The National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its 2011 award.  The winners of each category will be announced on March 10.


  • Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Jonathan Franzen: Freedom
  • David Grossman: To the End of the Land
  • Hans Keilson: Comedy in a Minor Key
  • Paul Murray: Skippy Dies


  • Anne Carson: Nox
  • Kathleen Graber: The Eternal City
  • Terrance Hayes: Lighthead
  • Kay Ryan: The Best of It
  • C.D. Wright: One with Others: [a little book of her days]


  • S.C. Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches
  • Jennifer Homans: Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet
  • Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
  • Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration


  • Sarah Bakewell: How to Live, Or a Life of Montaigne
  • Selina Hastings: The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography
  • Yunte Huang: Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History
  • Thomas Powers: The Killing of Crazy Horse
  • Tom Segev: Simon Wiesenthal: The Lives and Legends


  • Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956 – 1978
  • David Dow: The Autobiography of an Execution
  • Christopher Hitchens: Hitch-22: A Memoir
  • Rahna Reiko Rizzuto: Hiroshima in the Morning
  • Patti Smith: Just Kids
  • Darin Strauss: Half a Life


  • Elif Batuman: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
  • Terry Castle: The Professor and Other Writings
  • Clare Cavanagh: Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West
  • Susan Linfield: The Cruel Radiance
  • Ander Monson: Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir

All of the fiction books have been well covered. I’ve had all of them except for Skippy Dies for months, though I’ve read only A Visit from the Goon Squad. I’ve also read Anne Carson’s Nox, that brilliantly produced accordian poem. I haven’t written about it here because, well, I’m not that good at talking about poetry. I wanted to read it again, which hasn’t happened yet — but now it will. As for the other categories, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy and Patti Smith’s Just Kids have been tempting me.

It is certainly worth noting that the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to Parul Sehgal and, more closely related to my interests on this site, the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award went to Dalkey Archive Press — congrats!

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By | 2016-06-27T16:54:53+00:00 January 23rd, 2011|Categories: News|10 Comments


  1. KevinfromCanada January 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I’ve read three of the fiction — was on the negative side of neutral with both Freedom and Goon Squad, quite liked Skippy Dies. I have the Grossman on hand and have been avoiding it for no particular reason, so this listing would seem to be a reason to pick it up. And recent blog reviews of the Keilson have sparked my interest.

    I often find the NBCC a sort of “survey course” in the fiction of the previous year, picking examples from various styles and approaches (although pretty consistent in genre). That would seem to be the case again this year.

  2. stujallen January 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I ve just read the grossman I loved it a wonderful piece of hebrew fiction ,the egan and Keilson appeal from fiction ,nothing to envy is a book I want also got how to live but not got to it yet ,all the best stu

  3. Lee Monks January 24, 2011 at 7:19 am

    I also don’t really know what to say about Nox! It’s an incredible piece of art, I will say that.

  4. Trevor January 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    I often find the NBCC a sort of “survey course” in the fiction of the previous year, picking examples from various styles and approaches (although pretty consistent in genre). That would seem to be the case again this year.

    I agree. On the one hand, we know we’re not going to get a book we haven’t heard about before, as is the case with the Pulitzer, the Booker, and the American National Book Award. On the other hand, it’s fun to see a showcasing of some of the year’s critical hits, and I like the variety of works (two American, one British, two in translation with one of them having been written half a century ago).

    I need to read the Grossman, Stu. The length has been putting me off. Lately, I’ve been in the mood for short (though I’m not going to go so far as to suggest this is a permanent position).

    Lee, I’ll get back into Nox and see what comes out on a second reading. I need a second reading anyway. I agree about it being a wonderful piece of art, though — what a risky venture for New Directions!

  5. Liz at Literary Masters January 25, 2011 at 2:11 am

    I think you know that I run book groups and literary salons, and Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick was my non-fiction selection for the year. Everyone in every single group loved it and found it fascinating. It helped that it is so timely right now, considering all that’s going on with North Korea. Anyway, I highly recommend it. I also read (but did not choose for my groups) Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson. I liked it a lot. Here’s my post on my blog on it:

  6. leroyhunter January 25, 2011 at 10:33 am

    I’ve just started Demick’s book about North Korea, so far it’s pretty good (I’m only a short way in though).

  7. Trevor January 25, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks, Liz, I do remember you praising the book, and when I saw it made this list I remembered that I still need to find a copy and read it! Let us know if you agree with Liz, leroy.

  8. Lee Monks January 26, 2011 at 8:48 am

    ‘I agree about it being a wonderful piece of art, though — what a risky venture for New Directions!’

    Yes, and completely admirable. It’s just an amazing ‘thing’: and poses all kinds of questions – that such a poignantly personal artefact be produced in such a guise. Bound with such care, as though to inure the contents and convey the love clearly evident for the subject. It’s a beautiful testament.

  9. leroyhunter February 3, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Trevor: having finished Demick’s book, yes I do agree. It paints an extraordinary picture of a seemingly unknowable place. She makes the point towards the end that Korea watchers have been predicting the downfall of the regime there for over a decade but still it soldiers on, stunting (literally) the lives of its own people and shutting out the rest of the world. When you get past the security apparatus, the propaganda and the leader cult, what you’re left with is poverty, pure and simple, for millions of people. The depiction of life during famine times in the 90s is tough going.

    Well-structured and written in a spirit of wanting to know and understand rather then judge.

  10. […] For a list of all finalists, click here. […]

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