CRITICAL HIT AWARDS: September 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.

Critics don’t change their minds; they simply refine their opinions.

Reappraisals are everywhere this month, as new releases by Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz and Martin Amis invite us to take a fresh look at well-known authors. In the first sign that the fall books season has arrived, Michiko Kakutani was spotted performing the elaborate giveth-and-taketh routine that is typical of her species, exalting Zadie Smith’s first novel in order to more authoritatively savage the new one. Even Don DeLillo, with nothing new to release, is being reevaluated in light of the movie adaptation of his “lesser” novel Cosmopolis.

As if they sensed this change in the weather, the Critical Hit Award winners for September are all reappraisals―of a famous author, a forgotten body of work, and a centuries-old genre.

Thanks to Mark Molloy and @sarosenstein for nominating book reviews this month!

Best Confirmation Bias

Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis

Reviewed by Sam Sacks in TheWall Street Journal

Nominated by @sarosenstein

For someone who claims to have “never understood the admiration of even Mr. Amis’s vintage work,” Sam Sacks knows exactly why other people admire it. Amis is “a university don telling dirty jokes to astonish the groundlings while never letting them forget how well he knows his Milton.” You and I may enjoy that sort of thing, and be thankful to Sacks for putting it so neatly, even though he calls Lionel Asbo “the perfect distillation of the tedium and condescension that have always coexisted in Mr. Amis’s fiction.”

Best Primer

Near to the Wild Heart, The Passion According to G.H., Água Viva, and A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector

Reviewed by Sam Gold in The L Magazine

In under a thousand words, Sam Gold reintroduces four novels spanning thirty-five years and three different translators. His review is remarkable for its concision and clarity, since Clarice Lispector is a “virtuoso of the murky,” whose re-issued works offer all “the filthy pleasure of Lispector’s muck.”

Best Origin Story

Gothicka by Victoria Nelson

Reviewed by Allen Zhang in MAKE Magazine

Nominated by Mark Molloy

Lest we forget that vampire stories do not begin at Twilight, Allen Zhang offers a smart and informative review of Victoria Nelson’s exploration of Gothic literature. This “essential and unique branch of Romanticism” was born during a parlor game at Lord Byron’s Italian summer home, and evolved into Spawn, True Blood, and teenagers with black makeup. Undead indeed.

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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