Critical Notes

Reviews and More from NBCC Members

By David Varno

Books on a train

With a four-day weekend ahead of us, here’s hoping for some much-needed reading time. If you’re traveling, choose wisely as you pack, and remember that books can be a great escape from those relatives you don’t want to talk to.

ICYMI, last week’s Criticism in Isolation panel on Margo Jefferson is available for streaming. Kudos to the NBCC’s criticism prize chair J. Howard Rosier for moderating.

This week’s newsletter features a lovely and thoughtful Galley Bag submission from Mary Maxwell. Please keep them coming! 

Galley Bag

I can’t be the only person who can’t wait for the poems of Hannah Arendt to be published (What Remains: The Collected Poems, Liveright, May), co-translated and co-edited by Samantha Rose Hill. Arendt’s poems, alongside those of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem, will undoubtedly show that poetry is a form of serious thinking, a support to philosophy and not merely a sideline.

I’m also very curious about Jennifer Michael Hecht’s The Wonder Paradox:  Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives (FSG, March).  As a rule, I’m quite dubious about poetry as “self-help,” but Hecht is enough of a rigorous thinker that what she has to say about it will certainly be worth considering.

And thirdly, coming out just ahead of the two above, is Willard Spiegelman’s Nothing Stays Put: The Life and Poetry of Amy Clampitt (Knopf, February). Though I’ve never been the biggest admirer of Clampitt, I have no doubt that Spiegelman’s already-widely-praised bio will send me back to her poems.

—Mary Maxwell, NBCC Member


This month’s pick from Alta’s California Book Club is Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The Gold Coast. For the newsletter, the book was reviewed by NBCC fiction prize chair Anita Felicelli as well as former board members Stephanie Burt and Charles Finch. Robinson will be in conversation with former NBCC president John Freeman tomorrow night on Zoom.

Kristen Martin reviewed Ryan Lee Wong’s debut novel Which Side Are You On? for the New Republic.

Clea Simon reviewed Russell Banks’ The Magic Kingdom for the Boston Globe.

Charles Green reviewed Russ Thompson’s novel Torn for Blueink Review.

Linda Hitchcock reviewed Elly Griffiths’s Bleeding Heart Yard and Anthony Horowitz’s The Twist of a Knife for Book Trib. 

Alicia Wright reviewed Get the Money! Collected Prose of Ted Berrigan (1961—1983) for the Poetry Project Newsletter

RJ Heller’s review of A Countryman’s Journal: Views of Life and Nature from a Maine Coastal Farm by Roy Barrette was syndicated in four Downeast Maine newspapers.

Joan Frank reviewed Simon Van Booy’s The Presence of Absence for the Washington Post.

Anita Felicelli reviewed Sandrof Lifetime Achievement award winner Percival Everett’s Dr. No and NBCC criticism finalist Namwali Serpell’s novel The Furrows for Alta.

Oline Cogdill reviewed Marsh Queen by Virginia Hartman and Fake by Erica Katz for the South Florida Sun Sentinal. Also for the Sun Sentinal, Cogdill reviewed Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger and The Wheel of Doll by Jonathan Ames.

Ryan James reviewed of Nicky Beer’s poetry collection Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes for Another Chicago Magazine.

Erika Dreifus’s pre-Hanukkah roundup of children’s books appears in the latest issue of Hadassah magazine.

Tess Taylor reflects on books by Ross Gay and Nuar Alsadir, and Molly Phinney Baskette in an inaugural column for CNN.

Nell Beram reviewed Small World by Laura Zigman for Shelf Awareness and wrote an essay about the TV series Mammals for Salon.


Grant Faulkner interviewed Steve Almond about the ego and writing a novel for the Write-minded podcast.

Heather Green interviewed Laura Marris, in Hopscotch Translation, about her translation of The Plague and her new book, coauthored with Alice Kaplan, States of Plague.

Board member Lori Feathers and Sam Jordison talked with Suzette Mayr about Mayr’s Giller Prize winning novel, The Sleeping Car Porter, for the Across the Pond podcast.

Member News

Balakian Prize committee member Shelley Frisch’s translation of The Aphorisms of Franz Kafka, edited by Reiner Stach, was published by Princeton Univ., and was reviewed by Michael Wood for the London Review of Books.

Therese Svoboda’s novel Dog on Fire is coming next March from Univ. of Nebraska. Meanwhile, she’s been busy with a column for 3 Quarks Daily.

Daphne Kalotay’s Grace Paley Prize-winning story collection, The Archivists, will be published in April by Triquarterly.

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Photo by Zeynep Taşdelen