September, 2014

Roundup: Tana French, Roxane Gay, Vikram Chandra, and Garret Keizer

by Eric Liebetrau | Sep-02-2014

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Sebastian Stockman reviews Elizabeth Green's "Building a Better Teacher" and Garret Keizer's "Getting Schooled."

Katherine A. Powers reviews John Williams's "Augustus" for the Barnes and Noble Review. She also reviews Rene Steinke' "Friendswood" for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"Eyeless in Gaza," from Robert Birnbaum. He also examines the "vital strain of satire and good-natured social commentary that Kurt Vonnegut wielded."

Meredith Maran reviews Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist." She also reviews Joshua Wolf Shenk’s “The Power of Two.”

Alexandra Schwartz takes a look at protean writer/trumpeter/troublemaker Boris Vian. She also interviews poet Claudia Rankine, as she was visiting Ferguson.

Julia M. Klein reviews Susan Vreeland's "Lisette's List" for the Boston Globe. She also reviews "Feminism Unfinished."

NBCC board member David Ulin on the power of a bookstore.

Jim Ruland reviews Lee Klein's "The Shimmering Go-Between" and Erika T. Wulf's "Crazy Horse's Girlfriend."

"What does it mean to triumph as a poet?" NBCC board member David Biespiel's latest Poetry Wire.

Michael Puican reviews "Lullaby (with Exit Sign)" by Hadara Bar-Nadav.

NBCC board member Rigoberto González wins the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for his poetry collection, "Unpeopled Eden."

"Three Books to Get Over an Affair," from Randon Billings Noble.

Lisa Levy reviews Tana French's new novel.

NBCC board member Colette Bancroft also reviews French's novel.

Former NBCC board member Laura Miller on how David Mitchell gets fantasy wrong.

For the Daily Beast, NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari talks to novelist Vikram Chandra about his obsession with computer coding.

Alex Burling reviews the new Murakami novel.

Lisa R. Spaar on "My Funeral Gondola" and "Praise."

Ryan Teitman reviews Victoria Chang's "The Boss."

Happy Labor Day! Roundup will be posted on Tuesday at 4:00.

by Eric Liebetrau | Sep-01-2014

August, 2014

Roundup: William Kent Krueger, Haruki Murakami, top fall books and an interview with Elena Ferrante

by Eric Liebetrau | Aug-25-2014

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NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari's top 10 fall books, in her latest BBC column.

Tobias Carroll reviews "Mr. Gwyn," by Alessandro Baricco.

Elizabeth Rosner reviews James Carroll's "Warburg in Rome."

At the Christian Science Monitor, Andrew Cleary reviews Michael Harris' "The End of Absence."

Christie Aschwanden reviews J.C. Herz's "Learning to Breathe Fire."

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews Michael Crummey's novel "Sweetland." He also reviews Juan Cole's "The New Arabs."

"'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage': A lean Murakami (with the usual love, music, dreams, sex)," from Eileen Weiner.

Laurie Hertzel profiles bestselling author William Kent Krueger.

"You Would Think 'Adultery' Would Be A Little More Tantalizing." Heller McAlpin on Paulo Coelho's latest novel.

Joe Peschel also reviews Coelho's novel.

Anjali Enjeti reviews Roxane Gay's "Bad Feminist."

Megan O'Grady interviews the elusive Elena Ferrante for Vogue.

Julia M. Klein reviews Dianne Hales' "Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered" for the Chicago Tribune.

Book-reviewing gets a shoutout in Erika Dreifus "After the MFA: Fantasy, Reality, and Lessons Learned" on the Poets & Writers website.

NBCC Reads: What’s Your Favorite First Book Ever? Paley, Johnson, Jackson

by Edie Meidav | Aug-20-2014

"What's your favorite first book by an author ever?" That's the question that launches the seventh year of the NBCC Reads series, which draws upon the bookish passions of our members and honorees. Here's the eighth in this new series. It's not too late to send your critical essay on your own favorite to

If considering American books since 1955 (a year when, pace Woolf, we could say the world changed again), I vote for Grace Paley's THE LITTLE DISTURBANCES OF MAN or Denis Johnson's ANGELS. Why Paley's story collection? Because hers was the unholy lovechild of two lines of American writing, one shaggy-dog Melvillean, gifted with an ear bent toward humor, her other parent a more sober Puritan interested in form. In one short, rhythmic, irreproachable book, Paley created an immigrant gothic that spawned heirs both open and more oblique, such as Carolyn Cooke's first collection THE BOSTONS.

