Critical Hit Awards

by Brian Hurley

Today we launch a new monthly feature: 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. We’ll select 3 winners from the book reviews published online each month. At the end of the year we’ll select a big annual winner and scads of honorable mentions.

Why an award for book reviews?

Because plenty of accolades are given to books, but too few are given to good criticism of books — especially criticism as it appears online, where the quality of reviews, even at relatively obscure publications, has become startling high.

What makes a winner?

Book reviews that win a Critical Hit Award are vital reading in their own right. They may be enlightening, newsworthy, or entertaining — or all three at once. Their topic, argument, and voice add up to something worth celebrating.

Who nominates the winners?

You do. Tweet at @electriclit with the hashtag #criticalhit and a link to your favorite review of the month. One September nominator will win a FREE audiobook of Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, courtesy of Macmillan Audio.

Critical Hit Awards — September 2011

Best Rant

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Reviewed by Roxane Gay at The Rumpus

Roxane Gay works herself into “a nice, frothy rage” over the book and movie versions of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Her anger is understandable, and her message — especially given The Help’s phenomenal sales — deserves to be heard. This review is so genuine and off-the-cuff that critics who have argued the other side of this debate seem like apologists and equivocators by comparison.

Best Synopsis

A Book of Secrets by Michael Holroyd
Reviewed by Toni Bentley in the New York Times Book Review

Toni Bentley’s delight in the book she’s reviewing is delightful. You can picture her literally holding on to her hat as she rushes into a breathless summary of the madcap melodrama that is the subject of Michael Holroyd’s A Book of Secrets. Aristocrats, scoundrels, love affairs, uncontrollable egos, and personal tragedy are all here. But Bentley never sacrifices her clarity for her enthusiasm. Her review is an engrossing miniature of an engrossing book.

Best Twist

Days of Fear by Daniele Mastrogiacomo
Reviewed by Emily St. John Mandel at The Millions

What appears to be a straightforward summary of events becomes, in this review, an alarming reenactment of the turnabout about the heart of Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s Days of Fear. Not even the subtitle, which tells you exactly where this story is headed, can spoil the potency of Emily St. John Mandel’s review. She actively demonstrates the shades of altruism, betrayal, and inevitability that color this wrenching account.

Have a book review to suggest? Tweet at @electriclit with the hashtag #criticalhit and a link to your favorite review of the month.

— Brian Hurley is over here.

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