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The Worst Worst Book Reviews

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Each year Omnivore names a Hatchet Job of the Year for the best worst book review. Last year, the award went to AA Gill for a brutal takedown of Morrisey's Autobiography in which he wrote, "He has made up for being alive by having a photograph of himself pretending to be dead on the cover." Certainly, there can be some pleasure in a witty panning, but in the spirit of the Darwin Awards, we're highlighting some of the most laughably bad bad reviews. These are reviews with no critical teeth that nevertheless bare their fangs, reviews we remember for their faulty metrics and unexamined aesthetic prejudices. In short, these are some of the worst worst book reviews. Share your book review pet peeves with us in the comment section below!


Saturday Review review of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood
When "gloomy" is used as a literary pejorative.
"Her story is built around a fanatic who believes that there is no Christ, no redemption, and no soul, and who goes about preaching this doctrine with complete dedication. There are possibilities in the idea, but they are not realized, for one reason, because the individual is so repulsive that one cannot become interested in him... The result is inevitably a gloomy tale."

The New Republic review of Rick Moody's The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions (via EBSCOHost)
Apology unaccepted.
"I apologize for the abruptness of this declaration, its lack of nuance, of any meaning besides the intuitive; but as I made my way through Moody's oeuvre during the past few months I was unable to come up with any other starting point for a consideration of his accomplishment. Or, more accurately, every other starting point that I tried felt disingenuous, nothing more than a way of setting Moody up in order to knock him down. One of those starting points was this: "Rick Moody is a lot of things, but he is not actually dumb." This was an attempt at charity, and though I still think that it's true enough, I don't think that it matters; at any rate, his intelligence does not make up for the badness of his books."

Dress and Vanity Fair review of Willa Cather's O Pioneers!
Uh-oh O!
"Miss Willa Cather in 'O Pioneers!' (O title!!) is neither a skilled storyteller nor the least bit of an artist."

The Quarterly Review review of John Keats's Endymion: A Poetic Romance
Because why read when you can just be honest?
"Reviewers have been sometimes accused of not reading the works which they affected to criticise. On the present occasion, we shall anticipate the author's complaint, and honestly confess that we have not read his work."

Graham Lady Magazine review of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
A vicious review of an author who dared to live.
"How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors."

The London Spectator review of Herman Melville's Moby Dick
In which the canon of critics meets canonical literature.
"It is a canon with some critics that nothing should be introduced into a novel which it is physically impossible for the writer to have known: thus he must not describe the conversation of miners in a pit if they all perish. Mr. Melville hardly steers clear of this rule and he continually violates another by beginning in the autobiographical form and changing ad libitum into the narrative."

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Moby-Dick's Review

The London Spectator's review of Moby-Dick was especially off because (as I learned from NYPL's own Jessica Pigza!) the first British edition left out the epilogue: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/it-repels-the-reader-tech-glitches-led-i-moby-dick-i-s-first-critics-to-pan-it/281499/

Hatchet Job Of The Year

Tracy — The Omnivore Hatchet Job Award lapsed in 2014. We enjoyed it so much at The Browser that we are relaunching it this year as The Browser Hatchet Job Of The Year Award. Our 2016 Award will be given for the most intelligently and amusingly vicious book review published in the 12 months to March 31st 2016. We're compiling a short list now. If you or any of your readers have appropriate reviews to suggest, we'd be delighted to hear, either via the comments here or via our Twitter feed, @thebrowser

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