CRITICAL HIT AWARDS: August 2012

Welcome back to the Critical Hit Awards for book reviews. This is a round-up, a recommended reading list, and — why not? — a terribly prestigious and coveted prize. Nominate your favorite review of the month by tweeting it at @electriclit with the hashtag #criticalhit, or cast your vote in the comments section below.

A recent article by Jacob Silverman in Slate alleged that book reviews have become too nice, too full of “personal esteem and mutual reinforcement” at the expense of cold hard criticism. His idea was echoed by Dwight Garner at The New York Times Magazine, who called for more “excellent and authoritative and punishing critics — perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star.”

Personally, I think smart readers are always skeptical of nice reviews. Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook may be turning into a “mutual admiration society,” as Silverman says, but we all know that criticism has teeth, and we recognize the best of it when we smell blood. This month’s winners are a reminder that here at the Critical Hit Awards, we sometimes like it rough.

Thanks to @stellarcourtney, @mikemoats, @markmolloy and @Book_Moth for nominating book reviews this month!

Best Dressing Down

Inside and Signs and Wonders by Alix Ohlin

Reviewed by William Giraldi in The New York Times Book Review

No one will accuse William Giraldi of being too nice in this excoriating review of Alix Ohlin’s novel and short story collection. Fixating on Ohlin’s language, which he calls “intellectually inert, emotionally untrue, and lyrically asleep,” Giraldi asserts that Ohlin has failed in her basic “moral obligation to be intelligent.” He compares her writing to a soap opera and imprudently broaches the subject of “women’s fiction.” These two are probably not going to be Facebook friends.

Best Regret

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

Reviewed by Ilana Sichel at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Nominated by @Book_Moth

Ilana Sichel wants to love I Am Forbidden, but she ends up with the next best thing — a deep understanding of why she cannot. “The same prose style that feels elegantly spare when it comes to place feels frugal when it comes to feeling.” It’s a rich and rewarding disappointment that strengthens both the reader and the critic.

Best Backhand

The Secret of Evil by Roberto Bolaño

Reviewed by James Langlois at The Rumpus

Nominated by @stellarcourtney

Reviewing yet another collection by Roberto Bolaño, Langlois is honest about what a mixed bag it is. A few stories are “fun if not outstanding,” and one of them, he remarks backhandedly, “reads like the beginning of something.” But Langlois find something to admire by drawing a valuable connection between Bolaño and Gustave Moreau, both of whom depict “the terrifying freeze and its glittering suspension.”

Read a good review lately? Nominate it for a Critical Hit Award by tweeting it at @electriclit with the hashtag #criticalhit, or cast your vote in the comments section below.

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— Brian Hurley is over here.

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