Critical Notes

Reviews from the NBCC, and how you can help people in need

By Michael Schaub

“To state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.— Albert Camus, The Plague

Dear members, as the world fights to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, all of us on the board of the National Book Critics Circle want you to know that we’re thinking about you. Please stay safe and seek medical attention if you need it. If you or any of your loved ones have been affected by this disease, know that we are keeping you in our hearts. We are sending you strength. And we truly believe we will all come through this together with more compassion, with more love, stronger than ever before.

Member Reviews, Interviews and News

Daniel Mendelsohn reviewed Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light for The New Yorker

Joyce Sáenz Harris reviewed Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel for The Dallas Morning News.

Tobias Carroll wrote about pandemic books for Vulture, and asked authors what books they’re reading during the quarantine for the Los Angeles Times. He also wrote about long books you finally have time to read for the Times, interviewed Sean Michaels for BOMB, and reviewed Hilary Leichter’s Temporary for the Star Tribune.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed Paul Lisicky’s Later for NPR.

Gaiutra Bahadur reviewed Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s The Mountains Sing for The New York Times Book Review.

Heller McAlpin reviewed Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanessa, Lily King’s Writers & Lovers and Katie Roiphe’s The Power Notebooks for NPR. Heller also reviewed Elizabeth Tallent’s Scratched: A Memoir of Perfectionism for The Washington Post, and reviewed John Kaag’s Sick Souls, Healthy Minds for The Wall Street Journal.

Danielle Jackson reviewed Noé Álvarez’s Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land for The New York Times Book Review and reviewed Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age for Bookforum.

Colette Bancroft reviewed James McBride’s Deacon King Kong for the Tampa Bay Times.

Steven G. Kellman, a recipient of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing and former NBCC board member, reviewed Madison Smartt Bell’s Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone for The American Scholar.

Tom Zelman reviewed Lily King’s Writers & Lovers for the Star Tribune.

Ellen Prentiss Campbell reviewed TaraShea Nesbit’s Beheld for Fiction Writers Review.

John Glassie reviewed Toby Ferris’s Short Life in a Strange World: Birth to Death in 42 Panels for The Washington Post.

Lisa Russ Spaar reviewed Carl Phillips’ Pale Colors in a Tall Field for On the Seawall.

Hamilton Cain covered new books by Lily King, Hilary Mantel, James McBride, Honor Moore, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, and Katie Roiphe for O, the Oprah Magazine.

Fran Bigman reviewed Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and Wanted and Anna Hope’s Expectation for the Times Literary Supplement.

Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein reviewed Anastasia Nesvetailova and Ronen Palan’s Sabotage: The Hidden Nature of Finance for The Nation and wrote about Anne Case and Angus Deaton’s Deaths of Despair for The New Republic.

Natalie Bakopoulos reviewed Amina Cain’s Indelicacy for Fiction Writers Review.

Anita Felicelli reviewed Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

Dana Wilde reviewed former Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair’s forthcoming book Dwellers in the House of the Lord in his Off Radar column in the Central Maine Newspapers.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Little Constructions by Anna Burns for The Woven Tale Press.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed Elizabeth Wetmore’s Valentine for Lone Star Literary Life.

K.L. Romo reviewed Carder Stout’s Lost in Ghost Town and Steve Berry’s The Warsaw Protocol for BookTrib, and James Rollins’ The Last Odyssey for The Big Thrill.

Rafael Castillo wrote an op-ed about the humble but mighty semicolon for the San Antonio Express-News.

Ladane Nasseri interviewed Katy Waldman, a staff writer at The New Yorker and winner of this year’s Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, for the New School’s Creative Writing website. 

Daneet Steffens interviewed Laura Zigman for The Boston Globe and talked to William Boyle for CrimeReads.

Michael Schaub talked to Gerald Posner about his newest book, Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America for InsideHook.

Sarah Sarai’s poetry collection, That Strapless Bra in Heaven, was reviewed by Alexis Quinlan in Heavy Feather Review and by Charles Rammelkamp in Compulsive Reader.

How You Can Help

Worried about your local independent bookstore? Publishers Weekly, Vox, and BuzzFeed have articles letting you know how you can help bookstores survive the coming months. 

The Book Industry Charitable Foundation is helping booksellers who have lost their jobs, and is accepting donations here.

Powell’s Books in Oregon has laid off the vast majority of their staff. ILWU Local 5, which represents the store’s employees, has set up a coronavirus worker relief fund to help workers in their union who have lost their jobs.

McNally Jackson in New York has laid off 80 employees. You can donate to a relief fund for the booksellers here.

The entire staff of Posman Books in New York and Atlanta has been laid off. You can donate to a support fund for the booksellers via GoFundMe.

At Entropy magazine, Michael J. Seidlinger has a list of recently published books by authors whose publicity plans have changed due to the pandemic. It’s a great time to order one (or more!) from an independent bookstore.

Rosebud Ben-Oni of The Kenyon Review has a similar list for poetry collections.

The Society of Authors has set up an emergency fund for U.K. writers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. You can donate here.

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 Be sure to include the link to your work.

Photo of a reader on the Pont des Arts by Martin Greslou / CC BY-SA 3.0.