Critical Notes

New reviews and more from NBCC members

By Michael Schaub

A Note From NBCC Vice President/Online Michael Schaub

Members and friends, as you might have heard, NPR Books Editor Petra Mayer died over the weekend. Petra was my editor for several years, and also my friend—she was one of the kindest, smartest, most original people I’ve ever met. We exchanged hundreds of emails over the years, most accompanied with pictures of our cats. (Her beloved pets were one of the few things she loved more than books.) I know many of you knew her, too, and if you did, I know you’re as devastated by her loss as I am. I miss her so, so much.

Petra’s passing comes just three months after the death of Gregg Barrios, our beloved longtime board member and another friend of mine. Petra and Gregg were the best of the best, critics who dedicated their lives to literature, who realized that words have the power to challenge, to uplift, to save lives.

I wish more than anything I could go back and say one last thing to Petra and Gregg, to let them know how much they mean to me, to all of us. I can’t, of course. But I can say something to all of you.

And it’s this: You matter, and what you do matters. Over the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of compiling and writing these newsletters, and it’s given me the chance to get to know so many of you. It’s been one of the highlights of my career. Getting to know you, getting to read your words, has been such a precious gift to me. 

This has been an unfathomably difficult year. I know how hard it is to do what we do in a society that can seem indifferent at best, and cruel at worst. But never doubt that your words make the world a better place. You introduce literature to people who need it, whose lives can be changed by the right story, the right poem, the right book.

So please don’t give up. Keep carrying your torches in the dark. Do it for Petra, for Gregg, for everyone who has felt comforted, understood, and less alone by the power of the written word. The world needs you. I need you. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for caring. Thank you for every one of your words. And as always, thank you for reading.

NBCC Events

NBCC board member Adam Dalva will be talking to the editorial masthead of Astra Quarterly about launching a new literary magazine dedicated to global literature. Editor-in-Chief Nadja Spiegelman (former web editor of the Paris Review), Deputy Editor Sam Rutter, and Poetry Editor Aria Aber will give us a peek behind the scenes and describe the process of creating the first, forthcoming issue of Astra. The event will take place on Thursday, November 18, at 8 p.m. ET. Find full event details and the Zoom registration link here

And in honor of the new Gregg Barrios Book in Translation Prize, NBCC Vice President/Communications & Technology Tara Wanda Merrigan will be moderating a panel on reviewing translated literature. Literature in translation has played an increasingly significant, enriching role in American literary culture, so we’ll be talking to experienced translators (who are also critics, novelists, scholars, editors, and booksellers) about strategies for reviewing translated literature—particularly the delicate dance between honoring the author’s vision and recognizing the translator’s work. The event will take place on Sunday, November 21 at 1 p.m. ET. Find full details about the event, which features a fantastic slate of panelists, and the Zoom registration link here.

Member Reviews/Essays

Elias Rodriques reviewed Rebecca Hall’s film adaptation of Nella Larsen’s Passing for The Nation.

Carole V. Bell wrote about the artistry and legacy of Nella Larsen’s Passing, and reviewed Tamron Hall’s As the Wicked Watch and Tiphanie Yanique’s Monster in the Middle for NPR.

NBCC Emerging Critic Fellow Mandana Chaffa reviewed Ai Weiwei’s 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, translated by Allan H. Barr, for the Chicago Review of Books.

Jim Ruland reviewed Dan Ozzi’s Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994-2007) for the Los Angeles Times.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie reviewed Mina Seçkin’s The Four Humors for The Boston Globe.

Heidi Seaborn reviewed Katie Kitamura’s Intimacies for The Adroit Journal.

Mike Berry reviewed Rebecca Solnit’s Orwell’s Roses for Sierra Magazine Online.

Joan Silverman reviewed Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William! for the Portland Press Herald.

Kathleen Rooney reviewed Mona Arshi’s Somebody Loves You for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Cory Oldweiler reviewed Cynthia Haven’s Czeslaw Miłosz: A California Life for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Yvonne C. Garrett reviewed Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence and Natashia Deón’s The Perishing for The Brooklyn Rail.

Theodore Kinni reviewed Beyond Collaboration Overload by Rob Cross for the annual Best Business Books feature in strategy+business

Lanie Tankard reviewed The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak for The Woven Tale Press.

Kevin Blankinship appeared in a miniseries called A Spring of Classical Arabic Poetry on the Abbasid History Podcast, where he discussed al-Mutanabbi, “the would-be prophet” and so-called Shakespeare of the Arabs.

Former NBCC board member Steven G. Kellman, a winner of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, reviewed Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation of Domenico Starnone’s Trust for the Los Angeles Times.

Judy Reveal reviewed Vortex by Catherine Coulter for the New York Journal of Books.

Charles Green reviewed Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan’s Francis Bacon: Revelations for The Gay & Lesbian Review and Judith Tyler Hills’ Cari Moses for Blueink Review.

Sarah McCraw Crow reviewed Patti Callahan’s novel Once Upon a Wardrobe, Kat Chow’s memoir Seeing Ghosts, and Ellen Feldman’s novel The Living and the Lost for BookPage.

Linda Hitchcock reviewed Alice Henderson’s A Blizzard of Polar Bears for BookTrib.

Ben Yagoda reviewed The New Yale Book of Quotations, edited by Fred Shapiro, for the Yale Alumni Magazine.

Former NBCC board member Dan Cryer reviewed Robert Gross’ The Transcendentalists and Their World for The Boston Globe.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Stephen Breyer’s The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics for the Forward.

Priscilla Gilman reviewed Lily King’s Five Tuesdays in Winter for The Boston Globe.

NBCC Vice President/Online Michael Schaub reviewed Uwem Akpan’s New York, My Village for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Member Interviews

Anne Charles interviewed scholar/activist Karla Jay, whose memoir Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Gay Liberation has just been released on Audible. The conversation occurred on the cable-access news/interview show All Things LGBTQ.

Mike Berry talked to LaDoris Hazzard Cordell about her new book Her Honor for Palo Alto Weekly.

Chuck Augello interviewed Tom Roston about his book The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse-Five for The Daily Vonnegut.  

Member News

Andrew Blauner’s new anthology, Now Comes Good Sailing: Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau, was published by Princeton University Press on Oct. 19. You can read one of the essays from the book, Lauren Groff’s “Wild Apples,” in The Paris Review.

Partner News

Our friends and partners at Aspen Words announced the longlist for the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize.

Our friends and partners at the Whiting Foundation announced the winners of the 2021 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant.

Photo by Orangeaurochs via Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

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