CRITICAL HIT AWARDS: October 2011

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by Brian Hurley

We’re back with more award-worthy book reviews and a new visual signature.

Behold — the official medal of the Critical Hit Awards! Designed by Matt Tanner, it’s a striking representation of… well, just look. Any time a tyrannosaur hits something with its laser vision, it’s critical.

Think of this medal as a mark of high literary distinction. Book reviewers who win one are encouraged to flash it like a badge, tattoo it on their breasts, trace it with sequins on the backs of their denim jackets, etc.

Thanks to everyone who nominated a book review this month! And congratulations to Matthew Gallaway, whose nomination won him an audiobook of Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams from Macmillan Audio! This month we’re giving away an audiobook of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot (details below).

And now, October’s winners:

Best Straight Face

House of Holes by Nicholson Baker
Reviewed by Elaine Blair in The New York Review of Books
Nominated by @benasam

Like any other titillation, Nicholson Baker’s House of Holes prompted some giggles and faux-scandalized gasps when it first appeared. But like any good work of art, it seems to merit a closer, unembarrassed reading. Elaine Blair delivers the novel’s first penetrating (sorry!) critique without trussing it up (sorry?) as some kind of social commentary.

Best Mimic

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer
Reviewed by Anonymous at HTMLGIANT

Payback’s a bitch. Jonathan Safran Foer created a new book, Tree of Codes, by cutting sentences out of The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. Now an anonymous person at HTMLGIANT has reviewed Tree of Codes by cutting sentences out of a longer review at The Guardian. The gentle mockery of the conceit, the anonymity of the reviewer, and the fact that HTMLGIANT’s audience has surely seen the cut-up trick a million times before — it all adds up to a perfectly coherent statement about what kind of attention this book deserves. (Anonymous reviewer: if you end up winning our big, annual prize, we might have to unmask you.)

Best 2,500-Word Seminar

Masscult and Midcult by Dwight Macdonald
Reviewed by Kerry Howley in Bookforum
Nominated by Matthew Gallaway

It takes a fair amount of erudition, wit, and bloodlust to comment on Dwight Macdonald, one of the most daunting critics of the 20th Century. Kerry Howley celebrates his lasting influence and exposes some of his missteps without diminishing the argument of his life. Her review is an instant education.

Have a book review to suggest? Tweet at @electriclit with the hashtag #criticalhit and a link to your favorite review of the month for your chance to win a free audiobook of Jeffrey Eugenides’s new novel, The Marriage Plot , courtesy of MacMillan Audio.

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— Brian Hurley is over here.

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Thank You!