A copy of my remarks at the National Book Critics Circle’s recent 35th anniversary celebration has been posted on the NBCC site, and if you’re interested, you can find my comments here.
October 4, 2009
How Reviewing Opens Your Mind to Books — My Comments on the 35th Anniversary of the National Book Critics Circle
September 13, 2009
Update: 2:25 p.m. Monday: A video of John Ashbery’s entertaining talk has been posted on the NBCC blog.
You might expect an anniversary party for a literary-critics’ organization to resemble a wake now that so many book-review sections have folded or shrunk. But the mood was lively at the festivities that marked the 35th year of the National Book Critics Circle last night at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in downtown Manhattan.
I spoke at the event along with the poet John Ashbery, the novelist E. L. Doctorow and dozens of current and former NBCC board members. Ashbery, born nearly a half century before the critics’ organization was founded, received the first NBCC Award for poetry in 1975 for his Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which also won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. And he set the tone of the anniversary celebration when he said: “It’s great to be back here. Actually, it’s great to be anywhere.”
Ashbery praised the Rain Taxi Review of Books and offered it as partial evidence that serious criticism of poetry and other art forms exists amid the meltdown at newspapers. The NBCC has posted a brief news report on his speech on its blog. You’ll find excerpts from other speakers’ comments, including mine, in a separate post there. The full text of all the speeches is scheduled to appear soon the NBCC site.
January 30, 2009
National Book Critics Circle Judges Snub Toni Morrison and Joseph O’Neill in Announcing Finalists for Awards
Just before the American Library Association named the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott medals that have preoccupied me for much of this week, the National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its annual awards in six categories: fiction, poetry, criticism, biography, general nonfiction and autobiography or memoir. The big news this year is the books that aren’t on the list: Toni Morrison’s A Mercy and Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. Both novels have won stellar reviews, and I predicted that O’Neill would win this one. (Neither book made the shortlist for the 2008 National Book Awards, either, but A Mercy came out after the deadline for entries.) Read the list of NBCC finalists and tell me what you think.
February 10, 2008
Your Sunday book section review section might have stopped reviewing poetry during the Carter administration. But if it doesn’t have suggestions, the National Book Critics Circle does. The NBCC polled its members and came up with a list of five of their favorite recent poetry titles, posted at bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2008/02/nbccs-good-reads-winter-list.html. The top vote-getters included Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy (Graywolf, 2007), also a finalist for the NBCC poetry award www.bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com. The NBCC will announce the winner of its annual poetry and other prizes on March 6 in a ceremony at the New School in New York.
February 6, 2008
If you think that trying get book-review assignments is like trying to get work decorating staterooms on the Titanic, the NBCC suggests how to avoid the icebergs
Later today I’m going to announce a new series of negative achievement awards for hyperbole in book reviewing that will begin Friday on this site, so I’ve been looking around the Web for posts that tell how to avoid over-the-top praise in reviews (and, indirectly, how critics can keep their name off the list of winners). The Tips for Successful Book Reviewing page www.bookcritics.org/?go=tips on the National Book Critics Circle site wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, partly because it’s more about how to get started as a book reviewer than about how to write good reviews.
But it has great advice for anyone who’s wondering if you can still get review assignments now that so many books sections have shrunk or vanished, or if this effort wouldn’t be like trying to get work decorating the staterooms on the Titanic. Rebecca Skloot www.home.earthlink.net/~rskloot/of the NBCC compiled the page with help from Elaine Vitone and delivers on the subtitle of her article, “Strategies for Breaking in and Staying in: Getting started as a critic, building your reviewing portfolio, going national, and keeping editors happy.” Here’s her most important point:
“Read good criticism. There are several authors who regularly gather their reviews and essays into collections that show how good criticism must be to stand the test of time. The NBCC has awarded several of these books prizes in our criticism category: Cynthia Ozick’s Quarrel & Quandary, William H. Gass’ Finding a Form, John Updike’s Hugging the Shore, Martin Amis’ The War Against Cliche, William Logan’s The Undiscovered Country, and Mario Vargas Llosa’s Making Waves are essentials in any critic’s library. Going back even further, the essays of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Borges, and Orwell remind us how criticism can be the intellectual record of our times. Notice, too, how the very best criticism is driven by metaphors and ideas and examples, not adjectives.”
Skloot is right about those adjectives, and if you aren’t sure how many adjectives are too many, watch this blog for examples after the new awards series is announced.
One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. Janice Harayda is a former member of the NBCC board of directors.
(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.