Critical Notes

New reviews and more from NBCC members

By Michael Schaub

Our members have been keeping busy this month, reviewing books by authors like Jane Smiley, Manuel Vilas, Marilynne Robinson, Ayad Akhtar and more, and interviewing writers like Susan Minot, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Riva Lehrer, and Simon Han. As always, thanks for reading, and please stay safe!

Member Reviews/Essays

Gaiutra Bahadur wrote a long essay on race, caste, and Isabel Wilkerson’s recent book for The New Republic.

Susan Keselenko Coll reviewed Love, Kurt: The Vonnegut Love Letters, 1941-1945, edited by Edith Vonnegut, for The Washington Post, and Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses by Lynne Sharon Schwartz for Moment.

Paula L. Woods wrote about the seven best crime-series novels of the year for the Los Angeles Times.

Former NBCC board member Mark Athitakis reviewed Jane Smiley’s novel Perestroika in Paris for The Washington Post, and NBCC finalist Dubravka Ugresic’s essay collection The Age of Skin for On the Seawall.

Marjoleine Kars wrote a short essay about who has access to the archives of slavery for The Conversation.

NBCC Vice President/Online Michael Schaub reviewed Ordesa by Manuel Vilas, translated by Andrea Rosenberg, for NPR. He also contributed several reviews to NPR’s annual Book Concierge.

Ellen Wayland-Smith wrote about J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and its recent movie adaptation for the Boston Review.

Diane Scharper reviewed A Certain Clarity, poems by Lawrence Joseph, and two other books for the Nov. 29 online edition of the National Catholic Reporter.

Former NBCC President Tom Beer wrote about books that deserved more buzz in 2020 for Kirkus Reviews.

Kathleen Rooney reviewed Patrick Hicks’ In the Shadow of Dora for the Star Tribune.

Anthony Domestico reviewed Marilynne Robinson’s Jack for Book Post, and wrote a column featuring reviews of Darryl Pinckney’s Blackballed, Shirley Hazzard’s short stories, and other titles for Commonweal.

Hamilton Cain reviewed Manuel Vilas’ Ordesa, translated by Andrea Rosenberg, for On the Seawall. And he selected Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies for his critic’s choice for the Star Tribune.

Clea Simon reviewed Robert Harris’ V2 for The Arts Fuse.

Deborah Bacharach reviewed Jennifer Martelli’s In the Year of Ferraro for Broadsided Press and Heidi Seaborn’s Give a Girl Chaos for Compulsive Reader.

Oline H. Cogdill has named her favorite/best mysteries of 2020 for the Sun Sentinel and other publications.

Julia M. Klein reviewed David Nasaw’s The Last Million for the Forward.

Fran Hawthorne reviewed Harald Gilbers’ Germania for the New York Journal of Books.

Allan Graubard reviewed Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan by Jean Daive, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, for Leonardo.

Judith Reveal has been keeping busy with several reviews for the New York Journal of Books, including ones by John Grisham, John Lithgow, Larry Hogan, Pete Buttigieg, and many more.

Member Interviews

Zack Graham interviewed Darryl Pinckney in an event co-sponsored by The New York Review of Books and Community Bookstore.

Former NBCC President Tom Beer interviewed Michelle Gallen, author of Big Girl, Small Town, for Kirkus Reviews.

Joan Silverman talked with Susan Minot for The National Book Review.

Ellen Wayland-Smith was interviewed about her book The Angel in the Marketplace: Adwoman Jean Wade Rindlaub and the Selling of America at ROROTOKO.

Carissa Chesanek interviewed Simon Han for BOMB and Lincoln Michel, Sam J. Miller, Monique Laban, Eshani Surya, and Kevin Nguyen for The Brooklyn Rail.

Paula L. Woods interviewed Rachel Howzell Hall and David Heska Wanbli Weiden for the Los Angeles Times.

Peter Meech was interviewed by PEN America about his debut novel, Billy (the Kid).

Lisa Peet interviewed Riva Lehrer for Bloom.

Meredith Maran interviewed Christina Baker Kline for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Nancy H. Williard interviewed Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle for the Southern Review of Books.

Member News, Etc.

Daniel Mendelsohn’s Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate has won France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book of the Year) for 2020. Awards are given in two categories, fiction and nonfiction, to winners selected from among all foreign titles published in French translation during the year. Previous winners include Helen Macdonald, Philip Roth, Vassily Grossman, W. G. Sebald, Heinrich Böll, Elias Canetti, Claudio Magris, and Roberto Calasso.

NBCC board member Rod Davis‘s Southern noir East of Texas, West of Hell, was reviewed in the San Antonio Express-News and also carried in the Houston Chronicle, both Hearst publications. “Readers who enjoyed Davis’ South, America will fall into this sequel and find more than just vicarious thrills. East of Texas, West of Hell brings into focus the bigger questions of righteousness found on the roads leading out of perdition,” the review noted.

Photo by National Library of Sweden via Flickr / CC BY-NC-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.