Two Princeton University Press books named National Book Critics Circle Award finalists

Two Princeton University Press books have been named as finalists for 2024 National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Awards. The Chapter: A Segmented History from Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century, by Nicholas Dames, and Pleasure and Efficacy: Of Pen Names, Cover Versions, and Other Trans Techniques by Grace Elisabeth Lavery are two of five titles nominated for the criticism category.

The Chapter, which was recognized by the New Yorker as one of the best books of the 2023, begins with the seemingly simple question: why do books have chapters? From here Dames, the Theodore Kahan Professor of Humanities at Columbia University and an editor-in-chief of Public Books, embarks on a journey across millennia, revealing how an ancient editorial technique became a universally recognized component of narrative art and a means to register the sensation of time. In an awards website post, members of the National Book Critics Circle wrote, “Dames roams wonderfully from the Gospels to, in a particular highlight, George Eliot. He explores time, transitions, and the literal manufacturing of books… Dames is also a clear, lucid writer…The critical cliché in this case is true: after reading The Chapter, you will never quite read anything else the same way.” Additional praise from critic Merve Emre describes The Chapter as, “at once learned and delightful”, with literary scholar John Plotz hailing the book as “the masterwork we did not know we needed …. Dames’s prose is lucid and elegant while his brilliantly chosen examples are legion without being overwhelming.” 

In Pleasure and Efficacy, Grace Lavery, a leading trans scholar and activist, investigates gender transition as it has been experienced and represented in the modern period. Considering examples that range from the novels of George Eliot to the psychoanalytic practice of Sigmund Freud to marriage manuals by Marie Stopes, Lavery explores the skepticism found in such works about whether it is truly possible to change one’s sex. Members of the National Book Critics Circle raved that Pleasure and Efficacy is “a groundbreaking study of the idea of gender transition in the modern era…as astonishing to behold as it is pleasurable to read: a bold affirmation of the trans condition,” with queer theory scholar Jack Halberstam encouraging readers to, “prepare to be vexed, outraged, seduced, and entertained.”

This year marks the second in a row that a Princeton University Press title has been among the NBCC finalists, with Aaron Sachs’ Up From The Depths: Herman Melville, Louis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times nominated for the 2023 biography category. The Chapter and Pleasure and Efficacy are two of nine university press books included among the 2024 NBCC finalists. We extend our congratulations to peers at Ohio State University Press, NYU Press, Yale University Press, University of Georgia Press, Duke University Press, University of Nebraska Press, and Cornell University Press. Winners will be announced on March 21st, in New York.