Critical Notes

New reviews, interviews, and more from the NBCC

By Michael Schaub

Dear members, by now you might have heard that book lovers all over the world banded together to save the legendary City Lights Books in San Francisco. While that’s indisputably great news, there are still several independent bookstores that need our help to survive, including Marcus Books in Oakland, Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, Angel City Books and Records in Santa Monica, and so many more.

If you’re able to help these stores, either by donating to their fundraising campaigns or ordering books, merchandise, or gift cards from them, we encourage you to do so. And if you know of any other people or institutions who need help during these trying times, please let us know by emailing us at 

Questions for Our Members

We’ve been talking to publishers about how they intend to provide catalogs and ARCs to critics over the coming months, and we’d love your feedback. First, how do you prefer to learn about new books—printed catalogs, digital catalogs, emails, or some other way? If publishers were to hold Zoom meetings discussing upcoming books, would you be interested in participating?

And second, many publishers are moving away, at least temporarily, from sending physical ARCs. What’s the best kind of digital galley for you, assuming that’s all that’s available—PDF, NetGalley, Edelweiss, or something else? Please let us know what you think by emailing us at

Member Reviews

Jake Cline reviewed C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold for The Washington Post.

NBCC President Laurie Hertzel reviewed Shaun Bythell’s second memoir, Confessions of a Bookseller, for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where she is books editor. She also reviewed Anne Tyler’s new novel, Redhead by the Side of the Road, and wrote her weekly books column about reading in bed.

Kathleen Rooney reviewed Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen for the Star Tribune.

Sarah Neilson reviewed Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks for the Star Tribune and Paul Lisicky’s Later for The Washington Post

Katherine Hill reviewed Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments for The Nation.

Joyce Sáenz Harris reviewed Brooke Fossey’s The Big Finish for The Dallas Morning News.

Ryan Chapman reviewed Rob Doyle’s Threshold for InsideHook.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Like Water and Other Stories by Olga Zilberbourg for World Literature Today.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Vigdis Hjorth’s Will and Testament for World Literature Today.

Allen Adams has been keeping busy with a bunch of reviews for The Maine Edge. Read his pieces on Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel, Adrienne Raphel’s Thinking Inside the Box, Brad Balukjian’s The Wax Pack, Alex Irvine’s Anthropocene Rag, Chris Bohjalian’s The Red Lotus, and David Lindley’s The Dream Universe

Rien Fertel reviewed Final Draft: The Collected Work of David Carr, edited by Jill Rooney Carr, for The A.V. Club and Ellen Prager’s Dangerous Earth for On the Seawall.

Yvonne C. Garrett reviewed Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel and Mary South’s You Will Never Be Forgotten, both for The Brooklyn Rail.

Diana Arterian reviewed Victoria Chang’s Obit for On the Seawall.

Dana Wilde reviewed Passamaquoddy tribal member Jason Grundstrom-Whitney’s poetry collection Bear, Coyote, Raven in his Off Radar column in the Central Maine Newspapers.

Member Interviews

AWP Writer-to-Writer mentor Hélène Cardona and her mentee Laura Braverman interview each other “In the Spotlight.” (We mentioned this in our last newsletter, but unfortunately, we included a link that didn’t work. Sorry, Hélène!) 

For NBCC Vice President/Events Jane Ciabattari‘s Literary Hub/Book Marks interview series, Deb Olin Unferth offers five books popular at the Connally Penitentiary, where she teaches, beginning with Paul Beatty’s NBCC and Booker winning satirical novel The Sellout. Also at the series, Vanessa Hua offers five books that tell the immigrant story; Kawai Strong Washburn suggests five great books on Hawai’i; Honor Moore recommends books about women’s choices and consequences; and Danielle Trussoni suggests books about family secrets

Sarah Neilson interviewed poet Roya Marsh for and Samantha Irby for Shondaland.

Member News, Etc.

Danielle Trussoni’s new novel, The Ancestor, was published by William Morrow on Apr. 7, and reviewed by Carol Goodman in The New York Times Book Review.

Steph Opitz, the founding director of The Loft’s Wordplay, pivoted her in-person annual book festival to virtual. You can catch all Wordplay events this year from the comfort of your home, and see some familiar NBCC faces in the programming.

Board member Marion Winik wrote about these strange times for the Baltimore Fishbowl.

George Scialabba’s book How to Be Depressed was published on March 20 by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

The Los Angeles Review of Books reviewed The Shrine Whose Shape I Am: The Collected Poetry of Samuel Menashe, which was co-edited by NBCC member Nicholas Birns.

The Biographers International Organization revealed the shortlist for the Plutarch Award, with three NBCC Award finalists — Charles King’s Gods of the Upper Air, George Packer’s Our Man, and Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance — all making the cut.

Photo of City Lights Bookstore by Steve Rhodes via Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0.