Annal: 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2010.

Book:Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West

Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West

Clare Cavanagh

Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics explores the intersection of poetry, national life, and national identity in Poland and Russia, from 1917 to the present. As a corrective to recent trends in criticism, acclaimed translator and critic Clare Cavanagh demonstrates how the practice of the personal lyric in totalitarian states such as Russia and Poland did not represent an escapist tendency; rather it reverberated as a bold political statement and at times a dangerous act.

Cavanagh also provides a comparative study of modern poetry from the perspective of the eastern and western sides of the Iron Curtain. Among the poets discussed are Blok, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, Yeats, Whitman, Frost, Szymborska, Zagajewski, and Milosz; close readings of individual poems are included, some translated for the first time. Cavanagh examines these poets and their work as a challenge to Western postmodernist theories, thus offering new perspectives on twentieth-century lyric poetry.

Book:The Cruel Radiance

The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence

Susie Linfield

Since the early days of photography, critics have told us that photos of political violence—of torture, mutilation, and death—are exploitative, deceitful, even pornographic. To look at these images is voyeuristic; to turn away is a gesture of respect.

With The Cruel Radiance, Susie Linfield attacks those ideas head-on, arguing passionately that viewing such photographs—and learning to see the people in them—is an ethically and politically necessary act that connects us to our modern history of violence and probes our capacity for cruelty. Contending with critics from Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht to Susan Sontag and the postmoderns—and analyzing photographs from such events as the Holocaust, China’s Cultural Revolution, and recent terrorist acts—Linfield explores the complex connection between photojournalism and the rise of human rights ideals. In…[more]

Book:The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

Elif Batuman

The true but unlikely stories of lives devoted—absurdly! melancholically! beautifully!—to the Russian classics

No one who read Elif Batuman’s first article (in the journal n+1) will ever forget it. “Babel in California” told the true story of various human destinies intersecting at Stanford University during a conference about the enigmatic writer Isaac Babel. Over the course of several pages, Batuman managed to misplace Babel’s last living relatives at the San Francisco airport, uncover Babel’s secret influence on the making of King Kong, and introduce her readers to a new voice that was unpredictable, comic, humane, ironic, charming, poignant, and completely, unpretentiously full of love for literature.

Batuman’s subsequent pieces—for The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and the London Review of Books— have made her one of the most sought-after and admired writers of her generation, and its best traveling companion. In The…[more]

Book:The Professor and Other Writings

The Professor: and Other Writings

Terry Castle

From one of America’s most brilliant critics and cultural commentators comes a long-awaited collection of penetrating autobiographical essays and a riveting short memoir, novelistic in style and ambition, about the pathos, comedy, and devastation of early love.

Stanford professor and longtime contributor to the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, the New Republic, Slate, and other publications, Terry Castle is widely admired for the wit, panache, intellectual breadth, and emotional honesty of her writings on life, literature, and art. Now, at long last, she has collected some of the more personal of her recent essays in a single volume. Several pieces here are already acknowledged classics: “Desperately Seeking Susan,” the celebrated account she wrote in 2005 of her droll and somewhat bittersweet friendship with Susan Sontag; “My Heroin Christmas,” a…[more]

Book:Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir

Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir

Ander Monson

An adventurous exploration of the “I” in American culture, by the author of Neck Deep and Other Predicaments.

Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.

In contemporary America, land of tell-all memoirs and endless reality television, what kind of person denies the opportunity to present himself in his own voice, to lead with “I”? How many layers of a life can be peeled back before the self vanishes?

In this provocative, witty series of meditations, Ander Monson faces down the idea of memoir, grappling with the lure of selfinterest and self-presentation. While setting out to describe the experience of serving as head juror at the trial of Michael Antwone Jordan, he can’t help veering off into an examination of his own transgressions, inadvertent and otherwise. He scrutinizes his private experience of the public funeral ceremony for Gerald R. Ford. He considers his addiction to chemically concocted…[more]
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