CRITICAL HIT AWARDS: July 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.

Do some books give better review than others? Regardless of the books you like to read, there may be a lot of overlap in the books we like to read about. A book that elicits an emotional response, or opens itself to interpretation, or stands up to careful scrutiny may be objectively better — as review material — than books that don’t. Can a book give such good review that it’s worth reviewing twice?

For the first time, we’re giving a Critical Hit Award to a review of a book that has been featured here before. Perhaps it makes sense that the doubly-awarded book is The Truth About Marie by Jean-Philippe Toussaint — a deceptively simple text that can be read in a number of ways. When Christopher Byrd reviewed it, we praised his obsessive attention to a writer fascinated with obsession. Catherine Lacey’s review, discussed below, wins for its own reasons.

And if you’re really paying attention, you’ll know that Sheila Heti — featured below — has also been the subject of a Critical Hit Award once before. Maybe it’s not just certain books, but certain writers that give good review.

Thanks to MAKE and Full Stop for nominating book reviews this month!

Best Understanding

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

Reviewed by Johanna Fateman at Bookforum

Other people have gotten hung up on categories while describing Sheila Heti’s so-called “novel from life.” But Johanna Fateman seems content to say that Heti is “a good talker” and move on. By accepting the genre-blurring text for what it is, she’s able to talk about the interesting stuff inside it — female genius, sex benders, and the lives of contemporary artists.

Best Reading Between the Lines

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Vol. I, 1907–22, edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert Trogdon

Reviewed by Andrew O’Hagan in The London Review of Books

Was anyone clamoring for more biographical material on Ernest Hemingway? Probably not. But Andrew O’Hagan tells a fresh story by filling in the gaps in young Hemingway’s letters. “The wonderful fact that emerges,” O’Hagan says, “is that Hemingway was the greatest faker of them all.”

Best Counterpoint

The Truth About Marie by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

Reviewed by Catherine Lacey in The Believer

Starting with her first sentence, about a woman who “cannot and will not get her shit together,” Catherine Lacey offers a forceful counterpoint to Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s ambling novel. And she makes stunningly quick work of identifying its theme, calling it “a bridge between the way readers stack their imaginations atop a novel and the way we stack our imaginations atop the unseen lives of those we love.” Can we please get this enigmatic author and this whip-smart reviewer to take a long road trip together?

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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