CRITICAL HIT AWARDS: November 2011

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.

Fickle appraisers, take heart! Two critics, both known for their fiery opinions and mutable positions, have been vindicated (somewhat) in recent months. Kerry Howley’s review of Dwight MacDonald’s Masscult and Midcult won a Critical Hit Award in October, in part for explaining how MacDonald defended his “shifting set of beliefs.” And this month everyone is talking about Pauline Kael, who reviewed movies “with her nervous system as a guide.” Love something today, hate it tomorrow — we don’t mind, as long as you make it interesting.

Congratulations to @bookmarkwoman for nominating a review this month and winning a free audiobook of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides from Macmillan Audio!

Best Backstage Pass

Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Reviewed by Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Review of Books

Staking a California flag in Joan Didion’s ouvre, the Los Angeles Review of Books offers not one, but six reviews of Blue Nights. Meghan Daum’s, which uses personal recollections and details of Didion’s private life to offset the “remoteness” of the memoir, is the best.

Best Meditation

Open City by Teju Cole
Reviewed by Karan Mahajan in N1BR

Making a case for Open City as the first example of a new kind of New York book, Mahajan’s review wraps itself in the ambiguities of Cole’s novel — “a novel that simply blots out the noise [of the city] in favor of moments of eerie tranquility and solitude” — and holds them close.

Best Riff

Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan
Reviewed by Dwight Garner in the New York Times

“Quotable without seeming to work very hard at it” is how Garner describes Sullivan, but he’s also describing himself. It’s not easy to give a coherent review of a wide-ranging set of essays, especially ones that “bounce around, like hail” and have “split ends and burnt edges.” Garner dodges the problem by riffing enthusiastically on Sullivan’s material.

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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