Annal: 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2004.

Book:Where You're At

Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip Hop Planet

Patrick Neate

Spurred by his own deep love of the music and its central role in his life, but troubled by the current state of mainstream hip-hop culture, Patrick Neate sets off to discover if the music and culture that mean so much to him have retained true cultural vitality and significance anywhere in the world. Covering five continents and cities as diverse as New York, Rio, Tokyo, and Johannesburg, Neate discovers hip-hop reinventing itself internationally, locally, and individually. Spirited and idealistic, yet grittily insightful, Where You’re At is a global tour of a small planet, with hip-hop, in all its multifarious forms, as the main character.

Book:The Irresponsible Self

The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel

James Wood

James Wood’s first book of essays, The Broken Estate, established him as the leading critic of his generation, one whose judgments “are distinguished by their originality and precision, the depth of reading that informs them, and the metaphorical richness of their language” (Harper’s). Its successor, The Irresponsible Self, confirms Wood’s preeminence, not only as a discerning judge but also as an appreciator of novels, with a special interest in the ways they make us laugh. In twenty-three passionate, sparkling dispatches, he defends what he calls “secular comedy”—human, tragicomic, forgiving, bound up with the very origins of the novel -against the narrower “religious comedy” of satire and farce, which is corrective, punitive, and theatrical. Ranging over such crucial comic writers as Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Waugh, Bellow, and Naipaul, Wood offers a broad history of comedy while examining each chosen writer with his customary care and intense focus. This collection (which includes Wood’s much-discussed attack on “hysterical realism”) is indispensable reading for anyone who cares about modern fiction or criticism today.

Book:Paper Trail

Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003

Richard Howard

Richard Howard has been writing stylish, deeply informed commentary on modern culture and literature for more than four decades. Here is a selection of his finest essays, including some never before published in book form, on a splendid range of subjects—from American poets like Emily Dickinson and Marianne Moore to French artists such as Rodin and Michel Delacroix. Also included are considerations of modern sculpture and of the photography of the human body. Howard’s intense familiarity with modern poetry is seen to excellent effect in essays on the “poetry of forgetting,” on the causes and effects of experimental poetry, and on the first books of poets whose work he helped introduce—among them, J. D. McClatchy, Frank Bidart, and Cynthia MacDonald. Of course, Howard brings to his consideration of French literature a rare wisdom drawn from his celebrated work as a translator of Stendhal and Gide, Barthes and Cocteau, Yourcenar and Gracq. …[more]

Book:Sontag & Kael

Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me

Craig Seligman

For fans of high culture, pop culture and American genius, a personal and idiosyncratic exploration of two of the 20th century’s most distinguished cultural icons.

With wit and style worthy of his subjects, Craig Seligman explores the enduring influence of two critics who defined the cultural sensibilities of a generation: Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael. Though outwardly they had several things in common—they were both Westerners who came east, both schooled in philosophy, both secular Jews, and both single mothers—they were polar opposites in temperament and approach. From the very beginning Seligman makes his sympathies clear: Sontag is a writer he reveres; but Kael is a writer he loves.

He approaches both critics through their work, whose fundamental parallels serve to sharpen their differences. Tone is…[more]

Book:Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century

Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century

Graham Robb

The nineteenth century was a golden age for those people known variously as sodomites, Uranians, monosexuals, and homosexuals. Long before Stonewall and Gay Pride, there was such a thing as gay culture, and it was recognized throughout Europe and America.

Graham Robb, brilliant biographer of Balzac, Hugo, and Rimbaud, examines how homosexuals were treated by society and finds a tale of surprising tolerance. He describes the lives of gay men and women: how they discovered their sexuality and accepted or disguised it; how they came out; how they made contact with like-minded people. He also includes a fascinating investigation of the encrypted homosexuality of such famous nineteenth-century sleuths as Edgar Allan Poe’s Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes himself (with glances forward in time to Batman and J. Edgar Hoover). Finally, Strangers addresses crucial questions of gay…[more]

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