Critical Notes

Reviews and More From NBCC Members

By David Varno

Painting of a woman reading

Dear NBCC Friends,
A week from tomorrow, we’ll announce the finalists for the 2022 NBCC awards. Stay tuned for a registration link.
The strike at HarperCollins continues after two months, still with no negotiations. NBCC member Dan Kois, whose debut novel Vintage Contemporaries pubs this week from Harper, reflects on the situation for Slate. Inspired by the imprint referenced in his book title, Kois also wrote about Lorraine Louie’s classic book covers for the New Yorker.
Remembering Jonathan Raban

Jonathan Raban, the prolific author and critic (New York Review of BooksThe GuardianLondon Review of Books), died in Seattle on January 17, at 80. His 1996 book Bad Land: An American Romance, which described the lure of eastern Montana for homesteaders in the early twentieth century, won the 1996 National Book Critics Circle nonfiction award. “What makes this book so memorable…is Mr. Raban’s imaginative reach,” wrote Verlyn Klinkenborg in his 1996 New York Times review. “He recaptures the hope, as well as the pure narrative momentum, of the coming of settlers to eastern Montana in the early 20th century, and he arrays it against their subsequent fate.”

“Raban was born in Norfolk, England, but if you ask any Pacific Northwest fan they’d likely tell you he was an honorary local,” writes Megan Seling in Seattle’s The Stranger, which awarded Raban a Genius Award in literature in 2006.

Former NBCC president John Freeman, founder of the literary annual Freeman’s and executive editor at Alfred A. Knopf, called Raban “an internal explorer masked as a ‘travel writer,’ a seeker, a person interested in what place did to us.”

“I’ve gone back and forth to Seattle to work on his last book with him, Father and Son, which we’d just finished about a week or two ago,” Freeman noted. “A book he wrote almost entirely by voice recognition software since having a stroke twelve years ago. It’s unbelievable. His strength and depth.”

Three pieces Raban wrote for the London Review of Books between 2017 and 2020 contribute to Father and Son, which will be published in the fall: “Granny in the Doorway,” from his early childhood memories and his father’s World War II experiences at Dunkirk and Anzio. “Trying to keep track of my father and his troop as they move through this momentous sequence of events is like trying to keep one’s eyes on a single small fish in a vast migrating shoal of pilchards,” Raban writes. “Now you see it, now you don’t, and you never will again.”

–Jane Ciabattari, NBCC/VP Events
NBCC Balkian award winner Merve Emre reviewed John Guillory’s new book Professing Criticism for the New Yorker.
Martha Anne Toll reviewed Franklin A. Thomas’ memoir An Unplanned Life for the Washington Post and They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey for The Millions. Toll also spoke with Howrey for Fjord
For the Baffler, Colin Asher reviewed Jan Valtin’s memoir Out of the Night.
Leigh Rastivo reviewed J. Kates’ poetry collection Places of Permanent Shade for the Arts Fuse.
Meredith Maran reviewed Laura Zigman’s Small World for the Washington Post and Kashana Cauley’s debut novel The Survivalists for Oprah Daily.
Celia McGee reviewed Kai Thomas’s debut novel In the Upper Country and Flora Collins’ new novel A Small Affair for Avenue Magazine.
Eric Liebetrau highlighted two books that address police brutality and incarceration for Kirkus.
Marc Weingarten reviewed Kidada E. Williams’ I Saw Death Coming for the LA Times.
For the Boston Globe, Mary Ann Gwinn reviewed Henry Marsh’s And Finally: Matters of Life and Death.
Dan Kois wrote about the comforts of Laurie Colwin for the Washington Post.
Board member May-lee Chai reviewed V.V. Ganeshananthan’s Brotherless Night for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Linda Hitchcock reviewed Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s historical novel Independence for BookTrib.

Nell Beram reviewed four books for Shelf Awareness: Kim Julie Hansen’s Best of Vegan: 100 Recipes that Celebrate Comfort, Culture, and Community; Anne Mett Hancock’s The Collector; Kate Andersen Brower’s Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit and Glamour of an Icon; and Jack O’Brien’s Jack in the Box: Or, How to Goddamn Direct.
Ian Macallen reviewed Josh Reidel’s debut novel Please Report your Bug Here for the Chicago Review of Books.
For Flathead Living Magazine, Maggie Neal Doherty reviewed Debra Magpie Earling’s novel Perma Red.
Former board member David Orr reviewed A.E. Stallings’ This Afterlife for the New York Times.
Meg Lemke profiled Julia Wertz, whose new graphic memoir is Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story, for Publishers Weekly.
Jane Ciabattari talked to NBCC member Kathryn Ma about her The Chinese Groove for Lit Hub. Ma’s new novel publishes tomorrow.
Grant Faulkner talked to Andrew Limbong, host of NPR’s Book of the Day podcast for Write-Minded.

Martha Anne Toll spoke with Jennifer Homans about Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century for Fjord.
Member News
Dawn Raffel released her new short story collection Boundless as the Sky on January 17 from Sagging Meniscus.

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Woman Reading in the Studio, c. 1868, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot