The National Book Critics Circle has announced its winners for the previous year in six categories. Here’s the link to Critical Mass, the NBCC blog.
Kiran Desai’s “The Inheritance of Loss,” a narrative of global discovery
and displacement that has already won the Man Booker Prize, received another literary honor
Thursday night: the National Book Critics Circle fiction award.
“To be claimed by the place in which you live means so much,” said Desai, a native of
India who now lives in New York.
The daughter of author Anita Desai, she worried about the “perverse” luck of her book,
although she was clearly prepared to win, reciting a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, “The Boast of
Quietness,” which reads, in part, “More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily
Six prizes and two honorary awards were handed out at the 33rd annual critics award
ceremony. Simon Schama’s “Rough Crossings,” a history of slaves who fought with the British
during the Revolutionary War, won for general nonfiction. Julie Phillips’ was the biography
winner for “James Tiptree, Jr.,” the pen name for science fiction author Alice B. Sheldon.
Phillips, who took 10 years to complete her book, accepted the award by quoting Sheldon,
who committed suicide in 1987: “Life is fair. Some people have talent; other people get
Daniel Mendelsohn’s “The Lost,” a memoir of six family members lost in the Holocaust, won
for autobiography. Troy Jollimore’s “Tom Thomson in Purgatory,” a debut collection, was a
surprise for poetry, chosen over such celebrated finalists as W.D. Snodgrass, Frederick Seidel
and the late Miltos Sachtouris.
“I’m stunned, and I may not be the only one,” said Jollimore, who smiled and shook his
head in disbelief when he heard his name announced as the winner.
The criticism prize went to Lawrence Weschler’s “Everything That Rises,” which beat out,
among others, Bruce Bawer’s controversial “While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is
Destroying the West from Within,” a book that even members of the NBCC have called racist and
Steven G. Kellman, whose work has appeared in The Texas Observer, The Georgia Review and
other publications, won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Longtime
critic John Leonard, who has written for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books and
The Nation among others, won the Ivan Sandrof Life Achievement Award.
Hundreds gathered at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in downtown Manhattan at a time
when critics have been reminded yet again of their precarious status, with the Los Angeles
Times expected soon to cut its Sunday review section and combine it with the Saturday opinion
pages, a day of lower circulation.
In accepting his honorary award, Leonard joked about appearing before “a roomful of people
so innocent of the profit motive.” The head of the book critics circle, John Freeman, began
the evening by noting the trend of shrinking review coverage and reminding the audience … who
needed little reminding … that criticism was a kind of “Ellis Island” for culture, a
passageway for the best writing.
The National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974, has nearly 500 members. There are no
cash prizes, but a great deal of prestige. A solid majority of nominees showed up, including
such high-profile writers as novelists Richard Ford and Dave Eggers and historian Taylor