Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's fictional recreation of the earlylife of 16th-century English statesman Thomas Cromwell; Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes' vivid study of the beginnings of sciencein the Romantic Age; and Notes From No Man's Land, Eula Biss's collection of critical essays onAmerican life, were among the winners at the 2009 National Book Critics CircleAwards held Thursday evening at the New School's Tischman Auditorium in Manhattan.
Awarded the Nona Balakian Citationfor Excellence in Reviewing, reviewer Joan Acocella opened her remarks to laughter by noting thatcritics are "often attacked on the basis of 'who do you think you are?' " Soshe went on define just what she thought a great review should be: "Shapely,deep and personal."
Acocella was followed by authorand critic Edmund White—nominated himself in the autobiography category for his bookCity Boy (Bloomsbury)—who introduced his Princeton University colleague,author Joyce Carol Oates, who was awarded the NBCC's Ivan Sandrof LifetimeAchievement Award. "Who has shenot written about," White said, describing Oates as a "modern Shakespeare." He went on to say that "she's one of the funniest people Iknow; she writes reviews, entertains, teaches full time and writes a lot ofbooks," White said. Thin, energetic and indeed very funny, Oates cracked jokes, thanked reviewers for the award and described how she "loved to write essays andreviews and to read them. It's like sinking into a nice warm bath; a new dimensionwhere the mind opens." She went on to say that "the reviewing voice is myvoice. I feel a kinship with all the reviewers here in this room."
The 2009 Winners of the NationalBook Critics Circle Awards:
General Nonfiction: The Age ofWonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science byRichard Holmes (Pantheon).
Autobiography: Somewhere Towardsthe End by Diana Athill (W.W. Norton)
Biography: Cheever: A Life by BlakeBailey (Knopf)
Criticism: Notes from No Man'sland: American Essays by Eula Biss(Graywolf Press)
Poetry: Versed by Rae Armantrout(Wesleyan University Press)
Fiction:Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Holt)
A number of authors could not make the presentation and were represented by some one from their publishing house.