Critical Notes

New reviews and more from NBCC members

By Michael Schaub

We hope you’re all staying safe and doing well as summer comes to a close! This week, our members have reviews of books by Bobbie Ann Mason, Sigrid Nunez, Walter Mosley, Elena Ferrante, Alex Ross, and more, and interviews with authors including Ayad Akhtar, Yaa Gyasi, Mary Karr, and Luis Alberto Urrea. Remember to send your reviews, interviews, and news to us at for inclusion in Critical Notes, and we hope you all have a good fall!

Member Reviews/Essays

Julian Lucas reviewed Hervé Guibert’s Written in Invisible Ink and To The Friend Who Did Not Save My Life for The New Yorker.

Laurie Hertzel reviewed Dear Ann by Bobbie Ann Mason and wrote her weekly Bookmark column about the trickiness of recommending books for the Star Tribune.

Joan Frank reviewed Sigrid Nunez’s What Are You Going Through for The Washington Post.

NBCC Vice President/Secretary Colette Bancroft reviewed Walter Mosley’s The Awkward Black Man for the Tampa Bay Times.

John Glassie reviewed Alan Jacobs’s Breaking Bread With the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a Tranquil Mind for The Washington Post.

Steven G. Kellman, a former NBCC board member and winner of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, wrote about William H. Gass’s novel in an online symposium for the 25th anniversary of The Tunnel.

Diane Scharper reviewed Cross of Snow by Nicholas Basbanes for the Washington Examiner. The review appeared online on Sept. 18, and will appear in the Sept. 22 print edition.

Ryan Chapman wrote about finding solace in Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, during the pandemic for The Guardian.

Carissa Chesanek reviewed Laura van den Berg’s I Hold a Wolf by the Ears for The Brooklyn Rail.

Christoph Irmscher reviewed Ernest Freeberg’s A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Animal Rights Movement for The Wall Street Journal. He also published an essay on Bill Bateman’s series of photographs, “Museum Shadows,” in the Od Review

Heller McAlpin reviewed Sue Miller’s Monogamy for The Christian Science Monitor and Graham Swift’s Here We Are for NPR.

John Domini reviewed Jenny Erpenbeck’s essay collection, Not a Novel, for The Washington Post, and reviewed Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults and Sulaiman Addonia’s Silence Is My Mother Tongue for The Brooklyn Rail.

Tim Riley reviewed Alex Ross’s Wagnerism for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Hamilton Cain reviewed Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies for Chapter 16.

Anne Charles reviewed Molly Wizenberg’s The Fixed Stars for the Lambda Literary Review.

Yvonne C. Garrett reviewed Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock and Emily Hashimoto’s A World Between for The Brooklyn Rail.

W. Scott Olsen reviewed Buddha, a book of photographs by Michael Kenna, for Frames magazine. He also wrote about the joy of mail-order book clubs for the Star Tribune.

Peggy Kurkowski reviewed Wade Davis’ Magdalena, River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia for The BookBrowse Review.

Member Interviews

Tom Beer spoke with Ayad Akhtar about his new novel, Homeland Elegies, for Kirkus Reviews.

Laurie Hertzel interviewed Yaa Gyasi about her new novel, Transcendent Kingdom, for the Star Tribune.

NBCC board member and Interabang Books owner Lori Feathers interviewed Micah Nemerever about his new novel, These Violent Delights, for Interabang Books’ “Chats” series.

Grant Faulkner interviewed Mary Karr and Luis Alberto Urrea on his Write-minded podcast.

Discussing her latest book, Birthright: Poems, Erika Dreifus is one of the poets interviewed in Ruben Quesada’s latest “Poetry Today” column for the Kenyon Review blog. 

W. Scott Olsen’s podcast interview with photographer Sherri Bunye is live at Frames magazine.

Clifford Garstang was interviewed by Sean Murphy for the 1455 Literary Arts YouTube channel.

Elizabeth Rosner was interviewed by Marion Roach Smith. 

Member News, Etc.

Victoria Chang’s poetry collection Obit was longlisted for the National Book Award.

Hélène Cardona taught a workshop called “Unlocking the Mysterious Universe of Dreams” at the 10th Annual Gathering of Poets, along with Ilya Kaminsky, Traci Brimhall, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Brian Turner, and Jessica Traynor. Hélène also has translations of Ernest Pépin and René Despestre in the anthology Resistencia: Poems of Protest and Revolution, which was published by Tin House on Sept. 15.

Erika Dreifus will lead a virtual discussion of Faris Cassell’s The Unanswered Letter: One Holocaust Family’s Desperate Plea for Help on Sept. 23 for the American Jewish University’s Sperber Community Library.

W. Scott Olsen had two gallery shows of his own photography open, one in Fargo, N.D., and one in Moorhead, Minn., in space curated by The Arts Partnership.

Photo of Boston Public Library by Jan David Hanrath 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.