Annal: 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2002.

Book:Tests of Time

Tests of Time

William H. Gass

In these fourteen witty and elegant essays, William Gass (“the finest prose stylist in America”—Steven Moore, Washington Post) writes about writing, reading, culture, history, politics, and public opinion.

In the first of three parts, Gass addresses literary matters and writers, and contemplates, among other things: the nature of narrative and its philosophical implications; experimental fiction and its importance; literary “lists” (including the currently controversial canon of western literature) and their use. In part two, Gass looks at social and political contretemps: the extent and cost of political influences on writers; the First Amendment, the Fatwa, and Salman Rushdie; our view of Germany, as in “How German are we?” Finally, Gass gives us a celebration of Flaubert and considers the problems of writing history.

Tests of Time is William Gass at his most dazzling. It is a high-wire act of thinking and writing that serves up what Vladimir Nabokov called an “indescribable tingle of the spine.”

Book:Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color

Philip Ball

A fascinating study of the evolution of color in art and science from antiquity to the present.

For art in the twentieth century, medium is the message. Many artists offer works defined by their materials. In no aspect is this more strikingly demonstrated than in the use of color.

Bright Earth is the story of how color evolved and was produced for artistic and commercial use. The modern chemical industry was spawned and nurtured largely by the demand for color as many of today’s major chemical companies began as manufacturers of aniline dye; advances in synthetic chemistry, both organic and inorganic, were stimulated in the nineteenth century by the quest for artificial colors. The future holds still more challenges for the color chemist, not only to provide new coloring materials, but also to replace old ones that will shortly become extinct, as concerns about the use of lead and cadmium pigments…[more]

Book:Old Man Goya

Old Man Goya

Julia Blackburn

In 1792, when he was forty-seven, the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya contracted a serious illness that left him stone deaf. In this extraordinary book, Julia Blackburn follows Goya through the remaining thirty-five years of his life. It was a time of political turmoil, of war, violence, and confusion, and Goya transformed what he saw around him into visionary paintings, drawings, and etchings. These were also years of tenderness for Goya, of intimate relationships with the Duchess of Alba and with Leocadia, his mistress, who accompanied him to the end.

Blackburn’s singular distinction as a biographer is her uncanny ability to create a kaleidoscope of biography, memoir, history, and meditation—to think herself into another world. In Goya she has found the perfect subject. Visiting the towns Goya frequented, reading the revelatory letters that he wrote for years to a boyhood friend, investigating the subjects he portrayed,…[more]

Book:Piano Notes: The World of the Pianist

Piano Notes: The World of the Pianist

Charles Rosen

Charles Rosen is one of the world’s most talented pianists—and one of music’s most astute commentators. Known as a performer of Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Elliott Carter, he has also written highly acclaimed criticism for sophisticated students and professionals.

In Piano Notes, he writes for a broader audience about an old friend—the piano itself. Drawing upon a lifetime of wisdom and the accumulated lore of many great performers of the past, Rosen shows why the instrument demands such a stark combination of mental and physical prowess. Readers will gather many little-known insights—from how pianists vary their posture, to how splicings and microphone placements can ruin recordings, to how the history of composition was dominated by the piano for two centuries. Stories of many great musicians abound. Rosen reveals Nadia Boulanger’s favorite way to avoid commenting on the performances…[more]



Christopher Ricks

This book collects fifty of Christopher Ricks’ reviews from newspapers and journals on both sides of the Atlantic—TLS, London Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, and others—to several of which he has been a regular contributor. The book’s five sections range around the twentieth century, addressing major figures in biography (Ackroyd, Edel, Ellmann, Mailer), poetry and fiction (Heaney, Hemingway, Milosz, Naipaul, Pound), literary criticism and theory (Davie, Empson, Fiedler, Fish, Leavis, Sartre), sociology and cultural studies (Goffman, Milgram, Steiner), and various non-literary arts (The Beatles, Steinberg, Coppola, Kubrick, Wiseman).

The questions at the heart of Ricks’ work as reviewer have always been essential ones: What can we learn from this book? How good and how pleasing is it? Radiantly intelligent, learned, witty, and rigorously attentive to how words are used and to the arguments they are used to make, Christopher Ricks is for many the best critic now writing in English.

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