And why Johnson's novel? Because he wrote with such moral urgency, a lapsed Catholic speaking the tongue of lyrical violence.  

That said, to linger on 2014, in a few years I will still be touting this year's THE RESIDUE YEARS to the masses. Why? Mitchell S. Jackson stuns the reader from the start: his wordplay dances against great empathy, wit, visceral engagement. No one has told the story he tells with such heart and mind. Aware of the pitfalls of writing as a cultural ambassador -- and preemptively deflecting such critique -- Jackson imbues his work with the ethical purpose of our most beloved canonical works, such that the catharsis near novel's end remains as unforgettable as it is damning. 


Edie Meidav is a recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and author of the critically acclaimed The Far Field, recipient of the Kafka award for best novel by an American woman; Crawl Space, winner of the Bard Fiction Prize, and Lola, California. She lived in Northern California, where she directed the MFA writing program at the New College of California on Valencia Street in San Francisco. She teaches in the MFA program at UMass Amherst. More at

Roundup: Haruki Murakami, Amy Bloom, Edan Lepucki and Roxana Robinson on the Amazon/Hachette dispute

by Eric Liebetrau | Aug-18-2014

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WATCH: Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson discusses Amazon's dispute with Hachette and authors.

Woody Brown reviews Haruki Murakami's new novel.

Kit Reed also reviews Murakami's book.

"Never Complain and Never Explain." Robert Birnbaum on plagiarism, remorse and more. Birnbaum also talks to Amy Bloom about her new book.

New Books for Younger Readers, from Celia McGee.

John Domini reviews Alan Michael Parker's latest novel. He also reviews "In the Wolf's Mouth" by Adam Foulds.

In the Wall Street Journal, Nancy Rommelmann reviews Lacy Johnson's "The Other Side."

Ryan Teitman on Matthew Gavin Frank's "Preparing the Ghost."

Meganne Fabrega reviews Sallie Bingham's "The Blue Box: Three Lives in Letters" for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

NBCC board member David Biespiel's latest Poetry Wire.

Natalie Bakopoulos reviews "Life Drawing" by Robin Black.

"In A Funny New Novel, A Weary Professor Writes To "Dear Committee Members." Maureen Corrigan on Julie Schumacher's novel.

Katherine A. Powers reviews Rachel Seiffert's "The Walk Home" for the Barnes and Noble Review.

"Lauren Bacall on writing: The most complete experience I've ever had," from NBCC board member Carolyn Kellogg.

NBCC fiction award winner Chimamanda Adichie on Wole Soyinka.

Elaine F. Tankard reviews Edan Lepucki’s "California."

NBCC Reads: What’s Your Favorite First Book Ever? Henry Roth’s ‘Call It Sleep’

by Steven G. Kellman | Aug-16-2014

"What's your favorite first book by an author ever?" That's the question that launches the seventh year of the NBCC Reads series, which draws upon the bookish passions of our members and honorees. Here's the seventh in this new series. It's not too late to send your critical essay on your own favorite to

Astonishment at the quality of notable first books is often based on the dubious premise that first books are mere apprentice work, of interest primarily as the pallid chrysalis from which the neophyte butterfly will later emerge in splendid glory. In fact, however, many of the most accomplished and admired works in literary history were debut books – Lyrical Ballads, Sense and Sensibility, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Buddenbrooks, Sister Carrie, The Enormous Room, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Harmonium, Flowering Judas and Other StoriesThe Postman Always Rings Twice, At Swim-Two-Birds, Nausea, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Stranger, The Naked and the Dead, Invisible Man, The Natural, Wise Blood, Lord of the Flies, Howl, Things Fall Apart, The Leopard, Goodbye, Columbus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Catch-22, The Bluest Eye, Bless Me, Ultima, V., Love Medicine, Everything Is Illuminated, among others. To Kill a Mockingbird is Harper Lee’s first book, though it is also her last. First books are often labors of love enriched by long gestations. Written in haste under pressure to sustain a career, second books, by contrast, can seem a letdown. Arthur Rimbaud’s decision to renounce poetry, at age 19, shortly after the publication of his first book, A Season in Hell, forestalled disappointment. Walt Whitman avoided the sophomore jinx by publishing his magnificent first book, Leaves of Grass, again and again, in five different later iterations.

