Hosted in a website called, The Omnivore, The Hatchet Job of the Year Award is for the writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months. It aims to “raise the profile of professional critics and to promote honesty and wit in literary journalism”.
Novelist and nominee Geoff Dyer met Anna Baddeley, who runs the review.
Geoff Dyer sees the fun of this prize – the malicious enjoyment people can get from bad reviews – but in his own words “…it seems to me that now there could be a real incentive to write negatively… I would be wary if this were to serve as any sort of inducement to write witty and damning phrases. The key thing is the sensitivity of the response and the accuracy of the judgment”.
Anna Baddeley says she wouldn’t like the award to encourage cruel reviewing. They don’t include reviews that can be seen as personal attacks but feels the need to encourage negative reviewing which is more ‘true’ to the readers and objective. Newspaper reviews have often obscure motives or just press releases and book blogs are not always well written. Especially in big sites like Amazon there is little to no filtering and not everyone’s view is as good as everyone else’s.
As John Updike said: “Review the book, not the reputation”, and the latter can often get in the way for a good and objective literary review.
Geoff Dyer quotes an old joke – if you review books by your friends, you get to the point where you’re either not a very good critic, or you end up with few friends.
The prize (a year’s supply of potted shrimp, courtesy of The Fish Society) was awarded to Adam Mars-Jones for his “killingly fair-minded and viciously funny” review of the Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Cunningham‘s latest book, By Nightfall.
“Two comely young people standing in the lake shallows, “looking out at the milky haze of the horizon” – that’s not an epiphany, that’s a postcard.” He writes for the ending of the book and continuous by commenting on his award, “A reviewer isn’t paid to be right, just to make a case for or against, and to give pleasure either way. The only bad review is one whose writing is soggy”.
So what do you think? Do negative reviews promote good criticism (and writing) or do they provoke empathy and back stabbing?
*cover photo [via]