CRITICAL HIT AWARDS: October 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.

Every book is a book review. By imitating and innovating on what came before, any book is an implicit critique of its predecessors.

The reverse is not necessarily true: not every book review is a book. But this month our winning book reviews almost feel long enough to fill a tome. Reviewing such big personalities as Rachel Maddow, Salman Rushdie, and David Foster Wallace, and tackling such weighty subjects as American warmongering, Islamic fundamentalism, and the fate of literature in a televisual age, they could easily grow unwieldy. But given the circumstances our winners remain remarkably concise.

Thanks to Mark Molloy and Jan Neudeck for nominating book reviews this month!

Best Tact

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

Reviewed by Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian

The details of Salman Rushdie’s role in the first modern shouting match between Islam and the West make for a compelling story. Pankaj Mishra devotes a portion of his review to re-telling it as well as he can. Then he criticizes just about everything else in the book, including Rushdie’s “peevish righteousness,” “naive beguilement,” and “disconcerting absence of discrimination―and tact.” Here’s to free speech and healthy disagreements.

Best Overkill

Both Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace

Reviewed by Gideon Lewis-Kraus in Bookforum

We’ve reached a point in the critical reception of David Foster Wallace where even a book like Both Flesh and Not―a posthumous grab bag of uncollected essays―seems to warrant a 4,000-word treatise on genius, depression, and the anxieties of TV. For better or worse, Gideon Lewis-Kraus is up to the challenge, arguing that while Wallace could occasionally be “a total dickhead” he also invented “a new rebel sincerity” that defines today’s best magazine writing.

Best Chilling Reminder

Drift by Rachel Maddow

Reviewed by Tom Gallagher in The Los Angeles Review of Books

All it takes to scare an informed citizen about the direction of America’s military belligerence is a simple rundown of the facts. Tom Gallagher lets Rachel Maddow’s survey of a half century of aggression speak for itself. He finds little reason to be optimistic, when even Barack Obama is a warhawk. “Tuesdays, we are told, are the days when he personally selects targets for the drone bombing program that does not officially exist.”

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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