Critical Notes

New Reviews and More from NBCC Members

By David Varno

Bookcases full of books

The landscape for print media continues to be volatile, with layoffs at the Washington Post and the closing of Bookforum as the twice-shuttered Believer finds new life at its original home, McSweeney’s. Meanwhile, new online outlet The Dial plans to launch next month. In an impassioned lament of Bookforum in the Los Angeles Times, former NBCC board member David Ulin puts his finger on what made the magazine special and holds out hope that it, too, might be revived.

The publishing industry, meanwhile, continues to hear calls for more diversity in American literature. Roxane Gay, Min Jin Lee, Chris Beha and Erroll McDonald discussed the subject at a recent panel hosted by PEN America.

A reminder: Ballots for this year’s NBCC board election close on Friday, December 23, at 11:59pm Pacific. Please vote!


NBCC board member Mandana Chaffa reviewed Lasse Söderberg’s The Forbidden Door, translated by Lars Gustaf Andersson and Carolyn Forché, for Words Without Borders.

Heller McAlpin reviewed Judith Thurman’s A Left-Handed Woman for the Wall Street Journal.

Christoph Irmscher reviewed Bob Blaisdell’s Chekhov Becomes Chekhov for The Wall Street Journal

Katrina Gulliver reviewed Leila Philip’s Beaverland for the Washington Post.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Peter Orner’s Still No Word from You for the Forward.

Lauren LeBlanc reviewed Jessica Grose’s Screaming on the Inside for the Boston Globe.

Joan Frank reviewed Brigitta Olubas’s Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life for the Boston Globe.

Richard Scott Larson reviewed Sean Hewitt’s All Down Darkness Wide for the Washington Square Review .

Lanie Tankard reviewed The Age of Goodbyes by Li Zi Shu, translated from Chinese by YZ Chin, for The Woven Tale Press.

Kathy Chow reviewed Ling Ma’s Bliss Montage for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson reviewed the anthology Visible: Text + Image for Hyperallergic.

Dana Wilde reviewed Jeffrey Ryan’s This Land Was Saved for You and Me: How Gifford Pinchot, Frederick Law Olmsted, and a Band of Foresters Rescued America’s Public Lands in his Off Radar column for the Central Maine newspapers.

Nell Beram reviewed four books for Shelf Awareness: Lady Director: Adventures in Hollywood, Television and Beyond by Joyce ChopraTransformer: A Story of Glitter, Glam Rock, and Loving Lou Reed by Simon DoonanUp with the Sun by Thomas Mallon; and The Resemblance by Lauren Nossett

Oline H Cogdill reviewed The Quarry Girls by Jess Lourey and My Darkest Prayer by S. A. Cosby for the Sun Sentinel and The Double Agent by William Christie and Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle for Shelf Awareness.
Ellen Prentiss Campbell reviewed Ross Gay’s Inciting Joy for Washington Independent Review of Books
Linda Hitchcock reviewed Sugar Pop Moon and Blind Moon Alley by John Florio for BookTrib.


David Varno profiled Rebecca Makkai, whose latest novel, I Have Some Questions for You, upends the tropes of true crime, for Publishers Weekly.

Grant Faulkner interviewed Sarah Mangusoon the Write-minded Podcast about her new novel, Very Cold People.  

Paul Wilner interviewed Jane Smiley about her new historical novel, A
Dangerous Business, for Alta Journal.

Bill Thompson reviewed Christopher de Bellaigue’s The Lion House: The Coming of a King for the Charleston Post and Courier.
Mandana Chaffa interviewed Jill Bialoskyabout her novel The Deceptions for Chicago Review of Books.

Member News

Xujun Eberlein’s essay “Ms.Daylily” won the 2021 Iowa Review Award in nonfiction judged by Melissa Febos.

SEND US YOUR STUFF: To have your work featured in the weekly Critical Notes, please send your bylines to We would be grateful if you would limit submissions to no more than four per week. Please be sure to include the author and full title, the publication, and a working link, along with your name and pronouns. If applicable, please include your twitter handle and we will try to share your work via @bookcritics as our resources allow.

For Galley Bag, please send info and notes on forthcoming books that have piqued your interest, with pub dates at least three months out. 


Photo by NBCC member Kevin Brown