the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime achievement award, and nominating books for our finalist lists. Get cracking! And read on:

NBCC Board Elections Are Approaching! Deadline Dec. 6!

Every year the NBCC’s membership elects eight members to join its board of directors. If you are interested in running for the board, please send a bio and statement of intent (no more than 300 words) to VP Membership Anjali Enjeti by 5 p.m. ET Dec 6. Board candidates must be NBCC members in good standing to run. (Learn more about membership and join the NBCC.) Read our primer on the NBCC board’s work to learn more about what’s involved.

We Need Your Help Selecting the Next Sandrof Award Honoree

Each year, the NBCC board selects a person or institution to win the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, and we’d love to have your help choosing the next winner.

The Sandrof Award, named after the first president of the NBCC, is given annually to a person or institution — a writer, publisher, critic, or editor, among others — who has, over time, made significant contributions to book culture. Past winners of the award have included Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, PEN American Center, Studs Terkel and Wendell Berry. The most recent honoree, Arte Público Press, received significant national media attention for their win, including articles in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the San Antonio Express-News, Texas Monthly and NBC. They even received a special citation from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in honor of their victory.

Any institution or living person can be nominated for the award, and a list of previous winners is available on the NBCC website. If you know of a person or group who you think is deserving of the award, please send their name and a 1-3 paragraph nominating statement to Sandrof Award Committee Chair Michael Schaub at Nominations are open until Dec. 1, 2019. We’d love to hear from you!

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing

The NBCC awards the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing each year to recognize outstanding work by a member of the NBCC. The citation is awarded in honor of Nona Balakian, a founding member of the National Book Critics Circle. Since 2012, the Balakian Citation has carried with it a $1,000 cash prize donated by board member Gregg Barrios. Nominees for the Balakian Award must be NBCC members in good standing, and may submit up to 5 book reviews for a total of 5,000 words.  The deadline is Monday, December 9. Compete guidelines are

NBCC Members’ Choice

Every year NBCC members are asked to nominate titles to be finalists for the book awards in fiction, nonfiction, biography, autobiography, poetry and criticism. Any title that receives 20 percent of the membership’s votes automatically becomes a finalist. Members, check your email for a message on selecting Leonard Prize candidates.

Now, on to the reviews…

NBCC president  Laurie Hertzel curated (and wrote part of) the Star Tribune’s annual best-of-the-year book section, which highlights more than 50 titles, including fiction, nonfiction, picture books and regional books, as well as a top-ten list by some of the paper’s freelance critics. Hamilton Cain selected Peter Orner’s Maggie Brown & Others for the package.

Stephanie Elizondo Griest reviewed Paul Theroux’s travel book On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey for the Washington Post.

Former NBCC Emerging Critic Natalia Holtzman reviewed Fleur Jaeggy’s novel Sweet Days of Disciplinefor On the Seawall.

Eric Nguyen reviewed Teru Miyamoto’s novel Inhabitation, translated by Roger K. Thomas, for Spectrum Culture.

John Domini reviewed Johannes Anyuru’s first work translated into English, the novel They Will Drawn in Their Mothers’ Tears, for the Washington Post.

Kevin Blankinship reviewed Christiane Gruber’s The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images for the Times Literary Supplement and Bewildered: Love Poems from Translation of Desires, a collection of Arabic Sufi poetry translated by Michael Sells, for

Gerald Bartell reviewed Sheila Weller’s biography Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge for Newsday.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Debbie Cenziper’s Citizen 865: The Hunt for Hitler’s Hidden Soldiers in America for the Forward and interviewed David J. Silverman for the Princeton Alumni Weekly about his history This Land Is Their Land.

Tobias Carroll wrote about Sylvia Townsend Warner’s fiction for BOMB, featured recent translations in his Watchlist column at Words Without Borders, and reviewed two books dealing with Paris and art for InsideHook.

Kristen Millares Young reviewed Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In the Dream House for the Washington Post.

W. Scott Olsen reviewed Lauren Walsh’s Conversations on Conflict Photography and Michael Magers’ Independent Mysteries for

Gayle Feldman reported on the challenges facing new Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt for the Bookseller.  

Cassandra Luca reviewed Erin Morgenstern’s second novel, The Starless Sea, for the Harvard Crimson.

Peggy Kurkowski reviewed Mike Giglio’s Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate for Open Letters Review.

Theodore Kinni reviewed J. Robert Rossman and Mathew D. Duerden’s Designing Experiences for strategy+business; he also rounded up the year’s best management books for the magazine.  

K.L. Romo reviewed John Land’s novel A Time for Murder and Michael Hughes’ novel Country for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and J. Todd Scott’s novel This Side of Night for BookTrib.

Bridget Quinn reviewed the Phaidon compendium Great Women Artists for Hyperallergic.

Jenny Shank reviewed Ruchika Tomar’s novel A Prayer for Travelers and Frank Bergon’s essay collection Two Buck Chuck and the Marlboro Man for High Country News.

James H. Scott reviewed Robert MacFarlane’s Underland: A Deep Time Journey for Wellington Square Books.

Board member Mark Athitakis reviewed Michael Powell’s Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation for the Washington Post. 

Tony Miksanek reviewed Susan Stagno and Michael Blackie’s From Reading to Healing: Teaching Medical Professionalism through Literature for the Journal of Medical Humanities.

Hélène Cardona reviewed poetry collections by Laura Braverman, Elizabeth Cohen, Blas Falconer, Anne Fitzgerald, and John FitzGerald for Tarpaulin Sky Magazine.

In member news…

Nicholas Birns served as co-editor of The Shrine Whose Shape I Am: The Collected Poetry of Samuel Menashea collection of the late author’s work that publishes next month.

Megan Harlan‘s essay collection, Mobile Home: A Memoir in Essays, won the 2019 AWP Prize for Creative Nonfiction and will be published by the University of Georgia Press in September 2020.

Susan Henderson, Lifetime Member of the NBCC, won the 2019 High Plains Book Award in two categories (Fiction and Woman Writer) for her novel, The Flicker of Old Dreams. She was also a finalist of the Edith Wharton Writers-in-Residence program.

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