Annal: 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2008.

Book:Children's Literature

Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter

Seth Lerer

Ever since children have learned to read, there has been children’s literature. Its history is inseparable from the history of childhood, as children are indelibly molded by the tales they hear and read—stories they will one day share with their own sons and daughters.

Children’s Literature charts the makings of the Western literary imagination from Aesop’s fables to Mother Goose, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Peter Pan, from Where the Wild Things Are to Harry Potter. Seth Lerer here explores the iconic books, ancient and contemporary alike, that have forged a lifelong love of literature in young readers during their formative years. Along the way, Lerer also looks at the changing environments of family life and human growth, schooling and scholarship, and publishing and politics in which children found themselves changed by the books they read. This ambitious…[more]

Book:Everything Is Cinema

Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard

Richard Brody

A “serious-minded and meticulously detailed…account of the lifelong artistic journey” of one of the most influential filmmakers of our age (The New York Times)

When Jean-Luc Godard wed the ideals of filmmaking to the realities of autobiography and current events, he changed the nature of cinema. Unlike any earlier films, Godard’s work shifts fluidly from fiction to documentary, from criticism to art. The man himself also projects shifting images—cultural hero, fierce loner, shrewd businessman. Hailed by filmmakers as a—if not the—key influence on cinema, Godard has entered the modern canon, a figure as mysterious as he is indispensable.

In Everything Is Cinema, critic Richard Brody has amassed hundreds of interviews to demystify the elusive director and his work. Paying as much attention to Godard’s technical inventions as to the political forces of the postwar world, Brody…[more]

Book:Maimonides

Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds

Joel L. Kraemer

This authoritative biography of Moses Maimonides, one of the most influential minds in all of human history, illuminates his life as a philosopher, physician, and lawgiver. A biography on a grand scale, it brilliantly explicates one man’s life against the background of the social, religious, and political issues of his time.

Maimonides was born in Córdoba, in Muslim-ruled Spain, in 1138 and died in Cairo in 1204. He lived in an Arab-Islamic environment from his early years in Spain and North Africa to his later years in Egypt, where he was immersed in its culture and society. His life, career, and writings are the highest expression of the intertwined worlds of Judaism and Islam.

Maimonides lived in tumultuous times, at the peak of the Reconquista in Spain and the Crusades in Palestine. His monumental compendium of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, became a basis of all subsequent Jewish legal codes and brought him recognition…[more]

Book:The Men in My Life

The Men in My Life

Vivian Gornick

Vivian Gornick, one of our finest critics, tackled the theme of love and marriage in her last collection of essays, The End of the Novel of Love, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. In this new collection, she turns her attention to another large theme in literature: the struggle for the semblance of inner freedom. Great literature, she believes, is not the record of the achievement, but of the effort.

Gornick, who emerged as a major writer during the second-wave feminist movement, came to realize that “ideology alone could not purge one of the pathological self-doubt that seemed every woman’s bitter birthright.” Or, as Anton Chekhov put it so memorably: “Others made me a slave, but I must squeeze the slave out of myself, drop by drop.” Perhaps surprisingly, Gornick found particular inspiration for this challenge in the work of male writers—talented, but locked in perpetual rage, self-doubt,…[more]

Book:Orpheus in the Bronx

Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry

Reginald Shepherd

A highly acute writer, scholar, editor, and critic, Reginald Shepherd brings to his work the sensibilities of a classicist and a contemporary theorist, an inheritor of the American high modernist canon, and a poet drawing and playing on popular culture, while simultaneously venturing into formal experimentation.

In the essays collected here, Shepherd offers probing meditations unified by a “resolute defense of poetry’s autonomy, and a celebration of the liberatory and utopian possibilities such autonomy offers.” Among the pieces included are an eloquent autobiographical essay setting out in the frankest terms the vicissitudes of a Bronx ghetto childhood; the escape offered by books and “gifted” status preserved by maternal determination; early loss and the equivalent of exile; and the formation of the writer’s vocation. With the same frankness that he brings to autobiography, Shepherd also sets out his reasons for rejecting “identity…[more]

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