Critical Notes

New reviews and more from NBCC members

By Michael Schaub

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the journalism industry hard, with many media outlets laying off staffers and cutting freelance assignments. But we strongly believe that conversations about literature are desperately needed during this global crisis. Last week, the National Book Critics Circle joined with the Authors Guild to post an open letter to newspapers and other media outlets, urging them to continue to make space for book coverage in their publications. We’ve posted the letter at the end of this email, and you can also read it on our website. We’d love it if you could share this letter on social media, and let media outlets know that arts coverage remains essential, and that literature is not a luxury.

Member Reviews

Gregory Couch reviewed Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano’s Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy for The Wall Street Journal.

J. Ford Hoffman reviewed Katherine Sharp Landdeck’s The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II for the San Francisco Chronicle.

NBCC President Laurie Hertzel, who does not know how to stop working, reviewed The Motion of the Body through Space by the extremely controversial Lionel Shriver for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She also interviewed writer Curtis Sittenfeld about her new novel, Rodham, which imagines Hillary Clinton’s life had she not married Bill. She somehow also found time to write two columns: In her new “Quarantine Read” column, she recommended Lee Smith’s novella, Blue Marlin, and she wrote her weekly column on how local independent bookstores are getting creative with customers. And she also composed three rock operas and built a 2,500-square-foot ranch-style house by herself. (We’re guessing.)

Allen Adams has also been keeping busy, writing reviews of Keith Law’s The Inside Game, Donald S. Lopez’s Buddha Takes the Mound, Christopher Moore’s Shakespeare for Squirrels, and Alex George’s The Paris Hours for The Maine Edge.

NBCC board member Colette Bancroft reviewed Bill Buford’s Dirt for the Tampa Bay Times.

Yvonne C. Garrett reviewed Tracy O’Neill’s Quotients for The Brooklyn Rail and Tim Etchells’ Endland for Publishers Weekly.

Hamilton Cain reviewed Mikel Jollet’s Hollywood Park for O, the Oprah Magazine.

Page Hill Starzinger published a review of a 20-year retrospective of Shin Yu Pai’s hybrid poetry in On The Seawall.

Claude Peck reviewed Steven Johnson’s Enemy of All Mankind for the Star Tribune.

John Domini reviewed Mark Nowak’s Social Poetics for The Brooklyn Rail. He says, “If a creative writing text ever raised a call to the barricades, it’s this one.”

Lanie Tankard reviewed Osnabrück Station to Jerusalem by Hélène Cixous for The Woven Tale Press.

Grace Lichtenstein reviewed The Anthill by Julianne Pachico for BookPage.

Jeffrey Mannix reviewed Summer of Reckoning by Marion Brunet, These Women by Ivy Pochoda, and The Last Hunt by Deon Meyer in his Murder Ink column for Colorado’s Durango Telegraph.

Laura Sandonato reviewed Rachel Barenbaum’s A Bend in the Stars for Picking Books.

Member Interviews

Natalia Holtzman interviewed Daniel Hahn about his translation of Juan Pablo Villalobos’s I Don’t Expect Anyone To Believe Me for Kirkus Reviews. They talked about the difficulty of rendering Spanish swear words into English, among other things.

Zack Graham interviewed Luke Brown for Epiphany‘s E10 series about his new novel, Theft, which is out now from & Other Stories.

Ellen Prentiss Campbell was interviewed about her new book, Known by Heart, at Deborah Kalb’s blog.

Clifford Garstang was interviewed by Leslie Pietrzyk about his new book, House of the Ancients and Other Stories, for Work-in-Progress.

Member News, Etc.

Parul Kapur Hinzen reported from the world’s largest literary festival on India’s turmoil for the Los Angeles Review of Books.    

Claude Peck recently posted five new videos by “Queer Voices” contributors to the website of Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis, as well as a short video by poet James Cihlar reading from his new book, The Shadowgraph.

In recognition of excellence in literature published in 2019, Big Other magazine will announce a winner in each of the following categories: fiction, graphic novel, poetry, nonfiction, and translation. A Readers’ Choice Award and Lifetime Achievement Awards will also be presented. Outstanding literary citizens Tobias Carroll, NBCC Vice President/Events Jane Ciabattari, Gabino Iglesias, and Janice Lee will be honored. Pulitzer Prize winner Rae Armantrout, National Book Award winner Arthur Sze, and equally stellar writers Norman Lock and Victoria Redel will read from their work.

Asa Drake was named one of the winners for this year’s 92Y Discovery Poetry Contest. Her work will be published in The Paris Review Daily this May.

Hélène Cardona’s poetry collection Life in Suspension has won the 2020 Independent Press Award in Poetry. Hélène has also published a new poem (featuring audio) titled “Strength” in Plume, and introduces a poem by her mentee, Laura Johanna Braverman, in the same issue. 

Ellen Prentiss Campbell wrote an essay about the value of snail mail, and the correspondences of Eudora Welty with William Maxwell and Ross MacDonald, for On the Seawall, and an essay about writing in hard times for Mary Carroll Moore’s blog.

Michelle Ainsworth published an essay, “How Could I Be a Woman?”, in You & Me.

Xujun Eberlein revisited a devastating summer of her childhood during China’s Cultural Revolution in “The Summer before Thirteen,” published in AGNI‘s spring 2020 issue.

An Open Letter From the National Book Critics Circle and the Authors Guild

Media outlets in particular have been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, with many losing virtually all their advertising revenues overnight. This has forced many newspapers, websites and other media outlets to lay off or furlough staff and cut back on freelance assignments.

As one response to this revenue crisis, some outlets are reducing or eliminating book reviews. While we understand and truly sympathize with the grave financial pressures behind these decisions, we believe maintaining book coverage now will benefit readers, authors, reviewers and media outlets themselves. We encourage those outlets to continue to make space for the vital conversation around books in their coverage.

With many other forms of arts and entertainment inaccessible for now, more people than ever are looking for good books to read. Many bookstores and libraries are operating online only and unable to hold public events, and book festivals are being postponed or cancelled. 

As a result, authors with new books coming out face an unprecedented challenge in connecting with readership. Many of them have responded in innovative ways, such as virtual book events and streaming interviews. 

Still, authors depend, perhaps now more than ever, on book reviews, and readers look to the media for reviewers’ voices. Strong literary arts coverage not only benefits authors, but nourishes the entire literary ecosystem, including freelance reviewers, publishers, bookstores, libraries, literary agencies, editors, designers and everyone who contributes in one way or another to the world of books.

Authors and reviewers have always appreciated the media’s support for the literary arts. With empathy and understanding, we urge them to continue their noble support of books and reading during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Doug Preston


The Authors Guild

Laurie Hertzel


The National Book Critics Circle

Photo of the Brooklyn Central Library by Wally Gobetz via Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.