Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”?
And this week’s Gusher Award goes to …
“Be jealous. First-time writer Marisha Pessl is more than a triple threat. She’s young – only 28 years old – pretty, and immensely talented. She has already dabbled in modeling, acting and financial consulting. Her debut novel is another notch on her belt. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a literary mystery novel, has come out with truckloads of buzz.”
— The first lines of a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics in the Star-Ledger of Newark on Aug. 27, 2006
The Award Citation:
Is this a book review or a teaser for an episode of The Bachelorette?
This week’s winner involves no hyperbole — the reviewer apparently intends for us to take her words literally. But the quote illustrates a trend that’s just as bad: Critics are using their review space to congratulate novelists for being good-looking or having other traits unrelated to their fiction. Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”? So why do we so often see equivalent comments in reviews of younger authors’ novels?
Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing appear on Fridays except in weeks when no praise went far enough over the top to qualify.