Where Have All the Critics Gone?

By

Published March 16, 2009

Authors Marilynne Robinson, John Ashbery, Dexter Filkins, Vivian Gornick, their spouses and their ilk—plus editors, publicists, agents, and the curious—converged for the National Book Critics Circle Award Thursday night at New York’s New School. Since the event doubles as a fundraiser for the critics’ club, anyone who forks over $45 for a ticket, supports the cause of book reviewing, whose existence seems more endangered now than ever. Ron Charles, senior editor at Washington Post‘s Book World and winner of this year’s Award for Excellence in Reviewing claimed to be at the crossroads of two industries in the process of imploding. What was on people’s lips?  No women: though loads of female writers were nominated, none actually won out in any of the seven prize categories. The looming dead: Roberto Bolano’s nabbing the fiction award for 2666 (FSG), his sprawling magnum opus, from beyond the grave; the palpable absence of founding NBCC member and preeminent critic John Leonard, who passed away in November. This year’s wunderkind: M. Glenn Taylor, whose Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, published by West Virginia University Press, was nominated in the fiction category—and whose second book is rumored to have just been taken by Dan Halpern at HarperCollins in a six-figure deal. When asked about his youth, Taylor responded, “Not anymore, I’m afraid,”  feeling wistfully for his hair, “I used to have a lot more up there.”  Diehards repaired afterward to nearby old standby Café Loup—”Are you with that group that is going, um, to stay very, very long?” a waitress asked. Certainly there’s no party like a book party. (LEFT: AVERY HALL: WHERE HAVE ALL THE BOOK CRITICS GONE? PHOTO: STEPHEN KOSLOFF)