Everyone's a Critic (But Only Some Get Paid to Be): Nat'l Book Critics Circle Award Winners

Cover art: Bilyy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Critics get a bad rap. It's the accepted wisdom that 'if you can't do, then teach, and if you can't do or teach, then tell people who can what they're doing wrong,' which is unfair to teachers (who--in my not particularly humble opinion--get a worse and infinitely more undeserved rap) and critics, both.

I would argue that besides acting as a convenient whipping boy for artists who are seldom the best judges of their own work, critics provide the valuable service of drowning out a lot of the inane Cover art: Stranger Magic by Marina Warnerpalaver in the cultural conversation. Do they miss some very worthy work? Yes, oodles of it. Do they misjudge great works? Yes, certainly. Do they have personal biases and blind spots? Yep. Do they fall prey to fads and fashions that will ultimately be looked on only with derision and regret? Yes, just like you and me--how do you feel about those pea green jeggings you bought in a fit of hubris and reckless disregard for your credit score last month?

This is all to say that the National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced and Harris County Public Library has most of them in the system. Will we be reading any of the winners twenty years from now? We'll see. Should you judge for yourself? Absolutely.

The Winners and Finalists

Fiction: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben FountainCover art: The Grey Album by Kevin Young
(Finalists: HHhH, The Orphan Master's Son, Magnificence, NW)

Nonfiction: Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon
(Finalists: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Private Empire, Why Does the World Exist?, Spillover)

Biography: The Passage of Power by Robert Caro
(Finalists: All We Know, Portrait of a Novel, Robert Duncan, The Black Count)

Autobiography: Swimming Studies by Leanne SharptonCover art: Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon
(Finalists: The Distance Between Us, My Poets, House of Stone, In the House of the Interpreter)

Poetry: Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys by D. A. Powell
(Finalists: Bewilderment, On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths, Fragile Acts, Olives)

Criticism: Stranger Magic by Marina Warner
(Finalists: Reinventing Bach, Waiting for the Barbarians, Madness, Rack and Honey, The Grey Album)


From the Putting the Lie to the Accepted Wisdom Dept: Most of the very best critics do "do" and what's more, many of our best critics both "do" and teach. So there.

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