So ashamed was Nathaniel Hawthorne of his publishing debut, Fanshawe, that he attempted to retrieve and burn every copy he could find. The mediocre poetry that constitutes William Faulkner’s The Marble Faun would not be my nominee for favorite first book. Nor would I choose Edith Wharton’s debut volume on interior design, The Decoration of Houses. Instead, I call on Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep. Begun while Roth, a working-class immigrant, was still an undergraduate at City College, the novel is the finest evocation of the confrontation between European newcomers and modern urban America. The mature artistry of Roth’s first book is evident in his deft deployment of stream of consciousness; the complex portraits of young David Schearl, his frustrated, abusive father Albert, his long-suffering mother Genya, and his boisterous Aunt Bertha; and his representation of the multilingual Lower East Side in supple prose that simulates Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew, German, Italian, and various registers of English.

But what makes Call It Sleep even more striking as its author’s first book is that Roth in effect produced a second first book 60 years later. Published in 1934, in the depths of the Depression, Call It Sleep soon fell out of print and out of mind. In 1964, an ecstatic review by Irving Howe on the front page of The New York Times Book Review helped catapult Roth’s forgotten novel to the top of the bestseller lists. Meanwhile, the author himself had renounced the literary life and turned to raising and slaughtering ducks and geese in Maine. Nevertheless, in his 80s, ailing, and approaching, even embracing, death, he took up writing again, leaving behind 5,000 manuscript pages before dying, at 89, in 1995.

Roth’s second novel, A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, was published in 1994, 60 years after his first. And, as the first installment of a massive tetralogy called Mercy of a Rude Stream, it represented a fresh beginning, as well as its author’s valediction to his art and his life. Mercy is a self-lacerating but also self-redeeming autobiographical fiction whose ambition to render the entirety of its author's life is unparalleled in contemporary fiction except perhaps for the six volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle

Premieres are special, hopeful occasions. But to the conscientious artist and the attentive reader, every book is the first book.

Steven G. Kellman was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing in 2007. His work has appeared in a wide variety of publications including the Texas Observer, Chronicle of Higher Education,, Chicago Tribune, Review of Contemporary Fiction, the Believer, Bookforum, and Georgia Review. His books include Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth (Norton, 2005), The Translingual Imagination (Nebraska, 2000), Loving Reading: Erotics of the Text (Archon, 1985), and The Self-Begetting Novel (Columbia, 1980). Kellman is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Currently National Book Critics Circle Vice President/Membership, he served three previous terms on the board.

Roundup: Amy Bloom, Susan Sontag, Bond Novels, Sherlock Holmes, and More

by Mark Athitakis | Aug-11-2014

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As baseball's pennant race begins in earnest, Robert Birnbaum takes a look back at books about umpires; he also interviews Alex Beam about his new book on Joseph Smith, American Crucifixion.

Priscilla Gilman reviews Amy Bloom's novel Lucky Us for the Boston Globe.

Former NBCC president John Freeman discusses his new series of anthologies with Publishers Weekly.

Karl Wolff continues his NSFW Files series at website of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography with a reconsideration of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls.

NBCC finalist Ben Moser checks in with Tablet about his biography-in-progress on Susan Sontag.

Jane Ciabattari ranks the best post-Ian Fielding Bond authors for the BBC, and reviews Richard House's thriller The Kills for NPR.

Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. The Los Angeles Times' Carolyn Kellogg reports.

Rigoberto Gonzalez reviews Francisco Goldman's memoir The Interior Circuit for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Max Winter reviews Amy Rowland's novel The Transcriptionist and John Skoyles' novel A Moveable Famine for the Boston Globe.

Randy Rosenthal interviews Jack Livings about his new story collection, The Dog, at Tweed's.

Joseph Peschel reviews William T. Vollmann's collection Last Stories and Other Stories for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Daniel Dyer reviews Hampton Sides' In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Micah McCrary reviews Eric LeMay's essay collection In Praise of Nothing for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Jacob Siefring reviews Nelly Arcan's novel Hysteric for the Winnipeg Review.

Ron Slate reviews Michelle Huneven's novel Off Course at On the Seawall.

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