Founded in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards are given annually to honor outstanding writing and to foster a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature. The awards are open to any book published in the United States in English. The National Book Critics Circle comprises more than 700 critics and editors from leading newspapers, magazines and online publications.
Bliss Montage: Stories by Ling Ma
In Bliss Montage, Ling Ma brings us eight wildly different tales of people making their way through the madness and reality of our collective delusions: love and loneliness, connection and possession, friendship, motherhood, the idea of home. From a woman who lives in a house with all of her ex-boyfriends, to a toxic friendship built around a drug that makes you invisible, to an ancient ritual that might heal you of anything if you bury yourself alive, these and other scenarios reveal that the outlandish and the everyday are shockingly, deceptively, heartbreakingly similar.
The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act by Isaac Butler
On stage and screen, we know a great performance when we see it. But how do actors draw from their bodies and minds to turn their selves into art? What is the craft of being an authentic fake? More than a century ago, amid tsarist Russia’s crushing repression, one of the most talented actors ever, Konstantin Stanislavski, asked these very questions, reached deep into himself, and emerged with an answer. How his “system” remade itself into the Method and forever transformed American theater and film is an unlikely saga that has never before been fully told.
Now, critic and theater director Isaac Butler chronicles the history of the Method in a narrative that transports readers from Moscow to New York to Los Angeles, from The Seagull to A Streetcar Named Desire to Raging Bull. He traces how a cohort of American mavericks–including Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and the storied Group Theatre–refashioned Stanislavski’s ideas for a Depression-plagued nation that had yet to find its place as an artistic powerhouse. The Group’s feuds and rivalries would, in turn, shape generations of actors who enabled Hollywood to become the global dream-factory it is today. Some of these performers the Method would uplift; others, it would destroy. Long after its midcentury heyday, the Method lives on as one of the most influential–and misunderstood–ideas in American culture.
G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage
We remember him as a bulldog–squat frame, bulging wide-set eyes, fearsome jowls–but in 1924, when he became director of the FBI, he had been the trim, dazzling wunderkind of the administrative state, buzzing with energy and big ideas for reform. He transformed a failing law-enforcement backwater, riddled with scandal, into a modern machine. He believed in the power of the federal government to do great things for the nation and its citizens. He also believed that certain people–many of them communists or racial minorities or both– did not deserve to be included in that American project. Hoover rose to power and then stayed there, decade after decade, using the tools of state to create a personal fiefdom unrivaled in U.S. history.
Stay True: A Memoir by Hua Hsu
In the eyes of eighteen-year-old Hua Hsu, the problem with Ken–with his passion for Dave Matthews, Abercrombie & Fitch, and his fraternity–is that he is exactly like everyone else. Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the United States for generations, is mainstream; for Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who makes ‘zines and haunts Bay Area record shops, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to. The only thing Hua and Ken have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them.
But despite his first impressions, Hua and Ken become friends, a friendship built on late-night conversations over cigarettes, long drives along the California coast, and the textbook successes and humiliations of everyday college life. And then violently, senselessly, Ken is gone, killed in a carjacking, not even three years after the day they first meet.
Hotel Oblivion by Cynthia Cruz
A specter, haunting the edges of society: because neoliberalism insists there are no social classes, thus, there is no working class, the main subject of Hotel Oblivion, a working class subject, does not exist. With no access to a past, she has no home, no history, no memory. And yet, despite all this, she will not assimilate. Instead, this book chronicles the subject’s repeated attempts at locating an exit from capitalist society via acts of negative freedom and through engagement with the death drive, whose aim is complete destruction in order to begin all over again. In the end, of course, the only true exit and only possibility for emancipation for the working class subject is through a return to one’s self.
Free Indirect: The Novel in a Postfictional Age by Timothy Bewes
Everywhere today, we are urged to “connect.” Literary critics celebrate a new “honesty” in contemporary fiction or call for a return to “realism.” Yet such rhetoric is strikingly reminiscent of earlier theorizations. Two of the most famous injunctions of twentieth-century writing–E. M. Forster’s “Only connect . . .” and Fredric Jameson’s “Always historicize!”–helped establish connection as the purpose of the novel and its reconstruction as the task of criticism. But what if connection was not the novel’s modus operandi but the defining aesthetic ideology of our era–and its most monetizable commodity? What kind of thought is left for the novel when all ideas are acceptable as long as they can be fitted to a consumer profile?
John Leonard Prize
Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty
In twelve striking, luminescent stories, author Morgan Talty—with searing humor, abiding compassion, and deep insight—breathes life into tales of family and community bonds as they struggle with a painful past and an uncertain future. A boy unearths a jar that holds an old curse, which sets into motion his family’s unraveling; a man, while trying to swindle some pot from a dealer, discovers a friend passed out in the woods, his hair frozen into the snow; a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s projects the past onto her grandson, and thinks he is her dead brother come back to life; and two friends, inspired by Antiques Roadshow, attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs.
Gregg Barrios Book in Translation Prize
Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Boris Dralyuk
49-year-old safety inspector-turned-beekeeper Sergey Sergeich, wants little more than to help his bees collect their pollen in peace.
But Sergey lives in Ukraine, where a lukewarm war of sporadic violence and constant propaganda has been dragging on for years.
His simple mission on behalf of his bees leads him through some the hottest spots of the ongoing conflict, putting him in contact with combatants and civilians on both sides of the battle lines: loyalists, separatists, Russian occupiers, and Crimean Tatars.