Critical Notes

New reviews and more from NBCC members

By Michael Schaub

Welcome to a new edition of Critical Notes! This week, our members have reviews of the latest books by Susanna Clarke, Yaa Gyasi, Jenny Bhaat, David Biespiel, Elena Ferrante, Sigrid Nunez, and many more. There’s also interviews with Claudia Rankine, Nicolás Kanellos, and J. Courtney Sullivan, and plenty of exciting member news. Thanks for reading, and we hope you’re all doing well and staying safe!

Member Reviews and Essays

Ron Charles posted a Totally Hip Video Book Review of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi for The Washington Post.

Danielle A. Jackson reviewed Emily J. Lordi’s The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience Since the 1960s and Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland for Bookforum.

Anita Felicelli reviewed Daniel Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts and Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Carlos Lozada, a winner of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing and the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, reviewed Peter Strzok’s Compromised for The Washington Post.

Joyce Sáenz Harris reviewed NBCC member Jenny Bhaat’s Each of Us Killers for The Dallas Morning News.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Sue Miller’s Monogamy for The Boston Globe.

Lanie Tankard reviewed A Place of Exodus: Home, Memory, and Texas by NBCC member David Biespiel for The Woven Tale Press, and reviewed And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again, edited by Ilan Stavans, for On the Seawall.

Adam Dalva reviewed Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults for Guernica.

Heller McAlpin reviewed Sigrid Nunez’s What Are You Going Through for NPR and Mary Gordon’s Payback for the Los Angeles Times.

Rien Fertel reviewed Gina Rae La Cerva’s Feasting Wild and David Chang’s chef-memoir, Eat a Peach, for The Wall Street Journal; Helen Macdonald’s Vesper Flights for the A.V. Club; Jon T. Coleman’s Nature Shock: Getting Lost in America for On the Seawall; and Nik Cohn’s New Orleans rap-memoir, Triksta, for 64 Parishes.

Anthony Domestico’s latest column for Commonweal features reviews of Rachel Cohen’s Austen Years, Sidney Wade’s Deep Gossip, Douglas A. Martin’s Branwell, and other titles.

Ron Slate reviewed Jaswinder Bolina’s Of Color, the Selected Letters of Robert Creeley, and the Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro for On The Seawall.

Paul Gleason reviewed Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults for The National Book Review.

Sarah McCraw Crow reviewed Payback by Mary Gordon and Just Us by Claudia Rankine for BookPage.

Robert Allen Papinchak reviewed Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Deborah Bacharach reviewed Lynn Levin’s The Minor Virtues for Compulsive Reader.

Member Interviews

Tom Beer spoke with Claudia Rankine about her new book, Just Us: An American Conversation, on Kirkus’ Fully Booked podcast.

Michelle Newby Lancaster interviewed Dr. Nicolás Kanellos of Arte Público Press, the winner of the 2018 NBCC Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, for Lone Star Literary Life

Carissa Chesanek interviewed J. Courtney Sullivan for Writer’s Digest.

Barbara Basbanes Richter interviewed Pulitzer-prize winner David Blight, printmaker Debra Riffe, Boston Athenaeum’s Theo Tyson, and artist Barry Moser in an exploration of Moser’s latest undertaking, an illustrated edition of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, for Literary Features Syndicate.

For Literary Hub/Book Marks, NBCC Vice President/Events Jane Ciabattari has an exchange with NBCC award winner Eula Biss, who shares five books that defy classification—“These are all books that combine various modes—memoir, criticism, poetry, essay—in artful and inventive ways,” she notes—including Hilton Als’ The Women and Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Jane also interviewed NBCC award winner Héctor Tobar about iconic literary road trips (think Calvino, Kerouac, and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666), and talked to Roberto Lovato, author of the memoir Unforgetting, about five books and a movie about the underworld and salvation from below. (Lovato notes,  “underworlds—criminal, psychic, physical—mass graves—immigrant, family, revolutionary, underworlds—played a foundational role in my life’s journey—but I never knew this growing up, I was too deep into the journey.”)

Julia M. Klein interviewed Julian Zelizer about his new book, Burning Down the House, for the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Member News, Etc.

Grace Talusan’s memoir, The Body Papers, won the Massachusetts State Book Award for nonfiction. Also, a short story she wrote was chosen for the Boston Book Festival’s One City One Story program. It will be available for free in multiple languages and download for audio. There will be some online events throughout October to talk about it.

Jenny Bhatt’s debut short story collection, Each of Us Killers, was published on Sept. 8 by 7.13 Books.

NBCC board member Rod Davis’s new Southern noir novel, East of Texas, West of Hell, was published by NewSouth Books on Sept. 8 after COVID-19-related delays. Sarah Bird, labeling it “Grit Lit,” calls the work “not just a gripping story peopled with jump-off-the-page characters, but a heartfelt meditation on life, justice, and the murky areas in between.” Review and ARC requests, especially if caused by delays, are actively welcomed by the publisher.

NBCC lifetime member Susan Henderson is teaching a workshop, “Staying Passionate and Confident with Your Novel-in-Progress,” at Hampton Roads Convergence of Writers Webinar on Sept. 19 at 11:50 a.m. On Sept. 23 at 8:30 a.m., she is appearing on a virtual panel at the SIBA and NAIBA-sponsored conference, New Voices New Rooms, along with fellow Alone Together anthology contributors Jennifer Haupt, Richard Blanco, and Ada Limón, Dawn Raffel, and Steve Yarbrough. 

Marnie Mueller won the 2020 Peace Corps Writers’ Marian Haley Beil Award for Best Book Review for her review of Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This.

Lisa Russ Spaar has edited a new anthology, More Truly & More Strange: 100 Contemporary American Self-Portrait Poems, that was published last week by Persea Books. Lisa wrote about some issues related to selfhood and the pandemic in an essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Deborah Bacharach published two poems in The 2River View and two poems in Sheila-Na-Gig.

Photo of Trinity College Library by Zhenya Kuzina via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0.

SEND US YOUR STUFF: 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.