On Thursday, February 28, 2013, at a packed ceremony in the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2012. Winners ranged Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf), a magisterial volume (fourth in an ongoing biography) offering fresh perspective on crucial years for Lyndon Baines Johnson and for the nation, to Ben Fountain’s debut novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco), a wise, sharply insightful examination of war, class, and celebrity in America. Both books were nominated for the 2012 National Book Award but did not win.
The nonfiction winner, Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner), was honored as a sweeping yet in-depth synthesizing of key social issues from deafness to homosexuality to create what feels like a whole new area of study. Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press) also broke a mold, rethinking the autobiography category as it presented the life of a body, reflecting on Shapton’s experience as a champion swimmer and subsequent experiences as an artist.
In criticism, Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (Belknap Press: Harvard University Press) exhibited impeccable scholarship as it gave extraordinary background to Shahrazad’s beloved tales, creating its own magic. Finally, D. A. Powell’s Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf Press) topped the poetry category with a work at once erotic and wickedly witty, spiritual and profound, that captures growing up and also growing up gay.
The evening opened as the National Book Critics Circle honored one of its own, William Deresiewicz, with the 2012 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar were then honored with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award for their trailblazing work in feminist criticism. Though neither woman could attend, they both spoke to the audience in recorded segments.
The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, honors outstanding writing and fosters a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature. It was founded in 1974 to encourage and raise the quality of book criticism in all media and to create a way for critics to communicate with one another about their professional concerns. It consists of about 600 active book reviewers.
In addition to the annual book awards, each year the NBCC salutes the most accomplished reviewer from within the membership with the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Members of the organization communicate through the organization’s website (http://www.bookcritics.org) and at an annual membership meeting in New York City.
Finalists Reading for 2012 Awards
(For a complete list of recipients and author biographies, please visit the National Book Critics Circle website.)